Parents have always been stressed — and then the pandemic hit. Mothers, in particular, have been struggling over the past year with the pressures of balancing work, home, health, family and so much more. And then there's homeschooling, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 93 percent of households with school-age children engaged in some form of “distance learning” due to the coronavirus. With women bearing the burden of a majority of the household labor —the invisible tasks too — the collective mental health of moms could be considered a crisis, according to experts. Numbers tell a pretty clear story:
Roughly 9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. are suffering from workplace burnout, which is an increase of 2.4 million reported cases since the pandemic began (Source: Maven and Great Place to Work)
A mere 22 percent of Americans think the government has done enough to support working parents during the pandemic. (Source: Yahoo Life/You Gov poll)
If money wasn’t an issue, 56 percent of moms say they would quit their job because of the stress of working and parenting during the pandemic. (Source: Yahoo Life/You Gov poll)
47 percent of working families have lost the child care they used before the pandemic (Source: Pew Research)
Yet it's the personal stories that really highlight the toll the pandemic has taken. Read and watch stories from frontline workers, parenting and mental health experts, celebrities and moms who've been there.
For Dr. Dara Kass, he hardest part of the pandemic, she says, has been the “guilt” of wondering if the irregularity in her children's days is too much. “Are they doing enough? Are we messing things up? Are they getting outside enough?” she says. “There’s a balance between wondering if you’re giving them enough freedom to feel safe or giving them too much freedom that they’re not advancing.” Several other frontline moms opened up to Yahoo Life about their experiences balancing demanding jobs, a suddenly changed childcare situation and fears of the virus. While many are hopeful about what’s next, they all admit it hasn’t been an easy year.
For Sherri Shepherd, watching her 15-year-old son Jeffrey deal with the isolation he has felt from a year of remote learning has been extremely difficult. “It has been absolutely detrimental to Jeffrey's mental health,” Shepherd says. “I've been very concerned because his socialization has just been taken from him … to watch my child kind of wither because … he has no friends coming over. He really hasn't been able to socialize with friends … you know, normal teenage things, he’s not able to do.”
“Children, teens and their families across the nation are struggling with feelings of overwhelm, stress and uncertainty during this pandemic and their mental health is suffering,” says psychologist and integrative mental health expert Roseann Capanna-Hodge. “Increased difficulties with attention, motivation, and learning are prevalent right now due to difficulties with virtual learning, a lack of movement and exercise, and heightened stress.”
Anne Gomez Rubin witnessed it first hand with her own son, who spent nearly a year in virtual school — an experience that can be even more isolating for children in an only-child household. “During the pandemic, we've spent so much time together, and in some cases, my husband and I have noticed that our son thinks of himself as our equal — meaning that he takes on a lot of adult worries about the pandemic, because that's what he sees us do,” says Gomez Rubin. “This time has really made me wish he could stay a kid for a little longer without worrying about when his parents will be vaccinated and whether or not his teachers are safe at school.”
Fuller House star Candace Cameron Bure has three adult children. But amid the pandemic, she still needs parenting advice from her own mom and dad. "Parenting never ends," she says of her grown children who are 19, 21 and 22. "I learned so much in the pandemic about myself, as a mother and as a wife," says Bure. "…I've always known that a parent is always their child's biggest example, but all the more in this pandemic because we've all been together and we haven't had those moments to take off for the weekend or go to the gym. …I'm a patient person, but I am not a stress-free person. And I show it."
When the pandemic hit and Kahlil Spurlock got laid off, moved back home. "Nobody wants to say that they're moving back in with their parents, right? But New York was way too expensive to live without a job." Kahlil is just one of many millennials who made the tough decision and faced decreased independence, battles over shared space and fights over food. But many learned something too — like David Christopher Lee. "Previously, I was living a life of excess — way too much food and alcohol. I was moving at a million miles a minute. When the parties stopped, I got rid of my FOMO [fear of missing out] and learned that I had everything I need at home," he says. "2020 was my year of self-exploration and balance."
For fashion influencer Paola Alberdi, COVID-19 completely changed her "business as usual."
"Before the pandemic, I feel like I was super nonstop. I suffered with mom guilt all the time," Alberdi — a mom to a 3-year-old boy Enzo admits. "So when the pandemic hit, I felt like I definitely hit a pause button, which was actually pretty amazing."
Like Alberdi, Chriselle Lim, known for her social media platform, the pandemic forced a pivot. Lim, the mom to 6-year-old Chloe and 2-year-old Collette, utilized the changing dynamic of families stuck at home as an opportunity for a new business venture. "When the pandemic first started happening, we're like, 'OK, what are we going to do now?'" Lim says in reference to her daughters no longer having in-person school. "That's how BümoBrain was formed, which is an early childhood education platform for early learners ages one through seven."
Back in the "before times," pre-pandemic, Elizabeth Gillespie, a social media strategist and mom of two living in Westchester County, N.Y., would spend her mornings driving her older daughter, now 4, to preschool before heading into work. It was a hectic routine that relied on help from nearby grandparents, who handled school pick-ups and babysat her younger daughter, now almost 2, but one that, more than a year since her last drop-off on March 13, 2020, Gillespie says she sorely misses. "I mainly miss drop-off for the social interactions that I would have with other parents. Being new in the area, I was trying to meet new people and meet other friends. All of that kind of stopped and we haven't been able to do any of that," she says. Gillespie isn't alone, with other moms saying the break in the day was a form of self-care, time management and me-time.
Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder and CEO, is on a mission — to get moms back to work. “We’ve relied on mothers too much and we haven't valued their work enough, so what I'm excited about is that maybe, just maybe for the first time, we can start to really value it,” she says. Saujani hopes to do this with her Marshall Plan For Moms, which would include offering direct parents to moms; passing policies like paid family leave, affordable childcare and pay equity; retraining programs to make sure women can fill jobs that exist; and finally, planning to safely reopen schools five days a week. It’s a bold plan, but Saujani is determined to see it through and spark these conversations that need to be had. “I've gotten a lot of criticism on the left and the right for different reasons,” she says. “But that makes me excited because it shows that we're on [track] to having a conversation about the unpaid labor that women across the globe offer in society.”
When Cameran Eubanks Wimberly's husband, an anesthesiologist — which means "he’s literally in people’s airways every day — would go to work during the height of the pandemic, the Southen Charm alum admits she would cry. "I was so worried about him. He would come home, strip his clothes in the garage. It was a crazy, crazy time. It definitely heightened my anxiety," she tells Yahoo Life. "It was bad." The 37-year-old is "fairly certain" she has GAD — generalized anxiety disorder — though she's never been diagnosed "and I’m not medicated, but I’m pretty self-aware to know that I have it."
One major hurdle Holly Robinson Peete faced as a mom over the past year was helping to support her son R.J. after he temporarily lost his job with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a clubhouse attendant. Robinson Peete witnessed how R.J., who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, struggled mentally in those months without his old routine. “When he got that job at the Dodgers six seasons ago, it changed his whole world. He became a self-advocate ... he had a group of friends,” she says. “To lose all of it ... for a whole year was devastating to him.”
After helping him through those months, however, Robinson Peete says that R.J. is finally back to work with the team and enjoying some sense of normalcy again. “Twenty years ago he was told he would never do anything,” Robinson Peete shares. “And now when I look at all that he's accomplished, you know, I just want to tell that story to give hope to someone who has a three-year-old, who's getting diagnosed today.”
For Alison, an elementary school teacher in California, the coronavirus pandemic, had her battery drained. "I sunk into a deep depression and without time to fill my own bucket, my patience grew thin," she says. "I began fantasizing about leaving my family and the guilt brought sadness, continuing the mean and nasty cycle." Alison boiled over at the least likely place: her annual gynecological exam. "My doctor asked how COVID life was treating me and I said, 'We're all hanging in there!'A beat later, I confessed, 'That was a lie — I’m losing it!' and started bawling in her office, my feet in stir-ups." Alison is far from alone. The mental health of mothers has been called a crisis by some experts, leading many to the brink of breakdown.
Despite her Hollywood status, Kristen Bell can always be counted on to keep it real. From her marriage to Dax Shepard to her most important role as mom to their two daughters, 6-year-old Delta and 7-year-old Lincoln, the actress and entrepreneur is never not transparent about the highs and lows. It's little surprise, then, that she was an open book when discussing the challenges of parenting during the pandemic. "Obviously the homeschooling was really, really hard," the former Good Place star admitted. "It was really hard. I had this like romantic idea that it was gonna all work out and it did not. Teachers go to school for a reason."
Harris is a mother, a lawyer, a former tech executive, and the entrepreneur behind the popular company Phenomenal, best known for making clothing with a progressive message. She is also a children’s book author and her most recent release, Ambitious Girl, came out earlier this year and was an instant New York Times bestseller. “How have we made it work? We just make it work, however messy and chaotic that may be,” Harris says about parenting her two daughters and tackling her full-time workload during the pandemic. “The silver lining of it is that I'm just getting to spend a lot more time with them.” Wimberly, mom to a 3-year-old little girl named Palmer, also weighed in on how motherhood has changed her perspective on her anxiety. “I don’t want my child to see me as an anxious person, because I don’t want her to mimic that,” she says. “So I try to do better. I try to hold it in. I try to let go. Easier said than done.”
A recurring, and vital, conversation surfacing during the coronavirus pandemic is the disproportionate load of parenting working mothers have been bearing compared to their male partners, scaling back their career commitments or leaving the paid workforce entirely in order to oversee Zoom classes and the largely invisible labor that goes into running a household. But what happens when there is no second income to lean on, or even a second pair of hands to help with childcare and chores as traditional options like in-person school, daycare or even a babysitting grandparent dry up due to the risks of COVID-19? In a time of job insecurity, fragile health and intense school and childcare commitments, single moms aren't shouldering most of the burden — they're shouldering it all.
Drew Barrymore is struggling just the same as other parents during the pandemic. "I have so much empathy for parents right now because my kids have been in homeschool for a year and not seeing their friends," she says. "I was doing homeschool with them, trying to upstart the show in the afternoon. And it was a complete hot mess."
The moms of Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, Jonah Hill and Beanie Feldstein — who co-founded the non-profit organization YourMomCares for kids’s mental health — all share how the pandemic affected their relationships with their children.
For Tia Mowry, time at home increased significantly with quarantine and her family had to learn to adjust to the new reality. "When you got everybody in the household with the kids, husband, nobody's stepping away for a break, you have to learn how to talk to one another and communicate," she says. The hardest conversations Mowry had were with her son around Black Lives Matter and police brutality. 'How do you explain that to your children? Do you explain it to your children? Do you have that talk with your children?' are all questions that Mowry and her husband Cory Hardrict had. "We thought it was important to share with our son Cree, who's almost 10 now, what's going on. We're also the parents that allowed him to watch the debates. He showed a curiosity to it, and we wanted to inform him about what was going on."