“I feel like crying,” read a text message from one of the superwomen in my “Mommy Group Chat” at 11:54 a.m. ET on Monday.
It was day two of homeschooling her 5-year-old son. Her 2-year-old son doesn’t yet require homeschooling but does need all the attention the terrible twos demand. Like all of the five mothers in my group chat, we are quintessential fish out of water.
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Oscillating between the comical memes that poke fun at befuddled parents attempting to serve as professional educators of the poorly behaved children they birthed and reared to the more serious tweets reminding us to refrain from the negative commentary that makes our kids feel like a burden during these tough times — we’re exhausted.
But exhaustion doesn’t have to cancel out optimism.
Between shuffling through hundreds of pages of curriculum sent home by teachers who also have been thrown into a world of unknowns and the emails swamping our inboxes as we shift to remote work, many parents I know are gaining an unexpectedly refreshing outlook.
“It’s still such early days, but I can say I have tried to use this time to keep perspective,” explained Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of experiential retail firm The Lionesque Group and principal at MG2. “It’s scary. There is no argument there, but we need to keep mind over matter at some point. Weeks ago, I would beg for more free time: More time with my daughter and dog and time to do more tasks at home. … For the past few mornings, my four-year-old has taught us yoga, and it floored us how much she knew and how strong and flexible she is. I am trying to embrace this unexpected chance I am getting to know her even more.”
Similarly, Kristen Moss, senior director of global corporate communications and brand PR at Reebok, is spending these days at home with her husband, who’s immunocompromised with multiple sclerosis; her four-year-old daughter, Alessandra; and her seven-year-old-son, Peyton. The executive says she’s taken on the operating principle, “Do whatever I can, however I can, whenever I can.”
“If that means getting up at 4 a.m. to get ahead of emails and calls so I can also get a run or workout in — that’s the plan,” she explained. “I can’t take care of anyone or anything if my head isn’t clear. Fitness is a priority right now to stay sane.”
Still, Moss, whose job means she’s on 24/7, hasn’t been impervious to the sometimes-inadvertent mom-and-dad shaming that can happen in a super connected world where people are socially sharing their every parenting accomplishment. Seeing some of my mom friends post their carefully crafted “homeschooling schedule” to Instagram took me back to high school algebra. You know that moment after the exam when the three math whiz kids are debating about whether the answer to question No. 3 was 23, 56 or 47, and your answer was a drawing? That would be me.
“Have you read Amy Poehler’s book, ‘Yes Please’? She has a mantra, ‘Good for you, not for me,’ and I quote that regularly these days,” said Moss. “I pretty much delete every email about all the school suggestions and things other parents are sending around. It’s overwhelming and the last thing I want to do is add any more stress to my family right now.”
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder of industry publication Retail Minded and Author of “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing & Marketing Business,” is the mother of 10-year-old son Jackson and 11-year-old daughter Claire. They’re currently living in Colorado, which is considered a COVID-19 hotbed.
“[Jackson] has a variety of autoimmune conditions, as well as asthma, so I have always been fairly proactive in keeping our homes and hands clean,” explained Leinbach Reyhle. “But COVID-19 definitely kicked my mom mind into high-speed a few weeks ago, and I admittedly was among those who bought extra hand soap, additional travel-size hand sanitizers and more cleaning supplies than I’d usually have on hand.”
Washington, D.C.-based Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Retailers and Distributors of America, is used to spending a good chunk of his time traveling internationally across Asia and attending industry trade shows and conferences in Las Vegas, New York and Portland, Ore. His wife has typically taken on most of the domestic responsibilities, including scheduling daily activities and overseeing homework and other needs of their three daughters. Now, thrust into remote work amid a high-stakes situation for the 500 shoe companies FDRA represents, Priest said he’s found “beauty in the fact that we’re all in the same situation.”
“Everyone is having to work remotely and [home school] their children,” he said. “We’re all adjusting to the occasional dog barking in the background during a conference call or the children playing in the background. And, as a result, we’re all showing each other a little grace.”
It’s a grace and gratitude that parents in our industry find themselves extending to educators in full measure as we all attempt to wear their hats.
“This past week has reinforced my utter admiration for our teachers,” said Isack Fadlon, CEO of iconic Los Angeles-based sneaker shop Sportie LA and father of eight-year-old Talia. “When this is all over, I hope that our society, collectively, not only realizes the incredible education our teachers provide our kids, but that we actually show our appreciation with more than just a thank you. Rather, we need to push for more support. Our teachers need better salaries, supplies, smaller class rooms, more assistance and a community that truly values them.”
Meanwhile, as he juggles steering an impromptu school, Fadlon admits the business side has been significantly hit, creating new demands on his time.
“We had to close Sportie LA this week and had been shifting focus to our online store, although with the increased quarantine orders in California, we and others will likely have to shut our online store as well,” Fadlon added. “Fulfillment will be an issue. And the reality is that everyone is much more focused on procuring essentials than discretionary spending. … But we are pushing forward, working from home in anticipation of the day, hopefully soon, that we get back to a semblance of normalcy. The notion that everyone is enduring this, that we are all in this together, definitely [helps].”
Indeed, as many of us work through the anxiousness and uncertainty in the days ahead, a seemingly unprecedented sense of global solidarity — along with new and incredibly profound lessons — are becoming our anchors.
“Our learnings have run the gamut: There’s been tears of both joy and frustration,” said Bill Snowden, a father of two and a footwear-industry veteran, who now serves as VP of business development at G2 Web Services, a subsidiary of Verisk Financial. “Change for anyone is hard, so as parents we’re trying to be flexible and understanding without losing the balance of discipline and obedience. … What we’ve learned is that there is no perfect solution, but we’re measuring things in smaller steps. Are we moving in the right direction?”
While we all could argue that we were strong, resilient and optimistic before COVID-19, tough times have an unparalleled way of sharpening and refining those attributes.
“There will come a day when this crisis is behind us and we’ll look back at this moment in history. And the last thing we’d want is to regret that we did not take advantage of the opportunity to spend that quality time with our children and families,” said Priest.