A few weeks ago, there was a NY Times article with the headline, “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” Several people reached out to me asking if I saw the article because I am someone who has both a kid and multiple jobs and am technically a single mom. The truth is, I saw the headline and didn’t have time to read the rest of the article because it’s true: being a working parent (especially one navigating a divorce) during covid is exhausting and doesn’t leave much time for much else, let alone reading an article about a topic I am living every day.
It’s not just having to adapt to a whole new way of doing things, or figuring out finances on my own for the first time in four years, while also managing my own stress and anxiety and taking care of a toddler who only has two speeds: running or “carry me, mama!” It’s the feeling of doing it all on my own without the support I’m used to. Don’t get me wrong, I know people would help out if they could, but they physically can’t right now. All the work I need to complete needs to be done while my son naps— if my son naps— or I need to rely on outside child care, which means subjecting myself and my son to covid exposure. And then the endless cycle of anxiety plays on loop. Risk exposure or risk a breakdown or not being able to pay my bills? That’s the question that keeps me awake at night, and I’m sure it’s the question keeping several working parents awake at night, too. But, it’s here I need to acknowledge my privilege: I knew my parents could swoop in and offer financial assistance, if I needed. I can’t even imagine being someone who is doing all these things alone and with multiple children.
And up until a couple weeks ago, my friend was staying with my son and I to provide a bit of a safety net for me. She moved in at the start of quarantine (actually the day the shelter in place was announced in California). My ex, who isn’t working right now, agreed to help out with our son a few days a week so he could avoid going to daycare, despite the fact I was continuing to pay his daycare tuition to hold his spot. There were good days and bad days, but we had a system that mainly worked. My friend was able to shoulder some of the household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning, and my ex watched our son for a couple hours every day, so I could work. My boss even worked around my schedule so I could be part of our daily “zoom room.” Somehow, I was holding down a job in an industry that had pretty much been shuttered, and still supporting my son essentially on my own. Turned out, I didn’t need my parent’s help (but it was still awfully nice knowing it was there).
I felt pretty okay about how I was managing— yes, it was exhausting, but I was also getting career opportunities I could only dream of, my son was thriving, my ex and I were getting along, negotiating the terms of our divorce while putting on happy faces when we were around our son, my friend and I figured out how to live together, and I was happier than I had been in a long time despite the global pandemic. I was kicking ass— I still am. But, that also came with guilt at not being able to attend any protests, and getting criticism from people about being too strict about how I was handling things opening up again (“Do you really make your son wear a mask?” “We should have a play date!” “What do you mean you’re not going to eat at a restaurant?”) If anything, it made me a little grateful for how small my circle had become. But again, I had to do what was best for me and my son. That’s the priority, and that’s what matters. What works for me may not work for somebody else, and vice-versa. We all need to figure out what works best for us.
Today it struck me how many contradictory forces are in my life right now. That there is this feeling of huge accomplishment in the middle of all this upheaval. Feelings of both rage and caution at the world. Even feelings of heartbreak and anger, mixed in with hope and love. It’s difficult to carry conflicting feelings together, but that’s how we get through life. It teaches us that we can be both scared and brave at the same time— that they both exist at the same time so we can appreciate each of them.
We are all just doing our best to survive right now. It’s going to look different for every body. As long as we reserve our judgment and lead with kindness, it’s okay to make mistakes. I allow myself productive days and there are also days where I put my son in front of the television so I can veg out (or work or text that friend that I’ve been meaning to since March). Even writing this feels a bit self-indulgent, but fuck it, we all need a pat on the back from time-to-time. So, kudos to all of us who are getting through these times. I’m going to go lay down now.