The exhaustion many moms are feeling more than a year later
I can’t speak for all moms, but I can speak for myself. And I can attest that pandemic fatigue is real. Yes, it’s real for everyone. No, I’m not saying any one population has it worse than another. But, I am saying that it is darn hard for moms with kids at home. I am one of them, and, quite frankly, I’m exhausted and weary. Maybe you are, too. Even if not, I promise you know a mom who is. Because we are out there, working every moment of the day to survive and take care of our homes, families, work and more.
What is pandemic fatigue?
Much like it sounds, pandemic fatigue is quite simply being tired of the “new normal” of the pandemic. It’s being tired of wearing masks and socially distancing or isolating. It’s just plain tiredness of anything related to the pandemic.
According to the American Medical Association, symptoms of pandemic fatigue can include feeling tired in spite of sleeping eight hours a night, struggling to have hope or be positive, and feeling ineffective. The problem with all of that is not only poor mental health for those dealing with feelings of pandemic fatigue but also the increased risk of developing bad habits or starting to be lax about taking COVID-19 precautions.
The mental load of pandemic fatigue for moms
Again, I’m not saying that pandemic fatigue is worse for moms than anyone else. But I am saying it is definitely a challenge for moms. Probably from the days of Eve, moms have dealt with exhaustion and burnout. We carry a heavy mental load in the best of times. We are always on alert to dangers to our family. Often, we are responsible for coordinating pretty much everything in our families and households, and it’s exhausting.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night early on in the pandemic thinking of meals I could easily make and what supplies our family needed — really needed — in order to be at home all the time. I worried whether I’d be able to get those supplies. While supplies are more available right now, I still spend time each week (and often each day) taking stock of supplies and making sure I order what we need. For us, if we don’t get something in this week’s grocery pick-up order, then I have to figure out a way to pick it up or have it delivered without going into a store. Otherwise, it just has to wait until the next week’s order.
Then there are the concerns about the pandemic itself. Moms aren’t just thinking about themselves when it comes to COVID-19. We are thinking about and responsible for our children’s health. While I may be more inclined to take a risk on my own, I’m not nearly as inclined to do so for my children. I’m also not inclined to take a risk harm to myself that would mean I wouldn’t be able to care for my children, potentially for the rest of their lives.
We worry about whether our kids are socializing enough or whether they are going to have permanent struggles with anxiety thanks to the pandemic. And we also try to figure out what activities are safe for them to do. We try to balance all the balls, yet, many (most) of us moms feel like balls are falling down all around us and we are tripping over them.
Dealing with work and school
While many of these things don’t seem super overwhelming by themselves, adding in the layers of work and school kick pandemic fatigue up a notch for many moms. When schools closed in March 2020, parents became teachers or at least education facilitators. It was overwhelming.
But, here we are more than a year later, and I’ve been virtual schooling my children ever since then. My life runs by the alarms and reminders set on my phone to make sure my second grader gets to his video calls on time. I spend the rest of the school day helping him with his assignments.
I’m not alone in this. I know other moms who are dealing with the same scenario for a variety of reasons. When my children were younger and home all the time, I didn’t do nearly as much work for a reason. It was hard to find the time. Now, I’m back in the same position, yet my work has increased and its demands haven’t stopped just because my second grader needs assistance reading his assignments or my fifth grader needs art supplies picked up from school stat.
And so we moms do what moms do — we put our children first. I deal with school all day and then switch to my work. I stop in time to make dinner. After the kids are in bed, I do a bit more work some evenings. Over the weekend, I also do work. I spend Saturdays and Sundays catching up on work and chores and everything else. On Mondays it starts all over again.
Yet, I also know I’m fortunate in that I have a flexible job and work schedule. I am blessed to be able to choose to continue virtual schooling my kids for a variety of health reasons. I am grateful for that. Still, I struggle with guilt about whether I’m spending enough fun or downtime with my kids. And, I am also tired. Very tired.
Why pandemic fatigue is so draining
Combining the mental load of pandemic life with the demands on work and child care is a lot. Just like so many other moms, I spend much of my day multi-tasking. Writing this blog post, for example, has been interrupted by or done in conjunction with making lunch, helping my son finish an assignment, keeping track of the time he’s spent doing gym, listening in on my son’s reading call with his teacher, answering a question for my daughter and talking with my husband about what still needs to be done for school and our household this afternoon. And that’s just the past hour. (We won’t even go into what all happened between writing, editing and making graphics.)
Multi-tasking and hopping from one task to another without feeling like we can even complete a thought is exhausting. However, it’s just reality. One little slip-up in the well-oiled machine can be overwhelming and easily become our tipping point for an internal meltdown. Yet, there also isn’t time for melting down or even crying. We have too much to do!
Finding a way through pandemic fatigue
I don’t have the answers to making it through pandemic fatigue. When I dealt with caregiver fatigue in the past when my children were little, I could occasionally go out solo to dinner with a friend or peruse the grocery store on my own. None of those things are possible right now. The last time I ate inside a restaurant was March 10, 2020. I do all shopping online and pick it up. I don’t have an escape, per se.
My 11-year-old daughter told me recently that her room felt a bit like a prison sometimes as she was stuck in it doing schoolwork all day. I certainly can relate to that feeling. Because we are home all the time. Even as introverted homebody, I am still ready to be out of the house. Or at least have that option.
Many times, I’m too busy and tired to think of the things that I miss. I don’t sit around dwelling on missing being at church in person, running into Target or going out to dinner. But sometimes it hits me, and it is difficult.
I know hope is on the horizon a bit with the vaccine. Next week, my husband and I get our second doses, and I’m so thankful for that. However, I also know that pandemic fatigue won’t end just with being vaccinated. My schedule won’t change. We’re close enough to the end of the school year (and really will be once our vaccine is in full effect) that it doesn’t make sense to send our kids back to school in person. We have high hopes they’ll be able to return in person next fall.
I know I still have five weeks left at this pace. And then we’ll be into summer and the summer guilt of wanting to make sure my kids get to do some fun things begins. I’ll yet again figure out how to balance that with getting work done.
Faith in spite of fatigue
This isn’t my first experience with difficult times. It isn’t even my first experience being stuck at home more than usual. But it is definitely my first experience with a pandemic and virtual schooling. I’ve learned through the years and hard times I’ve faced that I’m not going them alone. God is with me every step. He doesn’t abandon me and, thankfully, He doesn’t get fatigued from taking care of me.
I have been blessed by music reminding me of His love. I have struggled throughout much of this pandemic to see His love shown in some people who are supposed to be His followers. And, honestly, it’s left me broken-hearted more than once. God reminds me, though, that He is perfect. More than anything, I want to be seen and understood, and God sees and understands me better than anyone. He knows my struggles and heartache. He knows my fears and worries. My Father gives me strength and patience when mine has long since run out.
I know that He will continue to do so for however long this pandemic lasts. No matter how weary I am or how much pandemic fatigue I feel, God is faithful and good. And that, I know, is the information I need to make it through this time.