By Guest Blogger Sarah Brennan

I am a full-time single mom with a full-time job at a large online sports betting company. My business is 24/7 and high profile. My responsibilities at work are massive and during this uncertain time, my department is responsible for driving new opportunities for revenue.

I love my peers; my boss is kind and compassionate and I am so thankful to have this job security right now – but I dread Monday. My calendar is typically filled with meetings (video calls) from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Up to 10 meetings a day. And now when the “workday” is over, I find myself back at my computer working till midnight or so in an attempt to “catch up” on what I couldn’t accomplish during the day. I started a new job at the end of January and while I’m grateful beyond measure to be employed at a time when so many others are struggling, the workload has seemingly increased since transitioning to full time work from home, and I find myself in a state of constant panicked anxiety.

When I was driving to the office every day after dropping my sidekick off at daycare, it just didn’t feel as overwhelming as it does right now. It’s more challenging than I anticipated to maintain an illusion of professionalism, while also pushing a four-year-old, who just wants to play with her mom, out of the frame of your Zoom call all day long.

It’s an emotional tightrope and if I pause to think about it too long it’s so overwhelming and guilt-producing I just want to cry. 

How do working parents find balance right now? We’re all terrified of losing our jobs due to the collapsing economy, we’re all feeling the pressure to maintain the standard of our work and to keep meeting our deadlines. But we’re also trying to not be neglectful parents who’ve let their children devolve into utter chaos due to the lack of structure and schedule. The weight of it all is massive. It’s hard to take a “break” to recharge when there’s nowhere to go and everyone knows it. The work never ends, the boundaries are more than blurred – they don’t exist. That hour alone in the car I used to have to decompress during my commute doesn’t exist. Between work, parenting, cooking, cleaning…it feels like there isn’t a single moment to breathe.

I feel as though am walking a proverbial tightrope….and it’s literally on fire. Are you walking this fine line with me?

I am focused on motherhood, minding my four-year- old daughter’s physical and emotional needs; I am doing my best to be as attentive to her as possible and provide some semblance of structure and schedule, and while it’s proving to be one of the most challenging tasks I’ve encountered in motherhood yet, I’ve come up with a couple of tips that have kept me sane, most days:

  • Walk away from your small child, or small children and take a moment to breathe. Push the grade-school outlines aside. The new-age elementary and middle school assignments that go over your head…. push them out of your head for a moment.
  • Walk away from your make-shift kitchen-table desk. Your relentless workload. Your zoom calls. Your deadlines.
  • Take a moment to put things into perspective. You are Parenting in a Pandemic. You are attempting to maintain balance, composure, strength and grace during a period of extreme crisis and chaos.
  • Do what feels right for you and your family. The onslaught of “helpful” emails and Facebook posts from Mom-groups on how to keep my toddler entertained for 12 hours, and lesson plans from my daughter’s school feel patronizing. I’m not doing any of these things! We are not making houses of Popsicle sticks or practicing our letters while making homemade bread together. She’s honestly watching a lot of TV and eating a lot of Easter candy. Thank goodness for Netflix (#amiright?). I try to jump up between conference calls and toss a coloring book and some markers or a puzzle in front of her to change things up. Sometimes I really “win” at parenting and I refuse to “un-pause” the channel when Netflix asks if she’s “still watching” to give BOTH of us a break from PJ Masks (worst show on TV in my opinion, but it also happens to be her favorite). I toss snacks at her all day long and honestly, in the last six weeks she’s had less baths than I care to admit. We’re in survival mode, and that’s okay.
  • Remember that you’ve gotten through tough times before. A few months ago, I was grappling with some personal struggles and I confided in my Dad about feeling overwhelmed (with issues that now seem awfully trivial…). He reminded me that I’ve always had “grit,” and that when things have seemed impossible along the way, I’ve put my head down, persevered and kept putting one foot in front of the other till I made it out the other side. He reminded me that it’s always worked out and I’ve always gotten “through it” because I didn’t let that wave of anxiety unhinge me.  I’m trying to find that “grit” right now, and while it’s not coming easily, I know it’s there and it has served me before.
  • Allow yourself to feel. Most days, I feel like I don’t even have the right to voice my exhaustion because comparatively speaking, I am extremely lucky. My daughter and I have a safe home, a full fridge and a paycheck coming in. I haven’t had to file for unemployment or defer my credit card payments. Despite whatever thoughts we may have about what we “should” or “shouldn’t” feel, we must allow ourselves the grace and the freedom to validate our own emotions during this time. We are each facing our own challenges, and while it is important to find the things that we are grateful for, we should not invalidate the feelings that this pandemic brings on for many of us as parents and as humans.
  • Find the silver lining. When I have the wherewithal to focus on self-awareness, which feels fleeting at the present moment, I am doing my best to focus on the silver linings of this experience. We’re being forced to slow down right now. To be less distracted and less on-the-go. For many of us, this has meant more quality time with our children – time that we didn’t have before the pandemic.

I’m entering week six home with my girl. I’ve shouldered a great deal of guilt and sadness these past four years after dropping her off at daycare at 3 months old to rush back to my busy and demanding job. The tedious commutes and the hours of time I’ve lost with her. All of the “firsts” I’ve missed because I wasn’t able to physically be there. The exposure to domestic violence/separation/divorce/transitioning to new homes/starting new schools/single motherhood/failed relationships. All this emotional weight I’ve carried without an opportunity to ever really “catch-up”.

Six weeks home with my girl now, and while at times my anxiety swells to an almost unbearable level, the moments where my heart could burst from gratitude are becoming just as prevalent. Mornings like today, laying in bed together snuggling and chatting well past 7 am (she’s all but abandoned her own bed during Quarantine and fighting that battle isn’t even on my radar right now). This opportunity to connect with my sweet Madeline and to be physically and emotionally present for her. There’s a crisis happening outside these walls – but what’s inside them is filling my whole soul.

So, when you start to feel like you’re drowning in the chaos of this pandemic and are struggling like me to find your “grit,” I implore you to try and flip the switch on your thinking. Pause and breathe and walk away from all the structure and outlines of schoolwork and professional deadlines and find gratitude in the small moments. Find strength in knowing that even if you’re “failing” by the Mom-group standards on your Facebook feed, your kids most likely still think you’re the “Best Mom on the Planet” and that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reevaluate your priorities and live more in the moment.

Good luck. I’m walking this tightrope with you.

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