Motherhood is the very centre that holds families and communities together, and this is even more evident in the context of a global pandemic.
This has resulted in new challenges that they have been facing for a over a year now, and may have to deal with for some time.
For new mothers, it can be a time of sorrow and joy. Even for families in TT who have largely been spared the covid19 tolls that other countries have experienced, the idea of bringing a child into today’s world can leave mothers with mixed feelings.
Add in the spectre of post-partum depression alongside new anxieties and frustrations, and the situation can easily overwhelm the most prepared. For mothers of older children the challenge is somewhat different: to adapt and innovate. Stay-at-home-moms and work-from-home moms have had to become daytime babysitters and caregivers, and re-learn curriculums as they've had to add the roles of teacher and coach while delicately balancing their own mental health. The task is made all the more difficult in families where incomes are cut due to economic fallout. But there is a way out; and through.
According to psychologist and UWI lecturer Dr Katija Khan, the "new normal" that we were being urged to be ready for in 2020 does not satisfy the situation at hand as a descriptor.
“This term is used to refer to a state that a society settles into after a disaster has occurred and is meant to help us adjust to new world order. However, this covid19 pandemic is ongoing and far from over, and the landscape keeps changing. Restrictions have been varying in response to variances in infection rates, and it is harder to adapt to an ever-changing situation. Hence, the concept of a new ‘normal’ is a moving target.”
While many families have been able to learn and grow in the past year, most are simply waiting for the children to go back out to school so that they can go back out to work. Meanwhile, according to Khan, the mothers and, by extension, women in the homes are quietly bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s societal consequences, now that homes have become daycare centres, schools, offices and entertainment spaces too.
“Typically, mothers assume greater responsibility for caregiving, child care and house cleaning, and these demands increased during the pandemic leaving mothers at greater risk for stress and burn out," Khan said.
“International research has seen increases in anxiety and depression in mothers during the pandemic. I surmise this applies to our local context, especially for mothers who have lost jobs or have reduced income, mothers who are struggling to balance their children’s online schooling with their work responsibilities. These mothers have family members, ageing parents who are more vulnerable during the pandemic. Additionally, single mothers with less support and mothers in families with low income are likely to be experiencing even more stress,” she said.
What mothers can do
There are fundamental approaches to take, which may be easier said than done, but should still be considered. “Self care is not selfish or a luxury; it is essential for your mental health and wellbeing,” Khan said.
"One example of self care is alone time, where you devote some time to focus on yourself and recharge. Self care does not have to be timely or costly, it can also mean making sure you eat on time, stay hydrated throughout the day or spending a few extra minutes in the shower,” she added.
The reality is, with children at home, especially in smaller homes, even such a simple approach can seem impossible. But it’s necessary. Loneliness is often a common complaint for mothers, even while surrounded by friends and family. A London School of Economics and Political Science report in 2017 pointed out that loneliness can cost the government over £1,700 per person over ten years in related health costs via their national healthcare system. This means that there are dire consequences to managing one’s mental health poorly.
“Setting boundaries and carving out alone time at home (even for a few minutes) can help moms manage their mental health and reduce their stress,” said Khan.
“For working mothers, let children know when they can interrupt you during a workday and when they can’t. If you are struggling to keep up with household tasks, cut yourself some slack. Decide which ones can wait a little (it’s ok for the laundry to stay unfolded for a couple days),” she added.
Mothers should also discuss with their partner and children how they can help more around the house too.
What others should do
Khan noted that working mothers should discuss flexibility with their employers to enable them to work virtually more often to achieve a better work-life balance. Family members should actively contribute in simple ways, like making a note on a list each time an item runs out so that shopping is more effortless. Older children can do the shopping for their family too or take younger siblings out of the house for extended periods. Partners should seek to eliminate the isolated roles of "breadwinner" versus "care-taker" from their vocabularies and recognise that a blended approach has always been needed – and now, in a global crisis is needed more than ever.
Adding some fun to the home and day is also key, and emotions are inextricably linked with good mental health. Create a weekly schedule of fun activities with the family for mom, whether that is a meal that she doesn’t prepare or a backyard or living room work out (mothers love zumba). Or consider a weekly "cinema" night with phones off and lights dimmed. A stand up comedy night, or simply painting or gardening are safe at-home activities for all. Encouraging fun health activities that mom doesn’t have to plan will not only ease her burden but be fun for everyone at home.
In closing, Khan said mothers should not be afraid to get help, perhaps even before feel they need it.
“Good mental health is critical to living a productive, happy, fulfilling and successful life. If despite all their attempts, mothers feel like they are still struggling and cannot cope then seeking help from a mental health professional is also a brave and healthy option.”
Dr Katija Khan is a member of the regional UWI covid19 Task Force and an honorary consultant clinical psychologist, North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA).