Better Me

Pandemic Breaking Point: Working Moms Are Not Okay

Being a working parent is hard, but especially for moms. There’s a lot of pressure to do it all and do it perfectly. It can be exhausting and futile, which has been made clear during the pandemic. The formidable virus has KO’d many moms, forcing some to leave the workforce and others to hang on a thin rope for dear life.

It’s been long-documented the challenges working mothers face – juggling career and parenting – but the pandemic has shined an excruciatingly bright spotlight on this grueling balancing act. The challenges working mothers face aren’t new, but the “pandemic has certainly made it crystal clear—working moms aren’t okay,” said Kristine Goto, PhD, a psychologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix and a working mom.

“Any of us who’ve tried to master multiple roles were probably already at the fringes before the pandemic, but this is like nothing we’ve ever gone through before,” Dr. Goto said. “Everyone is spread thin, whether it’s due to single-parenting, job insecurity, relationship instability or childcare struggles. There is just an undeniable amount of added responsibility placed on moms – responsibilities that unfortunately still stereotypically fall upon them.”

Working moms are feeling the impact

In the midst of COVID-19, it’s become clear that working moms are not okay. You’re teetering on a never-ending tight rope all while carrying the weight of responsibilities and fears of the future on your shoulders. Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital and a working mom, has even noticed a shift particularly at the start of 2021 as we settled in to a year of the pandemic.

“The chicken has finally come to roost, so to speak,” Dr. Adelayo said. “My frustration in January was that it should have gotten better and it hasn’t. The totality of last year finally hit a head for many people. It’s not that you are any crazier; it’s a collective understanding that we are all stressed out to the max—that this virus isn’t going anywhere. It’s validating to know you aren’t alone, but it’s still excruciating to live through.”

Leave a scream after the beep

The New York Times came up with one way to help flailing parents with a primal scream line to “yell, cry, scream” and vent their frustrations. While sometimes it’s helpful to just scream, is verbalizing your frustrations enough? Until our society and culture evolve a bit more, what can working mothers do today—right now—to safely traverse an already thin tight rope?

“Most would agree what’s really necessary to address the distress mothers experience in our country is systemic policy change and an adjustment of cultural expectations, but those functions are way beyond what we can actually do in our homes and in our lives right now,” Dr. Goto said. “We don’t have control over those things—and continuing to pretend there isn’t a problem creates discomfort that is untenable. We need something right now that we can realistically do for ourselves to get through this.”

Five ways working moms can traverse pandemic stress

We spoke with Banner Health experts and fellow working moms who share six things working moms can do to manage stress and find a healthy balance.

1. Practice Self-Compassion: Be Kind to Yourself

This may not come naturally to us, but self-compassion is really important in times of grief, sadness and distress. “When it feels like you’re failing at everything you do, which is an unfortunate by-product of the pandemic, self-compassion is a way to treat yourself with kindness, compassion and fairness—like you would a friend, sister or aunt,” Dr. Goto said. “Self-compassion can intervene before your mind takes you down a 100mph negative spiral. It can reduce the guilt you are carrying, lessen feelings of loneliness and reduce anxiety, fear and depression. Talk to yourself like someone you actually care about.”

2. Adjust Your Expectations

As a working mom, you absolutely need to adjust your expectations, because after all, you’re living in a pandemic of global proportions. You’re suffering the most because you set yourself to the highest standards. Though it’s served you in other times, it’s really not salient right now. “A piece of grace we can offer ourselves is to adjust our expectations of what ‘success’ looks like,” Dr. Goto said. “Let’s stop pretending or behaving like we’re not in a global pandemic. Being the best, most ambitious and most outstanding and perfect working career mom isn’t going to be your fast pass to happiness.”

Instead, be realistic about what you can do successfully right now. It doesn’t mean lowering your expectations. It means resetting your daily expectations of what is a more doable amount.

During the pandemic, Brandie Beuthin, RN, infection prevention regional director at Banner Health, became a new mom, and she and her husband had to figure out how to juggle working and caring for their three-month-old. Thankfully, some days their daughter stays with her sister, which has provided some relief—but there’s still the mommy guilt.

“When she is at my sister’s house, we miss her terribly, and I feel guilty that the only time I spent with her that day was to feed her, bathe her and read books to her before she goes to sleep,” Beuthin said. “I think the most important thing for me right now is to remember to give myself grace and know that I’m doing the best I can both professionally and as a mother.”

3. Accept Your Emotions

“The reality is that the feelings we’re experiencing in response to what’s happening right now aren’t unilaterally positive. We don’t want to get stuck there, but we’re overcompensating by painting sunshine if we aren’t first just accepting how we feel,” Dr. Goto said. “Hard times are hard, and the more we try to talk ourselves out of the way we feel, the more anxiety and depression will increase.”

Being positive all the time just isn’t realistic. Be fair to yourself and to others and allow yourself to grieve. “At work, I thought I was being a supportive coworker and co-mom before the pandemic. While I listened to their concerns, I always felt this sense of separation—this me versus them,” Dr. Adelayo said. “Now I don’t ask how they are doing. I know they aren’t okay. I validate and share in their struggles. The layer of support and understanding is deeper when we are truly authentic and honest with how we are feeling with one another. We’ve become a more supportive and united team.”

4. Ask for What You Need and Accept Help

Your expectations of yourself are so high, you hold other people to those same expectations. And, as a result, you probably just do it yourself. But now working moms are paying the price for doing it all—big time. It’s time to ask for help—and most importantly, accept it when it’s offered. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but refusing it might be.

“The truth is that we probably have supportive members of our family and social networks who are willing to help if we just allowed ourselves to accept their best efforts for what they are,” Dr. Goto said. “Yet letting go a smidge of control and accepting help for just what it is, help, can relieve some of that stress we’re feeling.”

5. Self-Care: Take Time for You

Right now, you’re trying to keep everything and everyone together, but who helps mom? Who’s tending to your basic needs (i.e., getting sleep, eating right, drinking plenty of water)? All moms can agree these go out the window when family calls. It’s time to make space for you and your self-care. Doing so helps your mind and body thrive. You’ll notice you are less anxious, more focused and present.

If yoga and meditation aren’t your thing, there are other things that you can do to take better care of yourself. Check out “6 Self-Care Tips to Sneak Into Your Busy Life” for helpful (and practical) advice to refocus on yourself.

6. Take Baby Steps

If you’re like many super moms, you’ll try and attempt all of these tips at once, but don’t bite off more than you can chew right now.

“Pick a tiny part of one of these to experiment with—to try on,” Dr. Goto said. “If one works, accept it and if it doesn’t, pick up a different one to try.”

Working moms need support

If working women continue down this path where we have to hold it together, be super successful at every level and follow these unrealistic expectations of what we see on the internet, we will all drive ourselves to a guttural scream.

“Career moms have a lot of pressure, whether self-induced or societal, placed on them,” Dr. Goto said. “We are all going through a lot. It’s not perfect but that’s totally okay. When we offer that kind of grace to ourselves and others, our relationships improve and our whole life space is better.”

Speak with a behavioral health specialist

If stress, anxiety and your busy life are taking a toll, don’t hesitate to speak with a behavioral health specialist. Due to social distancing during the pandemic, many insurance companies have shifted to include coverage of virtual, or telehealth, therapy sessions. Contact your insurance company to check what your insurance covers. You can also check with your company’s HR department to see what behavioral health options they offer as an employee benefit.

Women's Health COVID-19 Behavioral Health