The world has been on some variation of lockdown for three months now, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. Especially for moms who were already doing the lion’s share of managing households before the coronavirus forced many of us to retreat into our homes.
Before ‘rona, a 2018 study found that working moms averaged a 98-hour work week, once you consider the unpaid work of housework and childrearing. Now, with the added pressures of crisis schooling and work-from-home expectations, that number has undoubtedly reached astronomical new heights.
Parenting and working in the same space is uncharted territory for most women; yes, being a mom is a 24/7/365 job, but there used to be breaks and support in the form of going to work and dropping your kid off at daycare or school. And as states and businesses figure out what reopening will look like (and what a second wave of infection could mean), one thing is certain: it will be awhile before we go back to that version of normal.
To understand how moms can have more of a handle on this new reality, we asked the experts for advice: stay-at-home and work-from-home moms. (These ladies have low key been prepared for this moment for years.)
Create an Early Morning Regimen
I am a single mom of one. My best advice for moms working from home is to create an early morning regimen to tend to yourself and your spirit. Before I rise, I make sure not to pick up my phone, check any social media, or answer any emails before I clear my mind and nurture myself.
For the past few weeks I’ve had my Alexa set to wake me up at 7 a.m. to the sounds of Jill Scott. From there I’ll pause and take a moment to pray before I touch my phone or even look at it. I use my morning to write for about an hour to the sounds of some soothing music and just tend to myself creatively. After a good writing session, some days shorter than others, I’ll head to the living room and begin a light workout. Whether it’s just 15 minutes of squats and jumping jacks or a full-on workout, I’ve created a space where I honor my vessel and appreciate all it is doing for me. After my workout I’ll run the coffee maker and shower to prepare for the day and tackle my newfound role as an online teacher mom!
My morning routine and rituals have truly been a saving grace and provide me a sense of peace. Making room for my practices in the morning have become my very own way to honor myself and God and to give thanks before I take on the hustle of working from home. Give your very early mornings the attention they deserve. Tend to yourself and your spirit before you tend to others. (Even the kids.) It’s ok.
—Q. Gibson, writer, healer, mom of Jonah, 7 (@q.gibson)
Serve From Your Saucer
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t serve from an empty cup,” but I have learned filling your cup will maybe get you to lunch time. Your job is to get so full you are overflowing and you serve from your “saucer.” (Get it?) This is the only way we have good days, and not just good moments.
The first thing I do to fill up and overflow is wake up early—very early—and have time and space in quiet to read, journal, pray, study the word, and just be. I also need to stay hydrated, make sure I have three meals and at least one snack prepped and available, and do something every day for me: exercising, my nails, my hair, watching a sitcom, date night and quality connection with my girls.
I also try to get some sort of creativity out as well like writing, DIYing something, or organizing. Also, sleep. Get lots of sleep.
—Tenikca Gainey, writer, blogger, CLC, wife to Jamaal, mom to James and Jude (@hitswiththemrs)
Create A Work-Then-Play Schedule
I accomplish tasks by prioritizing what absolutely has to get done first. I treat the early parts of each day like I’m in an office setting, knocking out must-finish “homework.” Then, I switch gears. After project managing and writing for major projects, I deliberately carve out time to do something creative and fun with my daughter once she finishes her online classwork. Since the coronavirus, I’ve started developing a line of sweet treat lapel pins and colorful rubber band bracelets with her to one day sell online—a spinoff to my childhood Lisa Frank school supply collecting days, lol.
Sticking to this work-then-play schedule gives us something new and interesting to anticipate. To get away without getting away, I sometimes set a different mood in the house. Playing Caribbean music and putting on my tropical fashion is one way I pretend we’re in my husband’s home country of St. Lucia until we’re able to visit again.
—Candace Dantes, journalist, wife, and mom of Auriana (10) in Atlanta
Put God First
Shaping our days to be calm, delightful, and unworried hinges on the posture of my own heart. So, I aim to wake up for my family, and not to them. Rising first allows me the uninterrupted space to sit with Him and read what He has said—filling me so that I may serve my household from a place of spilling and in turn, remembering Him the most I can and inviting Him into everything.
Cultivating His presence—through the curated music and podcasts they hear, the television and movie images they see, the books they flip through to read, and the words we speak—positions my girls to also experience Him daily. In this way, I am making a home that makes disciples. I am pointing their hearts, at every age, to His presence, His promises, and His power in order to bring them to some understanding of His sovereignty. Knowing and being reminded of who the author is of their stories helps to free the hearts in our home of fear and anxiety. Thanking Him, together as a family, each evening nurtures our trust, rest, and sleep.
—Shekea Moreno, wife, homemaker, educator, and mom of two (ages 6 and 3.5) in Loudoun County, Virginia (@shekeamoreno)
Find Ways to Enjoy this Unexpected Time
Mamas… if we try to do all the things, and be all the things, and neglect being firmly rooted in our purpose, we will miss out on the most special part of all—being and growing with our kids.
A little over two years ago, I got some really great advice. I can remember standing about an arms length away from this older woman as I held my 10-month-old baby girl, who had recently gotten her stomach tube removed and was still missing hair from the two brain surgeries she had just had a few months before. As I cradled her fragile head, this woman looked me fiercely in my eyes and said, “Enjoy the season you’re in.”
I couldn’t fully appreciate this advice then. It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized that I needed that shared with me. I needed someone to remind me of the goodness and purpose and beauty that was still in that very difficult season of life. So I echo that older woman’s advice. Find ways to enjoy this season we’re in. Find small ways to replace your frustrations over unmet expectations with gratitude. Take the opportunity to really be with and grow with your kids here and now—even in these less than perfect circumstances we find ourselves in.
—Elise Law, wife, mother to three (ages 5, 3 and 1) and lettering artist (@wonderandpaper)
Strike a Healthy Harmony
For all of our mental health, I like to keep things organized and planned in a way that allows for changes to occur and for situations to arise without being too overwhelming. At the beginning of each week we have a family meeting and we sit down and discuss any major projects and goals each of us have. We create project blocks in our shared calendars that accommodate appointments and things each of us need to get done.
These blocks incorporate our kids’ assignments and appointments as well. Having this visibility allows each adult to plan and have an opportunity to work one-on-one with the kids while the other person is doing a major project and vice versa. This partnership is KEY especially during this difficult time.
All in all I make sure I have clear and CONSISTENT boundaries surrounding my time with my work, my time with my personal projects, my kids, and my husband.
—Autumn Colon, strategic marketer, content creator, nutritionist and creative designer, wife, mom of 2 based in Atlanta (@lautumncolon)
Find Liberation Through Play
Ancestral wisdom and contemporary research show us that open-ended, self-directed play is the most essential work of childhood. Play helps children build skills in conflict resolution, self-regulation, and communication; releases endorphins; and supports creativity and integration of new knowledge. When we give our children long stretches of time to play, we are showing respect for them and their interests, and supporting their intellectual development.
Long stretches of time to play for our children can also offer us space to work on our own projects or practice some self-nourishing. What brings you joy? What are some things you’re curious about exploring but felt like you haven’t had time? Liberation through play is just as important for adults as it is for children.
—Nuola Akinde, writer, educator, and homeschooling mama of three (ages 9, 6 and 2), in Ypsilanti, Michigan
Go With The Flow
As a working stay-at-home parent, sometimes it’s just easier to flow with the current of parenthood than fight against it. Share the things that you love with your children: incorporate them and get them involved as much as possible. You are a whole person before you’re a parent, so don’t hide that.
I learned early into my stay-at-home mom career that it caused too much stress trying to chase my kids away from my work all of the time. The truth is this: The reason they’re coming around so much is because they’re intrigued and want to learn more about what I do. I realized that moments like this were the perfect opportunity to help our children learn the value of hard work, how money is earned (it doesn’t grow on trees!), and a little about the industry that I work in and the work I do. I also discovered how well it lent to other educational lessons and life skills (i.e. the kids helping count money, calling out colors, patterns, reading instructions out loud, etc).
Leaning into this idea as a stay-at-home parent helps cultivate trust, learning, and joy within the home—all great for the parent-child relationship as they grow!
—Erica Lasan, entrepreneur (founder of EricaLasan.com and the Live Rich Movement), wife, and stay-at-home mom of two (ages 4 and 2) living in Morris County, New Jersey (@ericalasan)
Learn Your Kids’ Love Languages and Learning Styles
This is what I tell every parent, not just homeschool mamas and papas: Learn your children’s love language and your children’s learning styles and meet those needs. Your child may need a hug every 37 minutes or a compliment to feel love from you. Your child may need to move and have a song to learn things. Knowing how your children learn and what makes them feel loved will make learning time way more successful. If you only meet one and leave the other depleted, soon, the one you think you are meeting will start decreasing as well. These are a package deal.
Acknowledge That Helpers Need Help Too
As a mom, wife, and clinical psychologist I am reminded of the importance of self-care and reaching out for support from your spouse, family, friends, spiritual community, and/or a therapist when life starts to get too heavy.
I love the scripture that says that God will not give us more than we can handle, but we must acknowledge the weight and let others help with the load. That help can come in many forms, but in my experience the people that are the best at helping others often struggle to receive and/or seek help for themselves. Helpers often struggle in silence and do not let others know how they are really doing and what is going on in their lives.
To quote Brené Brown, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
—Dr. Patrice Berry, clinical psychologist, coach, speaker, wife, and mom of a toddler in Fredericksburg, Virginia (@DrPatriceBerry)
The influence and responsibility of motherhood can feel so big that we fall into the pitfalls of pursuing perfection instead of using our limitations as an invitation to seek community. The threat “doing it all” poses to our children’s well-being, as well as our physical and emotional state, has the potential for lasting consequences if we do not release the very things we cannot do.
I tell moms of color to redirect their limitations in motherhood through seeking out community among Black and brown moms that share similarly in faith, foundational values, and parenting styles. Support groups provide online access to an abundance of resources that offer a fresh perspective on everything from relationships, recipe trading, to rearing special-needs children and are available for moms who need extra nurturing. I have found that using digital engagement to build my mama tribe both on and offline has led to sustainable and deepened relationships. My online community has led to mommy meet-ups, travel buddies, and prayer and accountability partners. Every mama needs another mama to share in the struggle.
—Kia Woods, wife, director of culture and administration, and Rainbow mama of 3-year-old Gabriel in Woodbridge, Virginia (@happilykia)
When you’re a homeschool mom doing life with your kids as close to 24/7 as possible, you find that you have to prioritize and schedule a time to have your cup filled. I do this in two ways. One is waking up two hours before the kids to do things that bring my spirit joy and peace. The second way I do this is by claiming one night a week that belongs to me to do whatever I please without the family. Whatever makes me feel sparkly and renewed.
Yet as good as alone time is, I’ve also realized on my journey that we are not in this alone, and really no family should be. I prayed earnestly for the Lord to send other families into our lives that we could master this journey with, and he blessed overabundantly. A village will breathe such amazing ingenuity, creativity, and new energy into your life! When you’re stuck on ideas or need to collaborate with someone on producing a project or creating a curriculum, you will find that your village is a blessing from Jesus himself.
If I need to vent about the everyday trials of being home with the kids all day, my village is there. If I struggle to teach a certain curriculum, I can simply tap into my village for direction or even have one of them teach my children that subject alongside their own kids. You can fly solo on this homeschool journey, but your God-given village will help you soar.