Parenting is tough. In a new monthly column for TODAY Parents, “Can I Just Say,” writer Amil Niazi leans into the messiness of raising humans.
I’ve always been a “cut yourself a lot of slack” kind of mom, someone who fundamentally believes that good-enough is good parenting, especially in times of crisis.
But acute crises aren’t supposed to last two full years, demanding a level of fight or flight that few of us could or should withstand. Lately I’ve been struggling with the kind of parent the pandemic has forced me to become, to admit that I’ve cut myself so much slack I’m in free fall and it isn’t good for me or my kids. I’m learning to grieve the version of myself I’ve lost to COVID, of the parent that I haven’t been able to be, especially as we start to talk about returning to normal.
I’ve cut myself so much slack I’m in free fall.
Particularly since the new year, with renewed school and daycare disruptions, a lot of us have been operating on autopilot, with the occasional outbursts of rage-filled fury or heartbroken resignation. With Omicron’s grip appearing to loosen across North America, there is a perception that once we hit certain milestones, whether that’s maskless schools or a return to physical workplaces, we’ll be able to seamlessly transition from chaos mode back to regular life. Believe me, as the parent of two small kids who has been trying (but mostly failing) to juggle full-time work, care and being a functioning human for the past two years, no one wants to go back to normal more than me. I’ve harbored many detailed fantasies since 2020 about an uninterrupted workday, casual dinner parties or family vacations where the main stress is, well, traveling as a family. But once the pressure eases up, parents like me may face a hard period of mourning — grieving for our families, our kids and the versions of ourselves as parents that we couldn’t sustain.
When I had my first child four years ago, I focused on being the kind of parent I had wanted for myself: patient, perceptive and most importantly, present. I’ve never subscribed to a specific style of parenting but have always resonated with parts of the gentle parenting approach, one that centers empathy, understanding and respect for your child. I surprised myself with the kind of patience I could tap into, in my ability to see the big emotions from my child’s perspective and give both of us the space to feel what we needed to feel.
Our world shrank but the responsibilities were still there, compounded by a crushing pressure.
It was a hard first couple of years, balancing work and care even then, but we also had a lot of adventure, travel and spontaneity as a family. I felt like I was giving myself over to the struggles and joys of parenting holistically.
I had my second child at the end of May 2020. The puzzle pieces of postpartum life were roughly the same shape as before, but making them fit together felt almost impossible some days, as the pandemic cleaved apart my understanding of what I was trying to create, what this picture should look like at the end of the day. Our world shrank but the responsibilities were still there, compounded by a crushing pressure to not only navigate these new anxieties but explain them to my toddler while nurturing my newborn. I found myself sleepwalking through most of my days, disconnecting from the intricacies of parenting in order to survive the challenges of the pandemic, to keep my job and my sanity intact.
While the pressure did let up at certain intervals, dipping with the case counts, it left behind a trace residue that affected how I parented. Milestones like my daughter’s first birthday and my son’s first day of school were marked by a sense of numbness because I was so afraid to feel anything but, well, cautiously cautious.
Deaths in the family and illnesses and everyday stressors all got rolled together into a generalized grief that had no real outlet or name. It all became a kind of greyish lump of emotion that seemed to sit at the bottom of my chest or at the top of my throat, unexpressed but always keenly felt.
The parent I have become feels so far away from the parent I wanted to be that some days the gulf seems unbridgeable.
There were flashes where I thought it might be over, when I let myself embrace optimism, including just after the second dose of the vaccine, but something seemed to change irreparably this past December. That's when it became clear the reserves that were being tapped were really and finally depleted. That's when my patience dried up, and the parent I have become feels so far away from the parent I wanted to be that some days the gulf seems unbridgeable.
In the race to return to normal, which parts of myself can be recovered and what will it take to repair my understanding of what parenting looks like when I’m not in survival mode? Can I — can we all — give ourselves the space to mourn what we’ve lost, so we might find it again as we retrace our steps back to who we were?