Why mothers are bearing such a huge mental load during coronavirus pandemic

“It’s like the 1950s meets 2020.”
/ Source: TODAY
By Laura T. Coffey and Rachel Paula Abrahamson

Hey moms, here’s a quick pandemic gut check for you: Over the past few months, have you found yourself feeling...

__overwhelmed

__exhausted

__guilty

__guilty for feeling guilty

__all of the above?

If so, welcome to a very — repeat, VERY — large club. Psychologists and labor experts agree that the coronavirus crisis is taking a greater toll on women — most notably on mothers — than it is on men. Even in the best of times, many women bear the brunt of an unpaid workload that includes caring for children, cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and myriad other tasks. They also carry heavy “mental load” — the emotional and psychic burden of remembering to fill out school forms, pick up eggs, make doctors’ appointments and countless other little details that cloud many moms’ thoughts and keep them up at night.

For millions of working moms, these obligations amount to “second shifts” that never get tallied into any nation’s GDP — and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated matters.

“Even though men have certainly stepped up to the plate, whenever there’s extra work to be done, it tends to fall on moms because we’re caregivers and we want to make sure that everyone is happy,” psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig told TODAY Parents. “Women really do take on that dual role even when they’re working outside of the house and especially when they’re in the house. ...

“It’s like the 1950s meets 2020.”

Download the TODAY app for the latest coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.

Ludwig said many moms are busier right now than they’ve ever been. In addition to their regular jobs and “second shift” duties, they’re also fielding complaints from bored kids during summer break, keeping cooped-up young ones occupied and fed, dreading what the next academic year might be like, checking in on aging parents more diligently — all while attempting to keep their game faces on at work. Add to that an array of new pressures that may be building subconsciously.

“We’re hearing about people that have all this time to read books and clear out their closets and get to those projects that they never got to,” Ludwig said. “For the woman who (has been) working at home and homeschooling young children ... now they have this added pressure of all these things they think they should be doing that they really don’t have time to do.”

Marla Garfield, 45, a copy editor in New York City, couldn’t agree more. She has a son with special needs who cannot work independently, and she struggled to hold it all together when his school days shifted to remote learning in the spring.

“My husband and I are lucky in that we have not lost our jobs, but it's a tremendous amount of effort to get our son through the school day and focus on our work at the same time,” Garfield told TODAY Parents. “My husband does most of the homeschooling, and I'm handling the logistics of the schedules, therapy, most of the cooking, connecting with friends and family, and trying to take care of myself, on top of worrying about our son's social development while his face is in a screen. I'm busy every second and exhausted. ...

“I have days where I feel lucky to be at home and have this time not to rush around, and then I have days when I cry for 24 hours.”

Alia Ornstein, 39, is a mom of two preschool-aged kids and general counsel at the law firm Brooklyn Grange in Brooklyn, New York. She told TODAY Parents that ever since her family began sheltering in place, work-life balance — and even “life-life balance” — have become elusive.

“When I'm not working, all of my attention is on my family — teaching my kids in the early mornings before work and again when I take a break in the afternoon, getting them the exercise and activity they need, figuring out where we can safely get groceries for the next couple of weeks, making meals and stretching those meals, tending to all the necessary household chores, helping our children work through what is clearly an increased number of meltdowns,” Ornstein said. “We parents are carrying a heavy load right now.”

Karen Gopal, 41, senior vice president at a company in New York City, said she’s constantly feeling worried about whether she’s doing enough fun activities with her children while under quarantine.

“I don't want to look back on this experience and think we didn't make enough of our time at home,” Gopal said. “That is stressful.”

Ludwig offered the following tips for moms who are grappling with an unusually heavy mental load during the pandemic:

TRY TO KEEP GUILT TO A MINIMUM

“(Many) parents feel badly that their young kids can’t be with their friends or virtual school isn’t working,” Ludwig said. “Parents are emotionally feeling badly that life is not as it was even though they have no control over it. Parents tend to take on that guilt whether they can control it or not.” Ludwig advised against wallowing in mom guilt because it isn't productive or helpful.

DON’T BE A PERFECTIONIST RIGHT NOW

Ludwig said this is a time to allow for imperfection and grace. “There is no perfect," she said. "It’s not going to look perfect, (so) look at the big picture. It’s about connecting in the right way and figuring out how to enjoy each other. If you can’t get to everything all at once, so be it.”

A LOOSE, BUT PREDICTABLE, SCHEDULE CAN HELP

“A schedule can help your children to feel that everything is under control and can give everyone something to look forward to at various times of the day," Ludwig said. "It helps our lives to feel a bit more organized. ... There should be a wakeup time and a general time of breakfast, and then you can figure out a walk around the park.”

FOCUS ON WHAT’S POSSIBLE RATHER THAN WHAT ISN’T

“Try to have some fun with what is," Ludwig advised. "It’s about creating memories. Even in the most challenging of times, there can be beautiful moments. Look for those moments.”

ASK FOR HELP IN SPECIFIC WAYS

Ludwig said this is an ideal time for moms to ask for help from their family members, even if that feels different or uncomfortable.

“In some cases, ask for appreciation," she said. "If you need help — and you have slightly older kids — have them be part of the process of making their bed or setting the table or clearing the table. Have an honest conversation with your partner and say, ‘I know we’re all stressed but is there any way you could do XYZ?’ Try to be as specific in your requests as you can because you don’t want to leave things up to interpretation.”

Related video: