With the advent of COVID-19, measures to slow the spread of the pandemic and protect vulnerable members of society have had a seismic impact on people’s social lives, the economy, and the culture at large.
Families, both great and small, are not immune to this upheaval either. As Mother’s Day came up on the calendar May 10, the Dispatch spoke with some local moms out for a socially distanced stroll by Boom Lake Wednesday, May 6, and asked them for their thoughts on motherhood during a worldwide pandemic.
The short answer, they said, is there are a lot of struggles and a lot of good to come out of weeks of quarantine, even if it means Mother’s Day is often a matter of finding space and alone time in contrast to the usual struggle to gather family members near and far.
“I think that's so important for a mama or any person you know, to just have that breather, and get out and see other people,” said Brittany West of Brainerd. “We went walking with a group of adults. It was really, really healthy I think for all of us and we all seemed to enjoy it.”
Still, don’t get any ideas that West, a stay-at-home mother with years of teaching experience, doesn’t have the willingness, nor the will power, to handle six children cooped up at home for weeks at a time. Sure, it’s work to ensure the kids are fed or engaged with their education, to say little of enforcing social distancing, making sure they practice proper hygiene and all the other challenges of COVID-19, but West said she, her husband — who continues to work — and her family are weathering the storm just fine.
Rebecca Thiesse, a homeschooling mother of children between 3-15 years old, said the pandemic isn’t upending the education of her children, but social isolation has been difficult at times in a day-to-day existence without sports, Scouts, dance and other activities that anchored their lives in different ways.
While it can be challenging to juggle five kids — each with their own individual needs and frustrations — with her husband working from home and the natural friction that occurs in a quarantine environment, the end result may be positive in the long run.
“We’re extremely active outside of homeschooling,” Thiesse said. “That side of our lives has been extremely affected by the pandemic. There’s so much downtime now. They all definitely miss their friends … but they've really impressed me with how they've come together and they work on projects together, they play games together and, if anything, I think it's helped the sibling bonds with all this.”
As for West, she said one major takeaway from this experience was observing, as a former teacher, the outpouring of support for teachers from parents forced to homeschool their children while educational institutions are shut down.
“Education is a huge thing and it's important,” said West, who expressed hope that people will remember the role that teachers fill in society in the future. “It’s essential and it makes me giggle now that everybody else realizes that teachers are essential.”
As a mother, Thiesse said she’s not immune to the pressures of quarantine either. Wednesday’s outing — even with social distancing keeping her and her friends farther apart — represented a welcome change from the last few weeks.
“As a homeschooling mom, you have very little time to yourself or time with your friends, so I really miss having just some adult conversation or having some space with our children or even, you know, running errands on my own,” Thiesse said. “Moms are always on, 24/7, and this has been kind of even more. There's been very little time to recharge in between all of that.”
Both mothers pointed to the sheer workload — particularly when it comes to meal preparation and clean up — that occurs when you have the entire family staying at home day after day, week after week, month after month. While mothers have different perspectives on the value of Mother’s Day, how best to celebrate it, and what it represents to them and their families, both West and Thiesse expected Mother’s Day to be a breather of some kind.
“I am also looking forward to my kids, now that they're not smaller, that they’re gonna cook and clean up meals and do that for me — I hope,” West said with a laugh. “The biggest thing with everybody home is a lot more eating, a lot more meals, a lot more snacking, a lot more food and so it's just a lot of cleanup and a lot of preparation.”
“I just hope I don’t have to cook for a change,” she added. “I just want to be pampered a bit. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
“Mother's Day for me is a family celebration. I mean, yes, It's a celebration of mothers, but they're the ones who made me a mom,” Thiesse said. “I have some pretty creative kids, so I'm sure I will get a lot of homemade gifts and cute things like that. They're really good at trying to make things special, Usually, they're the ones who will make a fancy breakfast and sit at the table and do all that stuff so there's those little things that I enjoy.”