To the Stressed-Out Parents During COVID-19: Look For the Small Wins

Illustration by Tim Foley

As local parents juggle the new daily stressors that come with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has us grieving for the past while staying hopeful for the future.

Author Bio

Munchie Morgan Clement is a Delaware native and a graduate of Tatnall School and the University of Delaware. She lives in Bellefonte with her husband, Wes, their 3-year-old daughter, Amelia, a pit bull rescue named Lola and a tortoise named Molly.

Illustration by Abby Musial

As I write this, we’re entering our eighth week of lockdown, or as I like to call it, Dante’s 10th circle of hell. Is anyone still sane? Judging by the number of 40-year-olds dancing to “Savage” on TikTok, I’m guessing no.

Jokes aside, I truly thought we’d be on the other side of this by now. Instead, I’m stuck on this hamster wheel, flying into a jealous rage daily simply because my husband Wes’ landscaping business takes him outside of our house where he gets to partake in adult interaction while I am limited to conversing with our 3-year-old daughter.

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My days typically consist of waking up, playing with Amelia, grazing out of boredom, trying to get some work done, snapping at her when I can’t complete said work because she needs something every 10 seconds, then sobbing because I feel terrible for yelling. Rinse. Repeat—until I lose my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we’re extremely lucky. We aren’t worried about how we’re going to put food on the table or whether we’ll have jobs when all of this is over. We’re not facing the prospect of losing either of the two small businesses we’ve worked so hard to build. My sanity is another story, though. And it’s not solely because every day is Groundhog Day.

Wes often tells me to stop trying to solve the world’s problems. Not in the literal sense—I’m not out there trying to single-handedly stop world hunger—I just have a tendency to shoulder the burdens of everyone on the planet. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning under the weight of a grief that’s not even mine to carry.

I can’t help it; that’s just who I’ve always been, and it’s never been more apparent than right now. Everything feels heavier than it did in the beginning. Until a few weeks ago, I felt like we were watching this unfold on some distant stage. Yes, we were on lockdown, but I didn’t personally know anyone who had contracted the virus, and I was still holding onto hope that schools would reopen and we’d be back to business as usual sooner than later. That’s not the case anymore, unfortunately.

Wes’ great aunt passed away in a nursing home, and we later learned she’d tested positive for COVID-19. A favorite teacher of mine lost her brother, who had survived both World Trade Center bombings only to be taken down by this virus. One friend lost her mother, and another lost his uncle. All of them died alone, with no visitors allowed to say goodbye. The thought of that makes my bones feel like they’re shattering inside my skin.

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RELATED: Parenting During a Pandemic: One Delaware Mom’s Perspective

I recently listened to Cheryl Strayed’s podcast, in which one of my favorite writers, Amy Tan, described how this pandemic has brought the same sense of breathlessness she felt at 16, when she lost both her father and brother in the span of a year. She explained the anxiety we’re all feeling as a collective sense of grief for the world as we knew it, and that we’ll have to learn to adapt to our new normal in the same way we’re forced to adapt after the loss of a loved one. A landscape forever changed seemingly overnight, and we’ve had no choice in the matter.

“I wish someone had told me that it’s OK to want to escape, to wish you were anywhere but where you’re supposed to be,” she’d said. “That it’s OK to do the minimum just to get through the day without shattering. And that it’s OK to be angry.”

Her words took my breath away. I am angry—for our friends who could potentially lose everything. For everyone who is forced to put their health at risk to show up for work every day. For families who can’t hold funerals. For postponed weddings, and canceled graduations and proms. For parents having to juggle full workloads on top of navigating online schooling for their kids. For grandparents who are missing out on so many milestones. For lost time.

I’m angry for Amelia, who seems to have settled into this routine of nothingness. She rarely asks to go anywhere anymore, and I don’t know whether to be grateful or cry because my 3-year-old has had huge parts of her childhood ripped out from under her and there’s nothing I can do to piece it all back together.

Right beyond that anger is an overwhelming sense of grief. I don’t want this to be her “new normal.” What parent would? And where do we go from here?

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Last night I sobbed to my therapist about how I felt like I was failing as a mom in just about every way possible. This lockdown life is turning me into someone I don’t want to be, and I’m terrified of how all of this will affect Amelia in the long run.

“Stop thinking about it as Groundhog Day,” my therapist said, “and start thinking about every day as a chance for a do-over. Seek out the glimmers of hope in all of this chaos. Prove it to yourself with small wins.”

There’s no rule book for parenting in a crisis, which is exactly what this is. We’ve all been thrown into the fire, and what matters here is how we rise from the ashes. Seek the good. Find the silver linings.

If all else fails, I’ll look to Amelia—my constant beacon of light when the world goes dark.

Small wins.

Published as “What’s Normal Anymore?” in the July 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.

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