After everything we’ve been through in the last year and a half, let’s take it up a notch this Mother’s Day. Dig a little deeper not just in how we celebrate the day, but how we define it.
Yes, technically by definition, mother is the “female parent.” But how we view mothering defies gender. When we think of “mothering,” it’s actually non-binary. Mothering is so many things: cradling, feeding, nurturing, nourishing, cultivating, encouraging, looking after, loving, cherishing, encouraging, and more. Words associated with father are conceive, generate, produce, and spawn. These synonyms feel outdated, maybe a little sexist.
This needs to be recognized not to ignite a battle of the sexes, but to acknowledge that the act of mothering is so much more than technically being a mother. In most relationships, someone takes on that mothering role. Someone serves as the primary caregiver.
Oh, the caretaking that we have done over the last year! Anyone who has a child with a disability knows that caregiving and parenting are not the same. But this pandemic has stripped us of the support and respite we need to do a good, or even a mediocre job.
Caregivers are hurting. We are exhausted. We are languishing. We are lost. We are broken. We have been living on high alert for far too long.
Those around us are breathing sighs of relief. Adults are getting vaccinated. The 12 and over set are up next. But many caregivers are still deeply entrenched in this nightmare. We have high risk children who, even with the vaccine, need herd immunity to be safe. More than a year in lockdown has led to challenging behaviors with no respite or support. Some of our children are being turned away from in person learning, even though they desperately need it.
And here we are, another COVID Mother’s Day. The irony is that many of us are helping our children make their cards for us. (Contrary to stereotypes, not all mothering types like arts and crafts. Some of us despise them.)
Now, some partners who have been working at home might view their presence as helpful. And for the most part it is. But that presence does not make up for children being in school and afterschool programs. It does not make up for respite and attendant care. It is another body producing more noise, dirtying more laundry, dropping more crumbs on the floor. Even if you relieve the primary caregiver for such and such amount of time, that does not make up for the total lack of structure or the constant noise and stimulation of a house that is always full.
All of this is to say – let’s not treat this Sunday like a typical Mother’s Day. Let’s really examine what the caregivers in our lives are doing and assess what they need.
IDENTIFY THE MOTHERERS
Treat this Sunday as Mothering Day. Who are those mothering figures in your life? Grandparents? Aunts and Uncles? Friends? Honor them. Think about the single parents in your life and how challenging this year must have been for them. Give them a call, send them a card. Let them know you see them.
Maybe you’ve ordered flowers or a necklace. That’s great. But think beyond the trinkets. Send them to a hotel for a night or two. Book a massage. Arrange for them to see a friend. Send them out on a hike. Or just give them some time off in their own home – camp out with the kids and leave them in the bedroom solo.
DO THE THINGS
So often when a mother/motherer/caregiver gets time away, they come home and everything they always do is waiting and then some. Do those things! Scrub the toilets. Fold the laundry. Vacuum. Dust. Make lunch and clean up after. Make sure school work is done and medication is given. Comb the kids’ hair. Make sure teeth are brushed. Cut the nails. A caregiver’s to do list is never-ending. Take on some of those things. Not just for a day, but for always.
TAKE A MENTAL LOAD OFF
Most mothers/motherers/primary caregivers carry a heavy mental load. We keep track of all the things, all the time. Even if someone else handles a task, we’re often assigning it and reminding them to do it: take out the trash, handle the carpool, empty the dishwasher, give Jane her medicine, feed the dog. It is relentless.
The mental load is portrayed as a male/female dynamic. But we see it in same sex couples too. One person typically takes on the brunt of it.
Take some time to observe how this plays out in your home. Relationship roles become deeply ingrained. See what changes you can make to take some of the load off your partner. Put reminders in your calendar and handle it without saying a word, asking how to do it, complaining about, or seeking praise.
Validation is everything. Telling someone that you see them, that you see how hard this is, that you see how much they have taken on – means so much. There are somethings only a caregiver can do. Expressing gratitude and admiration helps more than you realize.
REALLY TALK TO THEM
Even in the best of times, constant caregiving is challenging. Right now, it is relentless. (This should go without saying, but it is not because of those we are caring for, rather the way the system fails families like ours.) Mothering types rarely admit they are not OK. If they mention they are having a hard time, it’s probably far worse than they are letting on.
This pandemic is having a profound impact on our mental health. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts have increased. Mothers are not immune to this, we just hide it well.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the tough stuff. It is OK to discuss suicide, in fact, it’s important to bring it up if you are concerned. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
MORE THAN JUST ONE SUNDAY
Caregivers are still very much in this mess of a pandemic. Children with disabilities and their families have suffered in ways that the rest of the world hasn’t. Unfortunately, that isn’t over. As children go back to school after a year of nuanced shock and trauma, they will need support beyond what’s in their IEP, beyond what schools are prepared or staffed to give.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that going back to in person learning means that caregivers can kick back for 6 hours a day. We’ll be catching up on our own doctors’ appointments and emails. We’ll be revamping IEPs. We’ll be updating BIPs. (If you don’t know what these acronyms are, then add that to the list of understanding the caregiving role.) We’ll be meeting with teachers. We’ll be answering emails about issues at school. We might even get a call to pick up our child because they are “acting out.” We’re rushing to get back to normal without considering the help many will need to make this dramatic transition.
We’ll also be hiring support staff at home once it’s safe to bring outsiders in again. Even this is harder than it seems. Quality staff is rarely willing to work for the low pay that our systems provide.
We need to carry the spirit of Mother’s Day with us throughout the year. The mothers/motherers/caregivers in your life need help. We need forgiveness when we lose it. We need nurturing and TLC. Not just this Sunday, but every day.