Amber Brown is an entrepreneur, wife and mom of three children who are 11, 8 and 4. Before COVID-19 hit, she described her life as busy, full and satisfying.
Now, she says, "I can tell that the balance is off quite a bit. I don't really feel like I am doing anything well at the moment, and that can really mess with your outlook on life for sure. Sometimes, I feel like I am failing at everything."
As the pandemic began changing life as we knew it, Amber questioned how she would balance everything and if her business, something she loves that also feeds her soul, would end up taking a backseat to everything else. Would she end up losing her identity in the midst of quarantine?
"When the shelter-in-place orders first came out, I was really scared," says Amber. "My husband works on total commission, and I run my business out of our home. Trying to fulfill orders, help with schoolwork and keep up with the household, everything felt overwhelming, especially at a time of year when my business picks up dramatically."
Fortunately, Amber and her husband were able to have a conversation about their work situations, what their girls needed from them and what they both needed in order to stay sane during this crazy period of time. It helped them figure out some semblance of a routine that was reasonable.
One thing Amber noticed about her girls is they were quick to pick up on and react to her emotional state, even if she thought she was hiding it well.
"I recognized that if I was filled with anxiety about this situation, my kids would be too," Amber says. "I am trying to be cool and relaxed so they will feed off of that. I am trying to keep all the balls up in the air and hold on to who I am at the same time."
The Browns decided it was important to still have routines to help them get through the day.
"I can tell you that just about every day, if it's past 8:30 and they are not winding down, I tell them, 'Mommy is done. I love you, but I need time for me.' In fact, last night at the dinner table, when we had finished eating, I told everyone, 'This has been fun, but I have a necklace I have to make today. I love you. I am headed to my office.'"
Amber is quick to say that it has been helpful that she and her husband came up with a plan that allowed both of them to still get in some exercise and some "timeout" moments in order to stay sane.
"I think the biggest thing I have realized is so much of who I am involves activities outside our home. I love my husband and children, and I also love being part of the praise and worship team at our church, immersing myself in my work and being around other people. Right now, I just feel disconnected from a lot of what I love that makes me who I am. I have worked hard not to be resentful in the midst of the quarantine. There are definitely moments of sadness, but honestly, this slower time has been lovely for us as a family."
The Browns have worked hard to keep things fresh while living on a tighter budget. They have spent a lot of time outside. They have learned new games together and enjoyed just hanging out.
"Our oldest has learned to cook, which I guarantee you is something that would not have happened previously because we would have been running around to dance class, Scouts and everything else she had on her plate."
One thing Amber has tried to guard against is comparing herself to other moms and what they are doing at this moment in time.
"When I feel comparison creeping in, I realize I have to let it go," Amber says. "We have figured out what is working for our family right now, and that is what really matters. I do have moments of mommy guilt when I think about all the things I should be doing or that I want to be doing that I'm not doing because I just don't have the energy to do it. At that moment, I try to remind myself that I have been a mom long enough to know it's going to be OK. We will catch up. Beating myself up is not helpful.
"Our oldest seems to be handling this pretty well. Our second-grader needs my attention most right now with school. My goal is to help her stay confident. School is not fun with me; it's fun with her friends. Normally, right now I would be focused on helping our 4-year-old learn her ABCs, but at the moment, my goal is to focus on her social and emotional well-being."
If you are reading this and realize that you've lost your identity as a mom during this crisis, here are four things you can do.
* Acknowledge when you have reached your limit and need a timeout. Create space for that to happen. It's good for everybody to be apart for a period of time to hit the reset button.
* Give yourself some grace if you feel like you are not measuring up. Nobody is at their best at this moment, but more than likely we are all trying and that counts for something for sure!
* Do what works for you. Consider what is best for you and your family at this moment and don't worry about not looking like everybody else. As Amber said, comparisons aren't helpful.
* Be willing to adapt and adjust on the fly. Walking in unknown territory requires some agility to bend and flex, depending on the situation. Sometimes it doesn't look very pretty, but who cares if it's what works for your family.
As things start opening up, when asked about getting back to normal, Amber says she really believes life will look different for them.
"Even though I was a bit panicked when this whole thing started, wondering what we were going to do, we have really enjoyed being together as a family and the slower pace," she says. "We will all enjoy having the freedom to go and do things, and I will appreciate getting back to the things that fulfill me and help me to be a better mom. But I think we will work to keep the slower pace. It just feels good."
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.