Motherhood

What Have I Missed Out on This Year? Myself

mother and baby

Lately I’ve been thinking about depth and how desperately I miss it…

It is 9 p.m. on a Monday night and I am writing this with my seven-year-old sitting across from me, eating apples (“cut them in thin slices, okay?”) and almond butter. She’s already in her pajamas but decided that the right time to tell me that she was still hungry was not when we were still over at our friends’ for dinner, or even right when we walked in the door, but after she’d brushed her teeth and while I was on the toilet. My husband is playing the piano and the sound is filling our apartment. I’ll need to get her into her room soon. She won’t be asleep for hours. There will be many negotiations until then.

There she goes, to start the process all over.

I’ve tried, over these last few weeks, as we slowly emerge from our pandemic cocoons, to write about how much I’ve missed going deep: of sitting alone, for swaths of time, with my thoughts. Writing, or not writing, but having the chance to slowly sink to the bottom of something, to wander around in the depths of an idea, an image, a scene, to not bother coming up for air or laundry or a timer or a doorbell ringing or a call of “Mama!”

But, in the kind of plot twist that no one would find believable, only a few sentences into my most recent attempt — earphones strapped on, husband making lunch behind me in the kitchen, eyes firmly fixed on the screen — my phone rang. And rang again and again and again. Mine, not my husband’s. An unknown number. Decline decline decline, I’m working, I’m writing about going deep without being able to go deep.

Hi! This is Mrs. Pierce! My daughter’s teacher said when I finally picked up.

Oh, no, she must—

Don’t worry! She is fine!

You scared me!

It’s just that Noa needs to take a math test, and she forgot her email address at home and needs it to get into the school website. Can you go find it? She says it’s on her desk? On a blue slip of paper?

In the years after Covid, will there be no books published by mothers? Will all the primary caretakers have lost all ability to sink into anything beyond the immediate and pressing needs of the other members of our families? Will we have perfected the art of writing or composing or painting or choreographing (in our heads) to the sound of our families lying in bed, talking and laughing — as I am now — about, for example, LeBron James, or fighting over hair clips? Will we have learned to make dinner and text friends about our desperation and hand in assignments (somehow) and teach classes with children underfoot (somehow) and schlep them to and from their sliver of a school day (three hours!) and make the grocery list and get the perishables unpacked and find and register and pay for the summer camps, all while losing ourselves, our deepest selves, in the midst of it?

For some reason, I keep thinking back to the summer of 2019, before any of us knew what was coming. My husband, daughter and I hightailed it from Los Angeles, where we live, to Montreal, where I grew up, for a quieter summer. We put our girl in summer camp, had loads of family support, and I devoted myself whole-heartedly to a project that I felt could, eventually, become a book. I felt so inside it, returning to the story again and again, every single morning, trying to find its shape and meaning and the words to get from one thought to the next. I’d track my output, tens of thousands of words produced by the end of the summer. How satisfying that time had been!

It had, in other words, felt like just the opposite of all the writing I’ve done over the last 15 months: scattered, last-minute, surface. Paint thrown at a wall.

And then, my smallest, most awful voice whispered to me, Where might my book be if I’d been able to find — to carve out, to insist on — that quiet, deep place, even through this? If it hadn’t gone the way of the pandemic, to baking banana bread and clay and finding email addresses on a messy desk?

It feels lost to me now, that time, that skill.

Yes, I know it will come back. The children will return to school. We will, once again, work outside our homes, no longer on top of each other. We will find the spaces we once occupied that were ours alone. I have learned so much this year, about survival and community and multi-tasking. About keeping the proverbial balls in the air. About just getting by. About the power of a walk or a quick check-in with a friend or a hot cookie fresh out of the oven. About being a new kind of mother, one who says, yes yes yes to everything, more tickles, more TV, more ice cream, staying up late.

But I’ve lost a lot, too. Time alone. Time to think. To create in silence, fear somewhere in the room. To write without constant interruption. To be off the hook. Time to wait, to refine. To move into unexpected and surprising places in my mind. This is the luxury of space —

My daughter just wandered in. I can’t sleep. Pajama pants dragging along the floor. Hair mussed.

Let me just finish this one thing —


Abigail Rasminsky is a writer, editor and teacher based in Los Angeles. She teaches creative writing at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and writes the weekly newsletter, People + Bodies. She also wrote this story about marriage.

P.S. 21 surprising parenting tips and a motherhood mantra.

(Photo by Lauren Lee/Stocksy.)

  1. This post is very deep and I really love seeing Moms talk about the struggles in order to help other Moms feel like they are not alone. I have been going through this as well, and I have had to learn how to rediscover myself as a mom. I wrote a post on rediscovering yourself in motherhood, and anyone struggling with their identity in motherhood is welcome to check it out!
    Thanks so much for an amazing read today!

  2. Emily says...

    Currently feeling absolutely suffocated by motherhood so this was a tonic. Thank you.

  3. Angela says...

    “A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow.” – Hannah Arendt

    With lockdown starting at the end of March last year, what’s been hardest for me is having no time on my own. Previously my husband would be at the office, and my sons away studying. Which meant I would have at least 8 hours a day of uninterrupted time. But now, everyone’s home, all the time. And while I do relish this time spent together, a deeper part of me mourns my solitude and the space to ponder and go deep and work in a focused way. Thank you Abigail, your post put into words the dis-ease I’d been feeling but was unable to verbalise.

    • Kat says...

      I feel exactly the same way

  4. bp says...

    I just read this as I took a break from writing one of two scientific papers that have been languishing for a year. They are both supposed to report the results of my postdoctoral research, which I am really proud of and want the world to see. But finding time to “dive deep” and marinate on the results, the discussion, the salient points I want to make has eluded me for 14 months. I am embarrassed, frustrated, scared (that someone will “scoop” me), and sad at my lack of focus.

    When these papers do finally get published, I wonder if anyone will truly know how hard it was to write them…with a 7 year old at home in the next room in Zoom school, taking a break every 25 minutes for more snacks, done with school completely at 1 pm; and me feeling the motherly pull to just give in and snuggle and sit with him in the sun and check the garden, go on a walk, try to calm my brain and body down from the low-level persistent feeling of being on edge I’ve had since the pandemic started. Maybe I’ll add something in the acknowledgements :)

  5. B says...

    Exactly Sarah. While parenting during a pandemic isn’t what parenting should be like at all AND parents have lost the support systems that they normally can rely on, in my experience, some of what the author is describing is still present in normal circumstances for mothers (which is due in part to lack of societal support and women being treated as the primary parent). We should be able to acknowledge that motherhood can be beautiful AND hard. And for some, the loss of personal time and to some degree, autonomy, (even for “just a few years” as described elsewhere on this thread), is why they don’t want to have children. That’s not a statement on the choices of those who do.

    Also, after many moms posted in the comment section of a child free post, it’s frustrating to see one child free woman’s opinion immediately shamed and silenced in the comments on a motherhood post.

  6. Toni says...

    Yes yes and yes.. It gets better as the kids get older but then they stay up later (loudly) and at least in my small house I still feel like I can never get the absolute by myself time that it takes to get still, quiet and creative. Things come organically though- be patient with yourself and you will find depth waiting for you when you least expect it. For me it is now in the mornings when everyone is still quiet in bed and sometimes I am lucky enough to perseverate and daydream enough to get ideas flowing. It may be at a different time or place- but I hope you have a chance to seize it when it comes.

  7. Rose says...

    Thank you for this beautiful essay. The world (and government in particular!) should never be allowed to forget what this pandemic put working parents (especially mothers!) through.

    I will say–as a single person without children–I don’t know if it makes you feel any better that I feel exactly the same way about skimming the surface of my life and lacking the ability to do deep work even though I have had days and months of being utterly alone all pandemic. The existential dread, bone deep loneliness, feeling concern and anxiety for others, feeling guilt that I *wasn’t* managing to get work done despite all this time alone, counting up the months of not being touched. It hasn’t exactly been a writer’s retreat! (I’m a doctoral student and writer). The only depths I felt I had access to were those of despair. I felt guilty for being envious of people with partners and children because at least they managed to find those things in the before times! I don’t know if I want children or not, but I lost a year of dating at age 27, and starting to date again post vaccine has been overwhelming–I feel like an utterly different person—so much older and sadder. Tl;dr–I think feel a lack of depth has been universal–thank you again for this essay from your perspective!

    • Maryn says...

      I also don’t have children and have felt the same this past year, Rose. Definitely a universal loss of ability to access that depth of being. Sending love your way—there are good things to come. <3

  8. Kara says...

    Ooof. I feel this so, so deeply.

    • Inge says...

      Me too. Some time alone at home in silence would be heaven. I loved the extra familytime but I desperately need some me-time now. I even have been thinking of going away on my own, just for 1 night – 2 days…

  9. Katrina says...

    I had my daughter in January 2020. Of course everything shut down as soon as we were comfortable with taking her out of the house. I’ve had so many breakdowns during the pandemic and so many times when my husband has needed to remind me that parenthood is not the reason that I’ve felt like my life is over — it’s the pandemic that made us never able to leave the house, not the baby. But now we’ve become totally entrenched in our routines at home — the thought of schlepping out of the house and going to a park or a brewery is so daunting. I did take her to a park a couple of weeks ago and a kid coughed right in her face. I cried driving home. I don’t know exactly what I want to say except that I’ll never lose the urge to just swallow my baby whole and keep her safe in my belly again.

    • A says...

      I don’t know exactly what I want to say except that I’ll never lose the urge to just swallow my baby whole and keep her safe in my belly again.

      This is beautifully put.

    • AJ says...

      I so feel this Katrina! I have twin boys and righhhttt when I felt like we were at a point to take them out into the world, everything shut down. It has been so hard to figure out how much of this sadness, loneliness and disconnection is just parenthood or the pandemic.

    • Marie says...

      Thank you for sharing. I had a baby last fall and it’s SO daunting thinking about leaving the house. I don’t know how people do it. And it’s so lonely at the same time. And I’m grateful for all this time together. Lots of feelings!

    • Megan says...

      Oh my gosh, yes! ❤️

  10. annie says...

    I’m in the same boat, although I’m enjoying the break from deep thinking. The work I did was all about criminality and sexual assault and the worst parts of humanity. I didn’t realize until I had to quit to care for my baby that I was constantly recovering from working with others in trauma, and that it was taking more from me than my meager salary was giving. Since becoming a mom and focusing elsewhere (or nowhere), I have rediscovered my joy, because of the interruption.

  11. This is so beautiful and true. Thank you for articulating this time as a mother so well. I have had a mirror experience to yours though: I had to close my 16-year-old international business at the beginning of COVID. I homeschooled my kids (which I hated, absolutely 100% hated). But I was able to sign up for a few writing classes, and I’m writing regularly for the first time in my life. I’ve submitted a few places, but am very much a beginner. I have lost so much this year- my company, my sense of worth being my productivity, my community, but I have carved out some sentences. I cannot wait to get these kids in summer camp and do that deep diving that you described. I hope I’m able to make something beautiful when I’m able to write in longer stretches. Your words made me feel seen, and excited about what is ahead. Thank you.

  12. Emily Tan says...

    I’ve been coping with work, the pandemic and a new baby differently. But my approach may not be for everyone. I realised I was getting frustrated and stressed because my baby wasn’t giving me the time I wanted to do… anything. Housework, cooking, work, reading… etc, I feel you ladies!

    But then one day I thought – what am I doing? I’m making every time my baby wants me an interruption to what I really want to do. BUT I love him to pieces and I remember being an irritant to my parents. I don’t want him to feel like that. So now… I regard everything else as something that interrupts baby time. That I have to schedule and arrange for help with baby if I really need to get something done. But all these things are just… less important than spending time with my 1-year old who will never be one again.

    I don’t want to preach to anyone! Please don’t think I am. But this mindset shift has completely changed my outlook and made me a happier mum. By choosing my child I’ve opted for easier or ready-to-cook meals, I’ve time-shifted the work I can do on the weekend to the weekend as my husband is more able to care for baby then and give me some uninterrupted time. I spend my weekdays doing what I must to get by but welcoming all the time I spend playing and cuddling my toddler. I know this isn’t for everyone, but I decided that if I have to choose, I choose baby.

    • Anna says...

      You won’t regret your choice.

    • Abesha1 says...

      I did the same. I felt so frustrated by trying to get time alone or time for me or time to… whatever… and when I just accepted that baby was always going to be with me want me, I embraced it. It’s not for everyone, and there will come a day when it changes.

  13. Bonjour de Montreal says...

    I have been trying to describe this for months. I would say « « too much domesticity » or a heavier mental load ( is this the way we say « charge mentale »?) but it was not exactly it. «  Merci » for providing me with a better key to my feelings. I will forward this to all my friends.

  14. In 2020, I made this:
    https://michelelandel.com/cmon-getup
    The truth is that she was already stitched and “done” back in February 2020, but in March 2020 I added that giant heavy rock and waited until the government allowed us to leave our house in June 2020 to take the photos.

    Since then, I have had so little space or time to think and creativity requires both. I feel so much of what you describe, Abigail. Thank you for putting it into words. XO

    • Jo Kelly says...

      your work is absolutely brilliant… loved browsing through it!

    • EW says...

      Your art took my breath away. Yes. Deeply, profoundly, YES.

    • Toni says...

      Thank you!

  15. Lisa says...

    I am (kind of) writing a novel right now on top of my day job and having to small children. I’m just having to put it on hold as I don’t have time to sit and concentrate on it as either I have lots of interruptions or I’m exhausted after a day of work. I’m trying to keep some momentum by reading and researching, but it’s hard nom hoping this summer I’ll be able to do some more while we’re staying with family. My husband and I were trying to read nobles the other day, and the kids were constantly interrupting and he said “wow. You need to be very dedicated to be able to read under these circumstances “. Yup

  16. Jess says...

    You know that old adage about empty-nesters getting to know each other again once the kids are gone? I feel that way about myself. Once the pandemic dust settles and I finally have time to myself — Will I know myself? Will I like myself?

  17. beth says...

    Simply beautiful (and gut-wrenchingly true).

  18. Laura says...

    I walked away from a business I built from scratch in December 2019. Burned that carefully-crafted career to the ground and secretly skipped through its ashes. For two and a half glorious months I finally, finally (!) started writing. Then, COVID sent my kindergartner and second grader home for the next 347 days. The six chapters I had written, proof of life of my childhood dream, collected dust. There was just no way to be all the people I needed to be for my kids and have the mental dexterity to write. All my creativity was leached away as I (badly) translated Spanish for my kindergartner who was suffering through his school days tied to a computer he couldn’t operate in a language neither of us spoke. My energy went into apologizing to my children for not being able to see their friends for an unknowable amount of time through scratch made baked goods and DIY science experiments. I feel this essay so deeply and hope mothers (me!) give each other a leg up getting back to themselves.

  19. Katherine says...

    Thank you for putting into words what I have felt over the past 14+ months. I’ve come to read CoJ as a distraction before I face my PhD comprehensive exams tomorrow. I’ve balanced the workload of the first year and preparation for the exams while co-parenting our 2 kids who have been home with us for 43+ weeks since March 2020. As my 4 year old said to me yesterday “It doesn’t matter how well you do Mama, only that you tried your best.” She is absolutely right – no matter what happens with the exams, I need to take a moment to celebrate what I’ve accomplished this year. We all need to celebrate what we’ve accomplished – for I never would have believed just how much I was capable of in the Summer of 2019.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good luck tomorrow, Katherine!!! and what a sweet, wise little girl you have (who is clearly learning from you). xoxo

    • can I be anonymous today? says...

      hi, katherine …

      i agree with you and your wise daughter, but still will wish you well on the exam. i pray you can relax for trusting in yourself and all your hard work, enjoy the day (or at least that the exam’s over) and go to your future! i have a feeling you’ll have much more to celebrate!

      can I be anonymous today?

    • ha says...

      Good luck, Katherine!

  20. Anonymous says...

    I cannot wait to go back to the office in July. When I am at the “real office” my husband, parents, kids, and everyone else actually believe that I have a job and I am occupied and therefore cannot help them with every little thing. When I am in the “fake office” at home (yes the office in the house is considered “fake”…that closed door really is not there, that thing I am typing on is not really a computer, and that is not really a Zoom Call that I am on, it is an episode of The Office so I can just pause it), my husband forgets how to make his own lunch or where he put (fill in the blank), the kids suddenly did not know how to shower, brush their teeth, or get dressed on their own any more even though they are above the age of 12, and my parents lose all ability to problem solve so they call me all day long and if I don’t answer my phone then they call my husband to find out why I am not answering my phone because surely I am quarantined in my home doing nothing except waiting for someone to give me something to do! I just know that if I go back to the “real office” my sanity will be restored.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “it is an episode of The Office so I can just pause it” = oh my gosh, hahaha, I see you, anon!

    • So much this! My daughter comes to me and says ‘but Daddy is working, can you help/come/fix/etc?” I can’t help but get upset. She’s on the verge of six so I remind her that we are BOTH working , why we work and how I will be available shortly. My God, it is so frustrating at times – the constant pause.

  21. Lisa says...

    What a gift you have, to so perfectly capture what SO many moms feel! THANK YOU. We HAVE lost so much but I also think about the weekday soccer games I played at 10:00 am with my older son or moments I spent literally just nuzzling the curls of my younger son when he climbed in bed with me (we decided to skip kindergarten by zoom entirely and he’s going this fall instead). Time was taken yes, but time was also given and it all just contributes to the huge complexity of being a mother, doesn’t it? Despite the insanity of the last 15 months, I cherish the gift of motherhood more than ever. What a year this has been. Thank you for writing in a way that highlights both the challenges and beauty of what it was like to be a mother during Covid. WE CAN DO HARD THINGS!!! Moms are AMAZING.

    • Abigail Rasminsky says...

      Yes! Agree. There were also so many beautiful moments I will (egads!) miss. xx

  22. Cheryl says...

    I relate so much to this although as a mother to a child with special needs, the wistful memories of when I get myself back are firmly shelved for a long time. Of course it is sad but that’s the reality. I lost my vision of what my motherhood would look like in one day of a diagnosis. Then the worry set in.

    Everyone’s Covid was my day to day life, the anxiety, the not knowing, the chaos, that’s basic feeling, and with no end in sight. When she was first diagnosed I thought I’d shatter with the worry of it all.

    But we don’t shatter. We are mothers. We overcome. We fortify ourselves with new thresholds of pain and worry but also sweetness and joy too. And we exist to laugh and find happiness again. We will all get there, eventually. Some of us in a few months, some of us in a few years, some of us never will regain, only redefine because we can’t go back.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sending you the biggest hug, Cheryl. That sounds impossibly hard and heartbreaking and all of the things. Your daughter I so lucky to have you. The world is lucky to have you. You sound like a truly wonderful parent.

    • S says...

      Cheryl you are an amazing writer, and clearly an amazing mom and person too. Thank you for your searingly beautiful comment.

    • can I be anonymous today? says...

      to cheryl …

      i am so impressed by your words and attitude, strength and love. if ever you don’t feel that strong, know there’s someone out in the world praying for you and your girl.

      can I be anonymous today?

    • Jennifer says...

      I often tell people that we can, any one of us, rise to the occasion. As the mother of special needs kids, I feel you. Sometimes it is so daunting! But I believe you will make it. Hang in there. It just becomes your new normal, and the painful edges buff out with time. Sending love and strength.

  23. K says...

    Just trying to do some work (which is creative and personal and requires deep thinking) and my children loudly poured into my room, set up camp, and began arguing. I shooed them away and then couldn’t stop hearing them clomp through the house, bored. I cannot even think a complete thought without being interrupted. It is a kind of torture. My brain is so fried. So, this is just a friendly reminder: vaccines are a feminist issue. As much as the birth control pill, vaccines have freed up women to work outside the home, contribute to society beyond raising children, and carve out a space for themselves (which every person deserves). This is true for MM&R and chicken pox and all the rest of it–and it is true for covid. Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own could be constructed entirely out of othrotricyclen and vaccines.

    • Emily says...

      this is a great point and so eloquently put.

    • Abigail Rasminsky says...

      Such an important point! I hadn’t thought of it that way!

    • Sarah says...

      This is brilliant and I would buy a tee shirt and a matching tote bag with the phrase “vaccines are a feminist issue.”

    • beth says...

      Yes to this.

  24. Betsy says...

    This post took my breath away in its trueness and realness.

    • Becca G says...

      Amen.

  25. Christy says...

    I bet I say “let me just finish this one thing” about 5 times a day. Elsie Larson wrote, about having young kids and no time for herself, something like, ‘in just about 5 years or so I’ll have time again to do all these things I want to do” and that was comforting to me. The time will come back around!

    • Le says...

      I think about that, too. And how, in five years or so, when I have this time again, I’ll miss these moments of having been So Needed. When you open your arms to a 1 year old and they stop what they’re doing and toddle into them, and your 3 year old asks you to kiss her ear at bedtime for the fifteenth time.

  26. A says...

    I am reading this while I sit on the toilet supervising my oldest in the bath and nursing my youngest after his bath. I FEEL THIS ESSAY IN MY BONES.

  27. Jen says...

    Beautiful story and exactly why I chose not to have kids.

    • Meredith says...

      This past year-plus is not what having kids is supposed to be like. Something like the author’s summer of 2019 is closer to what things should be like, where she was able to get support and most importantly childcare. Don’t have kids if you don’t want to, but comments like yours only reinforce a whole bunch of tired stereotypes and provide excuses for society not to support moms in the way that we need.

    • Lily says...

      Thanks for this, Meredith! People don’t get that some posts aren’t actually about them. Someone didn’t have kids because a global pandemic could hit? Mmmmkay.

    • Sarah says...

      When women say they chose not to have kids for xzy reason, it is not an attack on you personally as a mom or an attack on motherhood as a whole. I’ve seen or heard a defensive response, like yours Meredith, many times to women who give a reason (not that they have to) of why they are child free. This women with child vs. women who can’t vs. women who can but don’t have yet vs. women who don’t want kids is what is tiresome. You blaming a woman’s choice not to have children (and making it known) on the reason why society doesn’t support moms is a leap, and doesn’t do anything to encourage society to support moms. Just pits us against one another yet again.

  28. Allegra LaViola says...

    YUP

  29. Rupa says...

    Love everything about this piece. Thank you for sharing something very honest and relatable.

  30. Nathalie says...

    I have dreamt of a tiny house – a place to go deep – throughout the pandemic; failing that, a second apartment. Neither is financially feasible but we were able to buy an old, cheap camping trailer and are slowly renovating it into a sanity-saving place to retreat to.
    I’ll hopefully soon be enjoying some much-needed, uninterrupted quiet. It’s been a struggle to keep myself from slowly dissolving.

  31. Caitlin says...

    Thank you for this piece. I’m reading it while sitting in a restaurant for the first time and having taken a day off work to have my first day totally on my own since my son was born almost a year ago. I went to an in person barre class this morning and felt myself starting to get emotional at the familiar muscle memory that had become so far away but today brought so much familiar comfort of my “old” self, or maybe just my true self that has been pushed to the side this past year. Motherhood is beautiful and raw and challenging, but being a new mother during a pandemic is so incredibly isolating. But strangely having a day on my own to let my thoughts come spilling out finally instead of all the other distractions is exactly what I craved.

    • Abigail Rasminsky says...

      I bow down to all the mothers who gave birth during the pandemic. It’s so hard in “normal” times and to go through it this year…wow. So glad you got a day alone! xx

  32. Beautiful writing. Loved this – thank you, Abigail Rasminsky!

  33. Ceridwen says...

    Wonderful, beautiful writing.

  34. Alice says...

    Nailed it. Thank you for this piece!

  35. can i be anonymous today? says...

    thanks, abigail, for putting into beautifully-written words a lot of my thoughts and feelings. i hope you get more time to “go deep” and do what you want.

    thanks to coj for a wonderful blog full of thoughtful writers!

    best wishes to and prayers for all.

    can i be anonymous today?

  36. CEW says...

    What if we make this the year of forcing our significant others to do their *actual* 50% share, instead of calling it amazing that they participate in ~25-30% of the raising our children?

  37. Wow this felt so spot-on. As a fellow writer with little kids at home, I get it, I get it, I get it.

    This is what stuck out the most: “But I’ve lost a lot, too. Time alone. Time to think. To create in silence, fear somewhere in the room. To write without constant interruption. To be off the hook. Time to wait, to refine. To move into unexpected and surprising places in my mind. This is the luxury of space —”

    Thank you for this piece. Loved it.

  38. Marisa says...

    Wow this felt so spot-on. As a fellow writer with little kids at home, I get it, I get it, I get it.

    And always the pessimist, this is what stuck out the most: “But I’ve lost a lot, too. Time alone. Time to think. To create in silence, fear somewhere in the room. To write without constant interruption. To be off the hook. Time to wait, to refine. To move into unexpected and surprising places in my mind. This is the luxury of space —”

    Thank you for this piece. Loved it.

  39. Dianne says...

    Work on my second book came to a grinding halt in early 2020 and has not yet resumed. I feel an immense sense of loss about this even as I acknowledge the privilege of having been able to drop everything to take care of my daughter and home while my husband worked 12-16 hours a day at a tiny desk in our guest room. I too wonder if I will ever go deep into any work or any thought ever again. Thank you for articulating what I have been feeling (fearing) for so long.

  40. CJ says...

    Interesting article to say the least..
    I am a mother of one and it is still hard.. my 9 yr old daughter who has been in remote school has decided she is not bothering to get out her pajamas anymore, suddenly does not like the breakfast she is given (even though her request) and has given up on homework.. the tug of war all before 8am is draining. I am not sure if “we” (parents generally) will ever find alone time for deep thoughts unless it is midnight and by that time why bother.. but in the meantime I will continue to sneak my wine & cheese in the bathroom for a break. We are all trying our best with what we have and need to be gentle with ourselves.. this too shall pass.

  41. Meg says...

    Wow, I just loved this. Fantastic writing.

  42. Betz says...

    This. I have been bouncing between feeling that this time has been the biggest blessing and the meanest curse. The curse was my lay off, the constant and comsumming worry and watching life as we knew it slip away. I swear I haven’t had a clear thought in over a year. The blessing is that I was able to focus completely on taking care of my family and a slow kind of life and single purpose like I’ve never known. I miss who I was but I am proud of who I could be for others. But mostly, I can’t wait to meet the woman I’ll get to be when I can come up for air and join the fray again. can you be lonely because you miss ‘yourself’ like you’d miss the closest friend?

  43. Marie-Eve says...

    Its so funny. I was trying to write a report for work, and was thinking pretty much what you are sharing… The impossibility to go deep, to concentrate!… I felt this way since marcj 2020. In order to be able to just finish something for work, or personnal, or creative, my bedtime is getting pushed later and later, at 2-3 am. Sometimes, trying to get something done that requires concentration, I just give up… Thank you so much for sharing… I feel less lonely now.

    • heather says...

      You are not alone. My 3 kids and I often go to bed between 1 and 3 despite our best efforts!

  44. jennifer says...

    Bravo Bravo Bravo

  45. This so perfectly articulates what I’m going through. And I wish I could go have drinks with all the people leaving comments. This essay is so bittersweet– comforting to know I’m not the only one struggling, but it sucks that so many people are feeling this.

  46. Liz says...

    I feel this sentiment so deeply. Not only since the pandemic, but since becoming a mother two years ago!

  47. Megan says...

    This resonates so deeply with me and conversations I’ve had with other working mothers over the last year and a half. I’m still working from home and looking forward to summer camps and school hopefully being back full time in September. But then part of me wonders if I even remember how to go deep into my work and work without distraction and do more than just put out one fire and move on to the next thing and call it good enough (it’s a pandemic after all!). Part of me worries I don’t have that kind of sustained focus and energy in me anymore, and part of me doesn’t even want to get it back. And then I feel guilty for having that second thought. Like I should apologize for not having ambition. It’s a strange swirl of emotions for sure.

    • Meg says...

      Yes!

    • Jen says...

      Yes! The pandemic caught me on the cusp of returning to full time work after a few years home with kids. Now, it’s hard to imagine being able to concentrate enough to make that happen, on multiple levels. I hear you on that thought of not wanting to get it back and the ensuing guilt.

  48. b says...

    As a writer who hasn’t written a lick since this whole pandemic was just a seed in February 2020, I felt this deeply. I don’t have children, but I have parents who are aging and that feels like (to me) just as difficult a burden to bear. I’m lucky that my parents are in relatively good health and can manage on their own, but I can see the time coming when they’re not and I don’t know how to prepare for that. As the oldest child in my family, it’s all falling to me. My brother doesn’t worry about these things in the way I do. For him, everything will be fine in the end. For me, I will wonder if I did enough, cared enough, was helpful enough.

    I have immense admiration for the women out there in the world who are carrying everything while their partners work 9-5.

    • Agnès says...

      You are so right it is a heavy burden, much heavier than parenting, even though it is beautiful, but so hard. I m in the middle of it and I just want to run away sometimes… i would love a post on the topic.

    • Cynthia says...

      Nothing prepares you for how your parents will age. It’s hard working full time, managing your own family, and aging parents. Both my parents and my husband’s parents have passed away, but I understand how you’re feeling. No matter how many children are in the family, the responsibility falls on one. My brother and I did share responsibilities, but after he passed away, it was all on me.

    • can i be anonymous today? says...

      to b and agnes (sorry; i don’t know how to add the accent mark to your name) and everyone else in this situation …

      i am, in many ways, in a similar-sounding situation and know how painful and bittersweet caregiving is anyway, only to have it been/be made worse by this awful pandemic. i pray that you all have whatever support you need to get you through, plus extra … life is hard (also, thankfully, in many ways beautiful). i pray you have ease and lots of good times together with your loved ones and laughter and enough sleep. may God bless you and everyone else.

      and i second the wish for a post on this topic, please and thanks.

      can i be anonymous today?

    • Lisa says...

      Please do post on caring for aging parents!!! I felt SO responsible (it truly felt like the weight of the world!) for keeping both my kids and parents safe during this pandemic and as hard as it was on kids, I do believe it was harder on the elderly. Many people our parents age have no time to “bounce back” as the kids do. This has been SO. HARD. ON. EVERYONE. I’d greatly appreciate advice on how to be in the sandwich generation, caring for everyone and trying to find any minute here or there to care for yourself, too.

    • EW says...

      A friend and I recently talked about this — the nonstop caregiving! In every direction we look, there’s someone to care for. Both sets of parents have not fared well during the pandemic and the losses are becoming more apparent by the day. They have lost mobility, mental acuity, memories, muscle memory. What’s next for each of them weighs heavily on me because it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re dealing with physically, mentally, and emotionally. And, no one is talking about this! Add to that all the time at ‘home’ over the past year, all the terrible outcomes at retirement and skilled nursing facilities, and the conversation about what happens next has gone from difficult-at-best to impossible. I don’t know what to do for them; I don’t know what to do for me.

  49. Agnès says...

    That essay is beautifully written and you re doing it, the deep thinking! I am so exhausted that your writing made me cry. Yes, i want the time and space and peace of mind to think, write and create. Love from Paris

  50. Meg says...

    From the moment I saw the title of this piece I knew it was going to get me deep in my bones. I have been telling friends recently that I always feel shallow. I’m just skimming the surface of parenting, working, taking care of myself, being a partner – because everything I do is always getting interrupted. I’m constantly setting up boundaries with my kids (5 and 9) for my own mental health because I’m with them all the time. But then I feel like they are never getting the mom that goes deep into play/projects/conversations with them either. I’m not going deep with my own work and creativity, and I’m not going deep in enjoying motherhood either. It feels like such a loss on both ends. I think I have a well of deep sadness over this that I won’t even be able to fully realize until we are fully on the other side of all this. Thank you so much for this article, I feel so seen.

    • M says...

      Oh yes meg, me too. Im in the shallow.

    • Amy says...

      Yes, very much shallow. I’m chopped into too many pieces that all have to function simultaneously and so my whole self isn’t going deep into anything at all (work, parenting, thinking, the domestic life that I truly do enjoy when I can have time for it).

      I work from home part time; the hours are part-time, but I’m available and working intermittently between 6am-9pm. I am the primary parent (spouse works away from home occasionally which has reinforced that), and am an introvert to three kids.

      I’m so, so glad that in-person school was successful in my area this year. But I’m dreading summer; the available daycamps are expensive and fully booked, and so I will be the WFH and SAH parent this summer. My husband’s time off is being sucked into our renovation that will allow us to have one more bedroom (looking forward to that, dreading the reno process).

  51. celeste says...

    Spot.on.

  52. Erin says...

    Wow, this resonates so deeply. Thank you.

  53. Tess says...

    Yes to all of this.

    Today I worked from home, and while I was in a call, I heard my 3 y old daughter sing ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ on top of her lungs while stomping around. I tried so hard to concentrate, but just couldn’t focus on the things being said.

    My co-workers are older than I am and have kids age 20 and older. There used to be an understanding of my situation, but now they’re vaccinated, (while I’m still waiting), I’m kind of expected to be in the office and pick up normal life. They’re done with the kids noises in the background and me asking for flexibility and patience. And to be honest, I’m also not the co-worker I want to be. I forget things, I’m not the attentive colleague I used to be, I don’t know how to finish a thought, be a critical thinker or pitch an idea.

    Last month, the question was raised whether I wanted to get promoted, and I said no. Not because I didn’t want to, but I honestly didn’t know how to handle more responsiblity.

    This year I often think about ‘A room of once’s own’ by V. Woolff. She wrote that if a woman has time and a room for herself, she’s capable of writing and thinking. It’s a beautiful book and gives me some perspective when I think I’m the problem. When the fact is that the things I need this year are simple: a room, time and silence.

    • Thank you, Tess. I loved this comment because it’s touched on what so many of us need as working mother: solitude. And the other “S” words: sanctuary and silence!

  54. Rebecca says...

    This. This is everything to me right now.
    Not only will I return to your piece when I need a reminder to practice self-compassion, but I have a newfound appreciation for the work of all primary caregivers who managed to throw paint at the wall this past year.
    I look forward to reading more of your work, Abigail! Thanks as always, CoJ, for being you :-)

  55. Hannah says...

    Thank you for writing this. I have a four year old who was at home with me for most of last year, whilst I tried to work and was heavily pregnant with her sister, who is 11 months old now. It’s been hard. I stopped watching tv and stayed in my bedroom since they were asleep, working on my novel, just to have my own time after doing 90% of the childcare all day every day. I’ve sent my novel to many agents and have only received rejections so far but, honestly, maybe the novel just isn’t that good and my brain can’t write great things right now because I’m. so. tired. But I’ll keep working on the next one and one day soon will have more time to think. Thinking of all the mums out there and giving you all a hug across the internet. xo

    • Hannah, you probably won’t see this comment, but I hope you do. In case you haven’t given yourself credit already, please picture me throwing a party for you: You FINISHED a novel. You finished a novel, WITH a four year old. You finished a novel, with a four year old AND an infant. You finished a novel with a four year old and an infant DURING a pandemic. You are a bad ass. I cannot wait to read your books.

    • Neela says...

      Seriously though, Gaia, I thought the same thing! Much awe here.

    • can i be anonymous today? says...

      to hannah …

      while i’ve been fortunate in many ways to have worked full-time (and still do), i haven’t even *read* one book in this past year-plus, let alone completed the children’s books i want to write … and i don’t have children … so kudos to you on writing a novel and sending it out to agents while also giving birth and raising two children during this awful pandemic! i look forward to reading your book sometime!

      can i be anonymous today?

  56. My experience as well. I’m a painter and found through virtual schooling, and then hybrid schooling for my son, that the lack of time to think and focus for hours at a time was the hardest part. My mind felt cluttered by interruptions. There were so many lovely moments with him that I am very grateful for, but my work definitely took a back seat. He went back to school full-time in March, and I’m still working towards that feeling of focus and clarity I used to feel in the studio. Of course, I’ll always be deeply proud of how we got through and I’ll continue to miss knowing every moment of his day.

  57. Emma says...

    Oh no! I don’t think I have been able to think deeply since having children as a stay at home parent! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how so many choices in life are about choosing your hard. It seems like the pandemic has been so disorienting because we’re all getting the hard chosen for us. Yes we are all ultimately responsible for our children so when things get shaken up it all falls back on the parent, but we all go into parenting with systems that we know will be there for us. School, and office space, day care, maybe a grandparent that lives close by. And then we have children. It is SO much to reframe and get used to life when we make a decisions based on other information. No one has a child knowing they will be working from home full time with no back up! I don’t know what this is! Just working thoughts trying to make sense of a little sliver of all this mess!

    • Lisa says...

      THIS!!! That’s why the people who say “Well you shouldn’t have had kids then” just do not get it. Covid dropped us all into a world where “what you need, nobody has it to give”. We need our systems and as they start to come back, I hope we can remember not to take them for granted. Thank you for your comment as I work through my thoughts too!

  58. Annie K. says...

    This also hit the spot for me. My kids (age 2 and 4.5) were both in care on Wednesday and Thursday last week, and by the time I took a shower on Thursday afternoon I was having ideas like mad – next steps in my career, articles I want to write, lines for a stand-up short! Just, so much! Then, having spent Fri/Sat/Sun with them, with my partner away, this morning…my brain is mush. What were those ideas? How would I ever have the energy to execute them, anyway?

    It doesn’t take that much time for me to feel restored, but it does take time. Wishing you and all of us that much needed time.

  59. Emma says...

    I feel every word of this deep in my bones. Thanks for sharing.

  60. PedsinManhattan says...

    “ my phone rang. And rang again and again and again. Mine, not my husband’s.”

    Wow, that last part hit me. I don’t have children, but I know the emotional burden placed on their mothers, not their fathers, in a heterosexual partnership. I’m a pediatrician and I realized that virtually every time I call a parent, I call the mother’s cell. Because sadly, experience has taught me that 8/10 times, it’s the mother who knows what medications their child is taking. It’s the mother who knows all the symptoms. It’s the mother who knows the pediatrician’s name. BUT, by continuing to communicate only with mothers, I am enabling the one-sidedness of the emotional burden on women and dismissing our trust in fathers

    • JM says...

      this! there needs to be more equal burden-sharing in parenting. How can we correct this?

    • Reba says...

      I am a school-based therapist and totally guilty of looking no further than “Parent 1” on the contact info sheet from the front office. And guess who is usually Parent 1, because guess who is usually the one filling out the form? But I can do the extra 5 min work of adding a second email address, of looking up *all* the associated phone numbers. I can do better!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Reba, YES! I always fill out the forms, so I put my name down first and then my husband’s. Once the pediatrician’s office called me (for the umpteenth time) and I was stressed at work and said, somewhat grouchily, “Why do you always call the MOM?” and the receptionist said, “You’re just listed as the first person to call.” And I was like, OOOOOHHHHHHHH. Now and forever more, I list my husband first! (Thank you to all the doctors and therapists for all the work they do! We love you!)

    • ha says...

      Three years ago, I started putting my husband’s number first on all forms. The volume and tone of the communication we do get has drastically improved. Like when the school nurse calls. It isn’t an irritated ‘pick your sick child up right now!’, but more of a ‘poor Kiddo is unwell. I think it would be best if you could arrange to have her picked up as soon as possible’. It was eye opening!

  61. Tired Of Hearing About It... says...

    I had a friend lose a job at 58 y.o she’s still looking while on unemployment. The owner of the former hair salon I used to go to died of COVID. Am I minimizing what moms are going through. YES, and I don’t care. If you and your children are healthy and being supported by a gainfully employed spouse be thankful! I started not to post this but why not? Grab your moments where you can and woman up.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      TOHAI, thank you for your comment. That sounds heartbreaking for your friend, and I’m so sorry about the owner of the hair salon. These are very, very hard times for so many people. I don’t think it’s a competition over suffering, though. People you know can be having an impossibly hard time, and so can parents of young children during a global pandemic. Both things can be true. I think we can allow space for these parents to be seen and heard, and that doesn’t mean we are ignoring or pushing aside the tough experiences of others. I hope that makes sense. Sending love to anyone who needs it. xo

    • Lisa says...

      I just don’t understand people who think suffering is a competition. Who says moms aren’t thankful? They can be thankful AND what they are doing can be hard. And day after day, month after month, that gratitude can lift them through these hard times. If this year hasn’t taught us that two things can be true at the same time, then YIKES.

    • Lily says...

      What an incredibly bitter and callous comment to make on a post about one mother’s individual story about the larger collective burdens that society places on women. To be told to “woman up” ignores the very real fact that woman have been trying to and continue to “woman up” to survive and thrive DESPITE these broken systems that have not and are not serving us.

      Your losses do not make anyone else’s losses any less valid. And I say this as a person who, in the span of a week, found out that: my close friend had a brain tumor, my grandfather passed away, my husband lost his job, all while still reeling from the spate of anti-Asian hate crimes that had me crying non-stop for weeks on end and afraid to leave my house. Would I thrust my wounds to Abigail and hiss, “How dare you complain about your grief?” No. So maybe take your own advice and “woman up” to find an ounce of compassion for others. Sheesh.

    • Jen says...

      Many mothers I know in this type of situation also had loved ones pass away during this pandemic. The same inability to focus that challenges creative or productive efforts makes its it so hard to process grief, too. It’s just all been hard this year.

      I wish you support and love as you process your grief.

    • Anonymous says...

      Oh my. First, Lily my goodness you have been through the ringer and I pray that you feel loved and supported through such a challenging time. I have been one of those women who clawed her way up the career ladder chanting the mantra “woman up” and frankly that attitude is not healthy or productive. It did not enlarge me but rather it diminished me; my health, both physical and mental, suffered as did my relationships. Please do not “woman up”. Be honest with yourself and those who love you when you are struggling. I try to remind myself that everyone has their own crosses to bear and some are living in their own personal hell. I never ever know the full extent of what another person is going through so I should never assume that someone is gratuitously whining. Instead of lashing out at someone with “woman up” say instead, “please let me know how I can make your life easier.” You would be surprised how much those simple words will lift someone up and give them a little bit more strength…they did when one of my former bosses said them to me and surprisingly that boss was a man.

  62. Jackie says...

    They are considering closing my office and us all working remote.

    I worry about what I will lose. I don’t know if there is anything to gain working and living In the same place, not being able to “escape”.

  63. Julie says...

    As a writer with two children who spent most of the school year in distance learning, I can’t tell you how validating this post feels. I have been struggling to complete a thought in my head, let alone get it down on paper. I see the light at the end of the tunnel but, man, the tunnel has been dark. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.

  64. Jenifer Brunner says...

    It’s not raising children that you lose time to think, be and lose yourself in thought, prose or whatever else you may want to immerse yourself in. It’s your everyday life (email, work, texts, phone rings, housework, etc.) and then managing your elderly parents needs as well that you no longer feel as if you exist or are allowed to just be for a day. That’s what I miss and hope that time will gradually come back to nurture my own thoughts and wanderings in life.

  65. m says...

    We need to realize that if we need time for ourselves then the first priority is to pay for childcare – a babysitter or nanny every morning or whichever time is the most productive period. If you’ve got to take a side job to make that happen then it seems essential to do that.

    This also assumes your husband is incapable of taking any responsibility for raising his own children. Because he could take part and this would be less an issue, right? I don’t understand the suffering. Just make it happen.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I hear you that this seems on the surface like a potentially solvable problem — but a) it can be cost prohibitive to hire a regular babysitter and honestly even when you have a sitter (like we do right now) having the kids at home all the time means that you’re constantly hearing them in the house, having them run into your workspace, getting questions from the sitter, etc. so it can still be much more distracting than usual pre-pandemic times, and b) even families with dads/partners who fully contribute are struggling to keep their heads above water these days. the pandemic has put so much on parents’ shoulders.

    • Lindsey says...

      I have been a nanny through this pandemic for privileged families that could afford a nanny, and it has been SO hard to have families who are working from home. When the children know that their parent is behind a closed door, it is extremely difficult to keep them busy enough as to not disturb the parents. Also, the noise and the close quarters. I feel for parents so much. It’s definitely not just a simple solution of hiring a nanny. Also in NYC the starting rate is around $20 am hour, so telling someone to get a side job to cover it is assuming privilege.

    • Hilary says...

      M, this was really harsh! I’m going to assume positive intent and that you didn’t quite mean it in this way, but both my husband and myself are committed and pulling our weight with kids, AND we both have jobs that come with clients, expectations, and actually require us to DO OUR JOBS, which means that we need time. You cannot work and care for a child at the same time, period, end of story.

      We just now bit the bullet and hired a nanny two days a week. She is wonderful, but it took a long time to find the right person and she’s $20 per hour. Only because we are a 2-income household can we afford this and it’s just barely.

      I am stressed all. the. time. About time, about work, about money, about making sure my kids are well cared for. Saying that someone should just “get a side job” made me laugh out loud! If I got a side job to pay for the nanny, I’d be taking more time away from either my kids or my real job and the cycle of stress would just continue!

      Maybe you’re a parent with disposable income, maybe you don’t have kids, maybe you just don’t know how hard this time has been on everyone, but whoever you are, I hope you can find a little empathy for people who are struggling. Caring for children and working is always hard, but especially so right now and “just make it happen” is the summit of Privilege Mountain and I, for one, am not hiking that today.

    • Lee says...

      This has been the hardest year of my life. By far. The depths of depression and the rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions. I’m glad to have my husband home for over a year for any 2 second help with a new baby and an older child because we are drowning in life yet I also miss having a house without a human staring at computer screens and phones and meetings all day long.
      Every single day I am reminding myself …this time next year. it’ll get better by this time next year…

    • celeste says...

      What a thoughtful response Joanna. Thanks for continuing the conversation.

    • E says...

      The point of this essay is about what life has been like this year, during a *pandemic.* Not everyone is having other people into their homes.

      I can speak from experience that with two parents working from home with the children and no other childcare, both partners can be giving 110% and it can still be endless and draining.

      Clearly your comment hit a nerve for me : /

    • R says...

      While I appreciate the importance of asking for/securing help in child-rearing, I am disappointed by your comment. Your remarks reveal either a lack of understanding or a gross oversimplification of what it means to be a dedicated primary caregiver.

    • claire says...

      You are making a LOT Of assumptions here. Perhaps the situation is more complex than you are making it out to be.

    • Dana says...

      My husband is the primary caregiver in “normal times” and I work outside the home. He is very capable and adept at raising and caring for his children. However, we have two toddlers, one of whom is still breastfeeding. They don’t understand “work hours” and so my husband and I find ourselves trying to be all the things all the time, never alone to our own thoughts and always feeling like we’re failing at something because we’re always trying to do too much at once. Telling parents to “get a second job” as if this pandemic hasn’t been hard enough for even those of us lucky enough to have jobs and homes, is extremely out of touch. My husband is high risk and we haven’t even had a sitter for a date night since before the pandemic because we don’t want to risk bringing someone else into our home. “Just make it happen” is one of the most out of touch things I’ve read in a long time.

    • T says...

      @M I don’t wholly disagree that there are some cultural factors here that bring out the “suffering” (as you call it), but I also agree with Joanna that it’s not as simple as prioritizing a side job or asking your partner to take on more. I have a full-time job and multiple side jobs plus a supportive partner. The fact of the matter is that childcare is unattainably expensive in many places.

      @Joanna I agree with much of this, but I don’t fully agree that “the pandemic has put so much on parents’ shoulders.” As a new parent, I believe that parents already had too much on their shoulders- even pre-pandemic. In other countries and cultures (as you have eloquently covered on this blog), there is support for parents and families that doesn’t exist in the U.S. This to say, this is bigger than a pandemic issue.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, ABSOLUTELY bigger than a pandemic issue. great point, T.

    • Agnès says...

      It is not about having a baby-sitter but rather finding the solitude and the peace that allow deep thinking. As a philosophy professor i know my work has been really low this year, and I only have one child, and we have school in France and my partner shares all the parenting and domestic burden with me. It’s just too much and honestly, though life is starting to feel normal again, i am exhausted and depressed.

    • Michelle says...

      I agree with your comment M.

    • katie says...

      Isn’t this statement “If you’ve got to take a side job to make that happen then it seems essential to do that” in direct opposition to this statement “we need to realize that if we need time for ourselves then the first priority is to pay for childcare – a babysitter or nanny every morning or whichever time is the most productive period”?

      How would you have time for yourself if you have to take a second job to make that happen? Doesn’t a second job require time you don’t already have? Look, I’m all for outsourcing if you can afford it, but those two statement make no sense. The last thing I’d want after a 40-50 hour work week is to work another 5 – 15 hours a week just so I can pay someone for a couple of hours of free time.

    • Michelle says...

      This comment hits a nerve! I have to say as a standalone comment to any parent anywhere, it would be an oversimplification; but as a response to this essay in particular, I kind of see it as a counterpoint. Whether it was intended or not, when I read Abigail’s essay I felt a profound sense of her wishing the world were different than it was… I see M’s comment as trying to say, accept that this is a hard time, accept that everything is different now, and do what you can to get what you need.

      The point/counterpoint here reminds me of a recent debate between two friends of mine and their differing views on student loan debt… one friend spends a lot of time talking about, and feeling frustrated by, the many things that she can’t have as a result of her student loan debt, and by how long it will take her to repay the loans. Another friend of ours takes a very (practical? ruthless? oversimplified?) approach and says, enough complaining about this. Either accept the life you can afford to live, or go find a job that will pay you enough to buy the things you want. Of course, neither one of them is “correct,” but I do think people sometimes feel trapped by their situations (I know I often do) and it’s very easy forget that change is possible, and that even small changes can make a big difference, especially if it makes people feel like they have more autonomy in their own life.

    • Karen says...

      Yes, good response Joanna. I am a mom who has worked at home for a number of years but there is something different about existing at home that has worn. I hear it from women who don’t have children as well. Excessive noises, demands from WFH hours, parents who need care… Whether your a mom or not, we have all been pushed to our max within our homes and this is just one perspective on how she is dealing.

    • Jessica says...

      I’m not sure what M really intended, but unfortunately this comment comes across completely tone deaf, in the spirit of “Let them eat cake”.

      As a parent working from home full time with a toddler and a fully helpful participating husband during this pandemic, that’s why it got my hackles up. There are barriers that this pandemic has placed that goes beyond simply hiring help, and it comes from a place of privilege and differing health circumstances and resources to distill the solution down to “just get extra help”. For many, that simply has not been possible.

  66. Mallory says...

    Whew, felt this in my bones. I’ve been working from home with my 7 year old daughter who DESPISED zoom school (daily meltdowns) and occasionally my 4 year old when preschool closed due to covid scares. There are so many times when my attention is split (on a meeting while trying to log my kid into her class while she’s melting down about class while make lunch at the same time…) and my brain feels like it’s being cleaved into multiple parts. It’s a physical feeling alongside the emotions: anger at not getting to focus where I want, despair at the lack of options, frustration that expectations haven’t changed. My husband pulls his weight, but I’m still the “default” parent and do so much of the emotional labor. I love my career, but there have been many times this year where I’ve wondered if I’m making the right choice by continuing to work when my daughter was so distraught. Getting on anti-anxiety medication has been a huge help! And for my kid who will put up a 3 hour bedtime battle at the end of an exhausting, distressing day? Kid melatonin. Works like a charm. No regrets.

  67. Christine says...

    I relate to this so much.

  68. NM says...

    Beautiful. Thank you for this.
    The words of mothers. How they shift from the words of a single entity to the words of a chimera. Multiple heads and a single heart, and still the same hours in a day or maybe fewer.
    It is a voice that often gets lost, or rather its complexity does. So we are left with:
    Diapers
    Pick up
    Tooth brush
    Bed time
    Heart ache
    Soul mate
    The world believes it hears the thoughts of mothers but it most often hears the fragments, or the words yelled most loudly.
    The translates them into worn sentiments.
    So what can we do?
    Outsource
    Prioritize
    Wait
    Hope
    Maybe just live the story and trust it exists, even when we aren’t given the space to finish it on paper?
    But of course we, like any other, want to think in complete thoughts. So here’s to all the mamas, chimeras with multiple beautiful complex heads, this is for you.

    • Megan says...

      What a beautiful, poetic response.

    • Monica says...

      “The world believes it hears the thoughts of mothers, but it most often hears the fragments, or the words yelled most loudly.”

      This ❤️ needs to be on mugs, cards, tshirts, and road signs.

    • NM says...

      Thank you for the warm responses! Felt inspired by the thoughts provoked by this piece. And, just to correct my own typo, it should read:
      *Then* translates them into worn sentiments.

      Continuing that fragments theme, haha.

  69. Anjali says...

    Wow. All of this. The feeling you can’t be anywhere fully, mindfully bc your mind is everywhere it needs to be just to keep the kids alive and the lights on. The exhaustion. And even as I say that, I know I am one of the luckier ones…with flex job, and partner who is very much sharing the load of the work.

  70. Jennifer says...

    Good post. I keep telling my friends that I’ve lost part of my brain, but this is it right here. The lost ability to sink into something and get into the FLOW.

    I’m desperately wanting to immerse myself in something. I’m desperate to step out of the strong clutches of domesticity into something different. I told my husband that I have this strong urge to go back to school to get a masters (when would I have time for that?), or possibly cut back on my hours at work to learn a completely new skill. Is this possible?

    Anyone else feeling starved like this?

    • Whalin says...

      Exactly this. I feel so much the same.

    • Rachel says...

      Yep. Totally. I am here to say, do it!! I’m now doing it now, for better or worse – I’m about to submit my dissertation proposal to actually finish my research to finally earn my doctorate. I’m writing at all hours, around my regular full time job, and raising my toddler son. Our post-covid return to daytime child care has been a saving grace – I don’t think I could be doing this if he was home full time; I had to take a pause on the dissertation during the covid quarantines of 2020 when we had no childcare. But now, with him out of the house for some hours, I’ve found a new balance. I write till midnight, I wake up when he wakes up at 5:30am – it’s not sustainable, but for now I’m so happy to be doing this for myself that I truly look forward to my hours of writing when everyone else is asleep. When my son was born and I was still finishing coursework, I would nurse him while listening to lectures. I don’t feel like I missed single-focus time with him – rather I felt whole, like I had all the parts of myself in one place at one time, and it is a treasured memory. I am lucky to have a supportive husband…and to have completely given up on cleaning the house. Something does have to give :)

      Anyway – do the masters program! You never know what opportunities it will bring! Just the possibility is thrilling.

    • Michelle says...

      You could always start and then, if you find that it isn’t working for you, decide not to finish! You will definitely learn things in the process no matter how long you are doing it.

  71. Dee says...

    Raising children is exactly as hard as the writer describes; and generally much more so on mothers than fathers. And that is if your child is healthy and doesn’t have extra needs, and you all love each other and are relatively stable as a family and not confined by a pandemic.

    I do not believe it is possible to have it all if you are a woman and you want children AND everything else. I think that if we would reach an equal society and things were 50-50 though, men couldn’t have it all either. This is because having children is enormously taxing on every level and it takes enormous amounts of qualities most people do not naturally possess – selflessness, patience, sacrifice – to do a good job. I wonder if the author’s expectations are what are the issue here – that you can make it all work, all the time. With kids, it is all phases – what’s normal is to grind your teeth through a lot of the early stages; but then blink and you’re an empty nester and would give your left pinky for an armful of them as a baby again.

    • Kristin says...

      Dee, this is so wonderfully said!

    • Ana D. says...

      Dee, it seems you’re operating under the assumption that this family, who you do not know, necessarily has the means to survive on one income and that the writer has the capability to be a full-time caregiver and keep her mental health in order at the same time. I know neither of those things are true for my family. I wonder why you feel comfortable assuming for her.

    • R says...

      “I do not believe it is possible to have it all if you are a woman and you want children AND everything else. I think that if we would reach an equal society and things were 50-50 though, men couldn’t have it all either. ”

      I just need to call out that gay parents exist. it isn’t just woman/man. Thanks.

    • Dee says...

      @Ana D, I absolutely do not assume that. Where I allude to Abigail’s expectations, I mean that there is an expectation that we be perfect moms, perfect wives, perfect employees. Not that she should quit paid employment to balance it out, or that I assume everyone is rich enough to live off one wage. Don’t know how you arrived at that.

      @R Thank you for pointing it out- the author in this piece, Abigail, is a woman and she refers to her husband. I wouldn’t dream of speaking to being a gay parent, because although I think gay parenting is a wonderful and lovely thing, I don’t know anything about any specific issues around it.

    • Michelle says...

      Dee, thank you for this comment. I’ve heard from women in my mom’s generation that having it all isn’t possible and while it was shocking to hear at first, now that I’m a bit older I see what they mean. Sometimes the idea seems disappointing to me, and sometimes it feels freeing — because it means there’s nothing wrong with me for not being able to do everything.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “…sometimes it feels freeing — because it means there’s nothing wrong with me for not being able to do everything.” = I wholeheartedly agree, Michelle!

  72. Ashley says...

    Thank you for this! I am working mom to a 1 and 3 year old. The pandemic hit right when I was coming off maternity leave with my littlest. I keep waiting to feel more “normal” and like myself. I often find myself comparing my current life to the same time after my first child. “When Ben was 1.5, I fit into these jeans, worked out regularly, found time to journal etc”. Now that Clara is 1.5, none of these things are happening. Oh wait, there was also a global pandemic! I have to constantly remind myself that it is just not the same. Also 2 kids feels exponentially harder than 1 and I was not prepared for this! I guess I’m still just struggling to find my “new” self… a mom of 2, physician, wife, friend. A work in progress :)

    • Julia says...

      Ashley, this is how I feel to a T! I gave birth to my second child in early March 2020. I’ve been waiting for the same thing – a return to my “normal” old self, and recently came to the realization that the pandemic has changed me (and all of us) for good. I’m not the same person I was, and that’s ok. Different things bring me joy now; priorities have shifted. And yet, I feel like I’m stuck in a hamster wheel so often with young kids that I don’t have time to figure out WHO that new version of me is! I will say that lately as I’ve slowly gotten more opportunities to engage in things I do enjoy (yoga class, hiking, travel, dinner with friends, dates with my husband) I’m feeling more like I’m getting reacquainted with the whole and complete version of myself, beyond my kids. I hope the same will be true for you, hang in there!

    • A says...

      Same same same, Ashley. Same aged kids, same feelings. Same lack of time and self.

  73. Deb in Oklahoma says...

    I do not have children in my house, but…after 15 months of WFH, I want my dining room back. My office will have 100% load-in by the end of June, and I’m actually of looking forward to being in that setting again. (I’m in Higher Ed. Not everything can be done virtually at a large university.) A year ago, my introverted side reveled in the quiet of my house and working from home. Now, I’m over it and want my house back so I can just LIVE in it separate from the office, and not have to work and live in it all at the same time. I don’t know how all those mommas and dads have been able to do it for the last year, but they have all my respect.

    • Brittni says...

      I’m so tired of seeing my own walls at home. I’m looking forward to going back a few days a week so that I can miss my home and family. I didn’t realize how much a coffee break with a coworker could be so enjoyable and a simple pleasure in life.

  74. Lily says...

    I like your paint thrown at the wall analogy, Abigail. I am a professor with a three-year-old at home (and a husband who does his fair share), and in order to get through the past few years, I have had to become a Master of Efficiency. Get it done. Don’t meander. Don’t slow down.

    It had to be done, but deep thinking isn’t always that immediately productive. As you said, we need time and space to explore our thoughts and work through them – not only to think well, but also to encounter ourselves.

    I’m starting to do it again – to insist on it, to drag my way out of survival mode. It feels good.

  75. Sasha says...

    You nailed it. …How do we get there?!

    I had my first kid in November of 2019 and the combination of postpartum depression plus covid plus a mass shooting at my grocery store was heartbreaking and isolating and insane.

    I don’t even know who I used to be. I think things are getting better, but man, it’s been so rough.

    Thankful for you all.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Sending you the biggest hug, Sasha. That sounds like a LOT. You are doing a great job just getting through it. xoxo

  76. Jillian Schweitzer says...

    This hit closer than I’d like. Thank you for saying what I’ve been trying to.

  77. Hani says...

    I’ve tried to explain, somehow put words to this to my spouse. The distress of continually having attention yanked from one direction to the next – repeatedly, for years. It’s an aspect of motherhood that I *never* conceived of, pandemic or not.
    Even right now, dashing off this one minute comment, four things yanked my attention in different directions.

    I still don’t really know what to do with this.

    • Lia says...

      YES. THIS. And it is really frustrating that schools don’t really call the dads!! My kids’ schools ALWAYS call me, the teacher texts me/emails me. My husband is never looped in despite us being on the same distro lists. I have asked that he handle all the after school activities but even then there is creep…they call me!

      I can’t tell if I genuinely have developed ADD or if I just no longer have an attention span longer than the space between the interruptions resulting from having three young children at home. And the constant multitasking is not helping…

  78. Yes, exactly this.

  79. Robin L. says...

    This just made me weep with recognition. Thank you.

  80. Katie_B says...

    Oof. Everything about this resonated so deeply for me. Add the nagging thought – what if I *can’t* get it back? Sorry to be dark about things but…the three hour bedtime rituals are breaking me, too. Bon courage to all ❤️

  81. Kate says...

    I’ve recently gone back to university and entered an intensive, condensed program. Upon acceptance, we received an email advising students to be mindful of not only time management but energy management. I had never heard of the concept before. But now it seems intuitive, even if one is able to carve out time for something, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will have the energy for the task during that time. I’ve since learned there are so many different types of energy as well: social, emotional, creative, mental, physical, etc. This has made me more mindful of where each of my energy meters are at.

    This was beautifully-written piece and I feel for the struggles of all the pandemic mamas. As a happily child-free woman I would have previously been haughty enough to think, “Well, what do you expect when you have kids – they are destroyers of lives and dreams” but now that I have been blessed with a baby niece, I know it’s not so straight forward. The sacrifices are hard but children are also amazing.

    • Lina says...

      Yes! I have recently come to realize the concept of having different “energy meters” rings very true and am taking more care to protect that I don’t deplete my supplies.

  82. Hannah says...

    Beautifully said. Thank you.

  83. Elissa says...

    You’ve articulated so well exactly what I’ve been mourning for the past 13+ months. A loss of self, and time, and permanent residence in flight or flight mode. And it doesn’t seem to return easily, though I’m desperate to recapture my former self. A beautiful, heartbreaking read. Thank you. It’s somewhat comforting to know I’m not the only one feeling this kind of loss.

  84. Steph says...

    Abigail, you captured exactly how I have been feeling lately. With a one- and five-year-old constantly underfoot, having worked from home for the last 14 months. I am not a writer, but I do write as part of my job. When it was still 2020, I could accept that nothing I did, work-wise, was anywhere near the quality or volume I contribute under “normal” circumstances but that was okay because a global pandemic was raging and tending to my home and its inhabitants was the obvious priority.
    But now we in America have fairly easy access to a vaccine and work wants us back but daycares and schools are still closed until September. In the last month I have started to want to work better, again. I want to engage to my normal standards. And when I’m not working, I want to read more than 1/2 a page of a book for pleasure without someone barraging me with animal facts or rubbing oatmeal in her hair. I, too, want to go deep again. I want to hear myself think (a FULL thought from start to finish). I want to be excited to see my children after a weekday apart and have patience and energy to be Fun Mom on the weekends again. That time is not now, and it was easier in ways when we weren’t in limbo, when things were still fully Shut Down. Now I’ve tasted normal again and I want it back so fricken bad. I want me back.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      This is such a beautiful comment. Thank you, Steph.

  85. Karen says...

    Felt. This.

  86. Sara Tick says...

    I felt this so deeply. Every woman needs the space to think and create.

  87. C says...

    Beautiful! I feel you, Abigail. There is so much we have gained and lost. Reading you makes me want to be kinder to myself, I’ve been giving myself a hard time for how impossible everything work-related feels. Thank you for that.

  88. Oh, how I relate to this beautiful post! Between starting grad school and my new job teaching music to children (now that my old job as an actress who worked in theater abruptly came to a halt last March) and taking care of my own two children and moving and cooking and and and… the list is endless! I am comforted by knowing that I am growing every day- becoming stronger, a better mom, wife, teacher, person- even if it’s growth that I hadn’t necessarily planned on and didn’t ask for. This year has been hard, sad, eye opening, transformative, frustrating, and suffocating but I love that I was forced to stop planning my life- because who can plan during a pandemic? This is the first year that I LET LIFE HAPPEN instead of making it happen. That is a gift I will forever be grateful for.

  89. This hit home for me. I am an illustrator with a new baby and I love it but I miss getting into the flow and getting lost in my work. now it’s just carved out hours here and there during which I can’t even get myself to start working… Anyway, back to work!