I'm a single working mum — here's how I built my much-needed parenting support system during the pandemic

Katie NaveKatie Nave says working from home while homeschooling her daughter came with new challenges.
  • Katie Nave is freelance writer, advocate, and nonprofit communications specialist based in Brooklyn, New York.
  • As a working mum co-parenting her young daughter, she says she struggled with feeling lonely when the city shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • To feel more connected and supported as a mum, Nave began checking in with friends on a regular basis, sharing small details about daily life, and being more open when she felt anxious or uncertain.
  • As local restrictions eased, she also formed a COVID-19 bubble with a fellow mum to allow their kids to experience social interaction again, however limited.
  • Nave encourages other working mums to seek support in their friends and be vocal when they need help – there’s no shame in figuring out motherhood one day at a time.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I’ve never felt more alone as a parent than I did a few weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown. As a single mother, I’d come to depend on communal dinners, a babysitter that allowed me to have additional time to work, and playdates to fill our weekends. But when the social morning strolls to my daughter’s school and breezy afternoons spent hanging with our usual crew at playgrounds were put on pause, we both immediately felt the loss of our community.

Turns out, I’m not alone in feeling alone. According to anthropologists, the “it takes a village” belief is hardwired in our brains, as our ancestors needed such a support system to ensure human evolutionary success.

In the midst of a global pandemic, creature comforts, work-life balance, and social connections are looking quite a bit different, and experts say the pandemic is especially taking a toll on mothers. It took some time and ingenuity, but I eventually found a safe way to create the community that I knew that I needed as a parent.

Mothering in isolation can take an immense toll on your mental health

Katie NaveKatie NaveNave’s daughter and their pet dog enjoying a break from homeschooling.

We were never meant to parent alone. Studies show that from the beginning days of motherhood, social support is vital for women and their quality of life. When mothers have a network of support, they experience lower levels of stress and feel more optimistic about parenting.

While I can tolerate a lot of feelings of discomfort, loneliness is one of the hardest to stomach for me. With no family members in New York City, where my 5-year-old and I live, I’ve always relied heavily on having a sense of community. This became especially true after her father and I separated two years ago.

In quarantine, all of this came to a halt as everyone in my life sought refuge within their homes, and hunkered down with their nuclear family. When I found myself navigating things like homeschooling and temper tantrums on a metaphorical island, I immediately went into a shame spiral about how I just wasn’t hacking it in the motherhood department. How in the world was I supposed to adapt to this new normal alone?

Read more: Working mums are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Here are 3 ways leaders can foster a supportive culture for working parents, according to a LinkedIn VP

Many mothers have had to leave the workforce to care for their children

Katie NaveKatie NaveDecorating face masks at home.

The undeniable truth is that I hold a tremendous amount of privilege in the world, especially when it comes to parenting. I have steady employment, an incredibly supportive co-parent, healthcare, and my daughter is now in school full-time.

Many mothers do not have the options that I do, and many have had to quit their jobs in order to care for their children. Fortunately, in order to continue to work through this time, my daughter’s father and I hired a pandemic babysitter to help us when we feel as though we’re drowning in deadlines.

Even with all of these advantages, parenting isn’t easy right now. There is an ever present grief that my daughter’s childhood experience is a little less innocent than it should be. The inability to let her be free to connect, touch, and experience the world hits hard sometimes.

I knew that if I needed help, others did too, so I offered it

Since I was feeling like a complete mess, I sent out individual texts to the people I missed checking in on their well-being. I asked one friend if she needed help getting groceries, another how Zoom school was going, and I checked in to see how my pregnant mum friend was feeling.

Katie NaveKatie NaveNave and her daughter FaceTiming their friends.

One thing quickly became clear… Everyone in my orbit was losing their minds from time to time. I’m not sure why I found this shocking, or why my assumption was that every parent around me was sailing through this time unscathed. The “OMG! Same here!” sentiments that I received helped me to immediately feel less alone.

Reaching out to others has made all the difference

Over the last several months, it’s become crucial to have open lines of honest communication with other parents. Instead of the highlight reel offered by Instagram, we’re dropping the “everything is fine” act, being authentic in just how hard this all is, even if we’re fortunate beyond measure.

We’re all complex women who have dreams, jobs, responsibilities, desires, anxieties, and multitudes of layers. Knowing how to shepherd our kids through this time is not something that we ever imagined nor had modelled for us, so why not stop trying to do it all alone?

I keep in daily contact with at least seven friends

Thanks to technology, I still get together virtually with the friends I used to see in-person each day. We FaceTime with our kids frequently, and have an ongoing video message thread on Marco Polo. I’ve come to deeply appreciate the expletive-filled, wine-fuelled rants and good solid, guttural sob sessions with these remarkable women.

We’re all closer now than before. Even sharing small details about others’ days, such as what everyone is having for dinner, or whose child has had a nightmare, have become the fibres that keep us connected.

Read more: Working parents are burnt out from working at home and taking care of their kids. A manager at LinkedIn shares 4 ways companies should support their changing needs and what’s working at LinkedIn.

Virtual connection can only do so much, so I’ve formed a bubble to get together safely in real life

Two weeks ago, one of my dear friends and I agreed to join a COVID-19 bubble and reunite our daughters. As we watched our girls play outside in the fall breeze, leaves crunching under their feet, I felt an ease in my chest that I hadn’t felt in months.

Katie NaveKatie NaveIn October, Nave formed a COVID-19 bubble with her friend who also has a young daughter.

It’s all still a bit uncertain and scary, but it’s worth it. That evening, as we made pasta dinner together, I was reminded how full my heart feels when I’m in the presence of loved ones.

At the end of the day, I grabbed my friend’s hand for a squeeze and she said, “I’ve really missed this.” The truth is that I’ve missed it too. I’ve missed mothering with others, in a community, exactly as it should be.

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