Of pandemic-era mothers

None of us was truly prepared when the pandemic broke out. We didn’t know what to do with our fear, or how to keep up with constantly developing science. We weren’t ready to keep kids out of school, much less lose livelihoods. We didn’t anticipate the tedium and anxiety that took turns in our psyche as we stayed home for months.

While we’ve been fretting over all these, some remarkable people have taken on a greater charge to cushion the blow for many of us, in ways we barely notice. They are our mothers.

This Sunday will be the second Mother’s Day neck-deep in the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that for well over a year now, our moms, nanays, and mamas have been dealing with a lot more on their plate.

Pandemic-era mothers found themselves grappling with distance learning technologies and rules, trying to uphold their guiding role in the lives of their school-age children. They’ve had to face the increased need for household upkeep as family members got locked down or sheltered in place. They’ve also had to take extra steps to keep the home sanitized and the family well-nourished.

Then there are those unspoken burdens that almost automatically landed on mothers. Domestic worries are a big one: The constant agonizing over the family’s nuanced needs. A friend of mine, mom to a 7-year-old, is one of many parents who are concerned about their child’s social development. In this time of school closures and physical distancing, young children have little chance of socializing with kids their age in a safe manner.

Such worries are so new and subtle that they may be hard to recognize for household members who are less hands-on. But these can weigh so much in the mind of the household’s primary carer—and that carer is often the mother. This was true way before COVID-19, and it’s even more evident now.

A comic artist named Emma explains this well in a now-viral set of illustrations titled “You Should’ve Asked.” In it, she details how women are typically presumed to be the household manager, and that comes not just with physical tasks but also a great mental load—worries, planning, organizing,

decision-making. Their partners, meanwhile, are used to just being told what plans to execute around the house.

And it’s not really because fathers are traditionally out there making a living. Even among families where moms also work and put food on the table, they are still typically in charge of domestic care, with little balance from other household members.

Now that families are mostly staying home, the burden on mothers is more sharply felt. In November, UN Women published a survey showing how women are disproportionately taking the impact of the pandemic: They are “taking on a greater intensity of care-related tasks than men,” and are leaving their jobs more than men are.

I would bet, though, that Filipino mothers aren’t thinking of the gender gap as they try to figure out their kid’s module or how to budget for the week. Knowing our nanays, they’ve instinctively accepted the charge of being the main caregiver, not counting how much it weighs or whether others are sharing it. They’re not even thinking of dropping their tasks to see who picks them up. To them, the home is their responsibility, their role.

But that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly fine to leave this burden to them. When we’re aware of the quiet things that exhaust our mothers, we find an opportunity to step up and lift some weight off their shoulders. It’s a challenge particularly to their co-parents to proactively share in domestic responsibilities, instead of staying stuck in outdated gender roles.

Role-sharing at home should be a pandemic-era gift that lasts beyond the pandemic. May this become part of our new, better normal, and may our homemakers, working moms, enterprising moms, and acting mothers stay well.