Moms, dads, primary caregivers have always been essential to a child’s life, but in these days of a pandemic, the term essential takes on more responsibility. Homeschooling. Activity planner. Activity playmate. Activity cleaner-upper. Chef and maid, and online grocery shopper at midnight to get a pick-up time within the week. Gone (for now, or for forever, it seems) are the days of a carefree trip to a store or a spontaneous fast food lunch or meeting with friends at a playground. No more childcare during gym time or burning of my eight-year-old’s energy at soccer practice or whole week’s worth of VBS evenings. Just good ole Little-House-on-the-Prairie-evenings of togetherness and days of essential parenting.
While “essential” is getting posted on signs and pinned on people as a badge of honor and courage, I think we forget about the constricting monotony that this label brings.
Being a hero only feels amazing for so long, until you realize that you have to continue in your heroic duties day in and day out, and after a while, it stops looking heroic and starts looking…essential. Essential in that no one else but you can do this. Essential in that people might have a lower quality of life, or no life, if you do not continue in your role. Essential in that no one else may want to do your job.
It is hard to be this essential right now.
It was hard five months ago to be a mom to my four boys, but I had a little help. I had a community, had a country with a good economy, my husband had a job with future advancement, I had days where I could take a little break from chef/hunter-gatherer/playmate/teacher, and we had places we could go and be entertained. Now I am absolutely essential to anything besides Disney+ and cereal meals all day. (But *someone* still has to go and get that cereal.) I am essential to my newborn who needs me to feed her eight times a day. I am essential to my husband, who needs me to get up at night to feed the baby, so he can be up the next night and keep a 25-ton fire truck on the road. I am essential to the emotional roller coaster of four different ages of boys who just want to go back to normal. I am essential to the growth of their minds and hearts, to teaching them kindness, the inherent worth of every human being, and essential to answering questions ranging from unexplained viruses to why boys have nipples (lots of nipple questions with a nursing baby).
It is hard to be this essential because there is no one else who can do it as well as me.
This is an awesome and terrifying truth for any mom. On one hand, you have everyone high fiving you and telling you that you are a superhero. On the other hand, you know that you really don’t have much of a choice — it is either be awesome or child abandonment. There is a lot of fulfillment in motherhood, I cannot deny that, but there is also a great temptation to jump to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and feel claustrophobic in this essential role that we sign up for all too gullibly.
There isn’t a 1-2-3 step fix to suddenly snap out of the walls that are closing in if you feel the same as I do. I can only keep going, cook another meal, fold another load, explain another confusing question, all while speaking over and over what I know to be true: