It’s no surprise mothers like Ally Kothari are feeling more strained and stressed these days.
Kothari has continued to work outside of her home, while her two children attend in-person schooling. She said keeping up with sanitizing and trying to keep her family healthy has been exhausting — plus there’s the looming threat of 14-day quarantines.
“Always at the back of your mind is, ‘OK, what are we going to do if one of our kids comes home and has to quarantine?'” said Kothari.
“You can’t control the community, you can’t control different scenarios, you can’t control anything around you. So that feeling in itself is one that causes anxiety on a daily basis.”
At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, when schools locked down and sports came to a abrupt halt, Kothari and her husband relished in the free time they were able to spend with their children.
Now, a year later, the isolation has taken its toll.
“I feel like the stress is back on more so,” said Kothari, “just because we’ve missed out on that for so long.”
Kothari said losing social outings with friends and the ability to head to the gym whenever she wants had made her feel more on edge.
“I would generally put myself in the group of somebody who would be less anxious, kind of easygoing, go-with-the-flow,” said Kothari.
“My anxiety has been through the roof.”
Mothers across the country have been trying to cope with the constant needs and changing schedules of their families — while trying to juggle the laundry-list of everyday tasks.
The past year has been especially hard on moms.
“Moms are superheroes who can do a lot of things,” said Dr. Nicole Racine, in the psychology department at the University of Calgary.
“We often don’t cut mothers and parents a lot of slack.”
Racine said the mental health focus has often been on our children and how they are coping during the pandemic, but many mothers are suffering and that impacts the entire family.
“We need to be thinking about how we move forward and how we support parents.”
Racine is part of the All Our Families Study that has followed more than 3,000 Alberta mothers and their children over the past 12 years. The longitudinal research has focused on how early life experiences can shape a person’s health through their lifetime and the key factors that influence wellbeing over time.
The ongoing study allowed Racine and the team a unique opportunity to compare the women’s mental health before and during the pandemic.
The researchers expected a jump in stress levels, but not to the extent it did.
“Big jumps,” said Racine. “From 18 per cent to 35 per cent for depression and 19 per cent to 31 per cent for anxiety.
“We considered these to be significant increases.”
Many of the families in the study had experienced a job loss or income loss — while trying to look after their children at home.
Mothers said they lost child care and were forced to pivot with school closures.
“So they were balancing multiple roles, balancing homeschooling with trying to work from home, in addition to all the other stressors going on related to the pandemic.
“I think what this points to really for me, is that we need to attend to this. There needs to be an increase in resources and availability for mental health support.”
Racine recommends telehealth services that are readily available to moms anywhere.
She also stressed any child care closures and school closures by governments must be carefully considered.
Beyond the pandemic, Racine said the importance of child care and before-and-after school programs should be a top priority.
“These are important. They’re pillars of support people need in their lives.”
Racine urged mothers to find safe ways to maintain connections and seek support from friends and family.
Knowing there has to be an “end in sight” has kept Kothari motivated.
She also knows this past year hasn’t been normal, and some slack is something her entire family needs.
“My kids have never been on electronics as much as they have this past year. There’s lots of things of course in a non-pandemic year you’d say, ‘Oh that’s not going to happen.’ You know what? Anything and everything has happened this past year and nothing surprises me.”