Parenting on its own is a tough job. It becomes tougher when you have to do it alone. What happens when a global crisis is added to this struggle?
It’s an experiment that’s played out around the world in the past six months, including in Gainesville.
Anesta Parris, 44, is a single mother of two. Parris worked three jobs before the pandemic, while her 8-year-old daughter, Zaliyah, was at school. Her other son, who is now 21, helps her with the expenses of the house and responsibilities.
“Being a single mom is really hard,” Parris said.
She said she has to rely on her son to take care of Zaliyah while she is working because she has no other family members in the city to help her out.
Parris’ pre-pandemic routine was pretty straightforward: “I wake up, get myself ready, wake up my daughter and son, drop him to work and her to school, and go straight to work. At the end of the day, I pick them up, come home, cook, read Zaliyah a book, and go to sleep.”
That routine grew more stressful as she had to leave one of her jobs to be able to take care of her daughter at home as schools closed down in March.
“It’s really hard right now, I am only working three days a week, and it is hard to pay the bills,” Parris said.
She said she has more time for herself at home now but misses the times she had only one day off — for that one day she was truly relaxed: “I knew I had the income I needed to keep my kids safe.”
Parris said her daily concern is to get an income sufficient to “put a roof over” her kids’ heads.
Everyone knows how extensively COVID-19 has shifted the global dynamic: Lives were taken, jobs lost, previously unthinkable prevention measures became necessary.
Even as the pandemic has impacted the whole world, it took a different toll on each individual.
Besides the health and economic effects of this new virus, families had to deal with a new reality of social distancing and virtual learning that could never have been anticipated.
From one moment to the other, parents became teachers, playrooms became classrooms, and friends became images on the screen.
This change in reality drastically differed across families depending on the pre-pandemic family foundation present.
Marina Klimenko, a developmental psychology professor at the University of Florida, explained that the quality of family wellness depends on three things: communication, organization and belief systems.
Communication involves how efficiently the family is able to share the emotional distress and collaborate in problem-solving.
At a time when the only social interaction available is the immediate family, whether each member has the ability to clearly communicate with the other takes an important role in the ultimate well-being of the household.
“At a time of change like this,” Klimenko said, “the family dynamic can serve as either a buffer or exacerbate the impact of the pandemic on each family member’s mental health.”
She also said that another main factor is organization. Adaptability, connectedness, and access to social and economic resources are essential in determining the ultimate impacts of the pandemic on a family’s mental health.
“Even as emotional stability is not directly correlated to monetary resources, financial concerns are a decisive factor in determining the levels of distress in the household,” Klimenko said.
Klimenko explained the ideas of the importance of social and financial support by contrasting a family scenario in which a parent is staying at home because of a lack of job opportunity to one that stays at home having financial resources that allow them to do so.
Following Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (on right), longing for love and belonging is only felt once physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled.
A family that does have the financial support available, on the other hand, “will feel the loss of social support more strongly,” Klimenko said.
In that case, the idea of social distancing and lack of friendly personal interactions will be more impactful.
Courtney McCollum, 33, is a former drama teacher and also a mother of three.
She left her job in the classroom a few years ago and has dedicated most of her time to her own children ever since. However, even with experience teaching and parenting full-time, McCollum still said it was stressful to manage all her kids studying from home.
McCollum explained that she and her family are all very extroverted: “we are used to doing things daily, so it was extremely difficult to adapt and figure out outlets for staying inside the house and avoid socializing like they were used to.”
However, she said she was very fortunate to have the support of her husband, who is now working from home, to help her out whenever she felt overwhelmed.
“When I was hitting my boiling point, it was nice to know I could call him and he’d take over,” she said.
Having the kids home all day, her alone time was very limited. She made sure to always wake up before them and make them take a nap after lunch so she could focus on herself for those short moments.
“For my own mental health, I need to not be stuck home with the kids all day,” she said jokingly, “which is why I decided to send my oldest kid back to traditional classes this semester.”
She said her faith was “a huge part of my sanity saver … mental focus and praying to calm down were my biggest methods for stress relief.”
According to Klimenko, that is the third fundamental factor in the wellness of a family: a belief system.
She explained that “making meaning of what is going on is essential to accepting the challenges that come our way.”
“There is not enough scientific data to know for sure the long-term effects of this pandemic,” Klimenko said, “but the situation we are living in now is a natural experiment testing human and families’ resilience.”