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Orlando-area moms on the COVID pandemic’s impact on parents

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Orlando area moms Erika Ransom, Bree Watson and Judith Zissman discuss the effect of the pandemic on parents.

“The first thing to remember is that we were all in the same storm, but we were not all in the same boat,” says psychology professor Sharon Carnahan, executive director of the Hume Child Development Center.

The coronavirus pandemic is now into its third year, and while the omicron variant appears to be receding and life in many ways has returned to normal- COVID-19 is still with us.

People are still negotiating the challenges of returning to work, going out to eat, and other aspects of daily routines, and for parents, making sure their kids are safe as they navigate the new normal.

According to a report from the American Psychological Association, parents weren’t able to recover from pandemic burnout before the Delta variant of COVID-19 hit the US in 2021.

For more on the impact of the pandemic on parenting, we spoke to three Orlando area moms: Erika Ransom, Bree Watson, and Judith Zissman. We also talked with Sharon Carnahan, professor of psychology at Rollins College and executive director of the Hume house Child Development Center.

“The first thing to remember is that we were all in the same storm, but we were not all in the same boat,” says Carnahan.

Some parents were able to switch to remote work and had access to child care, says Carnahan.

“I would call those the people in yachts. But you also had lots of people in canoes and rafts, they had to leave their children at home with older siblings in order to go to work. They watched as their favorite childcare centers closed.”

Carnahan says those parents faced enormous stress.

“There’s a recent meta analysis that indicates that 47% of the 8,000 parents surveyed were experiencing clinically elevated levels of anxiety or depression. At the end of the worst of the pandemic, too, some of the lasting effects, the childcare workforce has changed for good.”

Carnahan says it’s important for parents not to neglect their own needs as they figure out the increased demands of parenting in the pandemic.

“Everyone is doing the very best they can and the kinder we are to each other, the less we flare up in front of our kids, the calmer they’re going to be and the better they’re going to be able to cope.”

Zissman says the boat metaphor is apt “because it’s so isolated it, we’re all in our own little boats. And I’m a single parent, so having just me and my kid in the boat has been lonely for the past two years.”

“I, like many of my peers had had some home-school fantasies that have since evaporated,” adds Zissman. “So, I think I now have even more empathy for educators and how challenging that is. And a lot of gratitude for what they were able to pull together during this break.”

Ransom says adjusting to having her kids home from school in those first months was tough.

“What it what it ultimately looked like was lots of late nights, and I just wasn’t nearly as good at my job like this for a very long time,” she says.

“But fortunately, my employer just gave a lot of grace, and really kind of understood the reality of what it meant to be home with two elementary-aged children.”

Watson says her oldest son was 1½ at the start of the pandemic, and her second was born six weeks into the lockdown.

“So, that was pretty challenging to go to a hospital and have a kid and also bring home a newborn and really not have the support that we had had the first time around. Because it was just, you know, you kind of had to keep to yourself.”

Watson says her children were too young to realize what they were missing out on. In March last year, she took her oldest son to the grocery store for the first time.

“And it was like Willy Wonka for him, you know, it was like the kids seeing the candy factory. And he was like, wow, look at all this stuff. That was kind of cool, but also really sad, because like he just didn’t know.”

Ransom says the pandemic has made her reconsider the idea of “mom guilt” that moms can feel if they aren’t present for their children 24/7.

“That’s not healthy for me. It’s not healthy for the child. We’ve all had a social experiment of what does it mean to be with your child 24 hours a day. And I think I really got some peace, some clarity about being able to refute some of that mom guilt that society tries to put on me for what they think I should or should not be doing. I feel more confident about that.”

Matthew Peddie