How Moms Are Approaching 2022 Differently
Written by Sarah K. Peck
Photography by Photographed by Ivan Gener
There was a time I used to do New Year’s goal planning with vigor and zest. But for 2022, I can’t seem to drum up that same momentum. The truth is—and I’ll bet many mothers reading this feel similarly—the pandemic broke me. I am now a burned out, anxious, angry shell of a human being who is attempting to stitch my life back together.
While that may sound dramatic to some, it’s not…not true. Pandemic parenting exploded our lives entirely. For some, our lives were smashed—we lost jobs, family members, schools, and even the ability to think. The already intense mental load skyrocketed to include questions like: When will the children be vaccinated? Which family members are lying? What events are safe? Do I keep my kids in school with their friends or try an alternative learning accommodation?
Telling parents that everything is okay, and that we can go back to “normal” feels akin to gaslighting. “Now that the pandemic is over,” is not a phrase that makes sense to parents, because children under five still aren’t vaccinated. But even if and when our youngest child gets vaccinated, we can’t just skip past the last two years and jump straight back to the way things were. The last two years were not fine, and we need time, space, and help from each other to recover.
Think about it this way: if I broke my leg, people wouldn’t rush me through the physical therapy and healing process—it would take time, rest, treatment, and understanding. Friends would say to me, “How’s walking going?” and “How’s healing coming along?” not “Why aren’t you running already?” With work, however, we skip straight past the trauma and right back into full-fledged hustling without a chance to breathe or recover. It’s like we all broke our legs, and now we’re mad at each other for not instantly running again.
As someone who speaks with parents everyday as a part of my business, Startup Parent, I’m talking to parents about what they’re changing in their work lives as a way to find space to recover. Here are five different trends I am hearing from moms as we march forward to 2022, still sludging through the weight of the pandemic with our children in tow.
#1: There’s no expectation that 2022 will be shiny and brand new.
When the “awful year” of 2020 was finally over, a lot of us had on rose-colored glasses as we embarked on 2021. The general consensus was that there was nowhere to go but up. Vaccines were on the horizon and things wouldn’t be as bad, right? But 2021 brought Delta, the politicization of vaccines, burnout, supply chain issues, childcare shortages, and now Omicron.
“I’m not assuming 2022 is going to be a quick fix for 2021,” one parent told me. The pandemic is still with us and new variants are making their way around the globe. With it comes the sobering reality that the “back to normal” we were all grasping for in 2021 might not exist.
The good news, however, is this means we’re planning more realistically, and many parents are finally making much-needed changes because they can no longer wait for the world to change. “I’m not waiting for life to return to normal,” she said. “I need to double down on childcare, vacation, and flexibility if I’m going to hang on next year.”
#2: They are demanding rest over keeping busy.
“I used to think a busy day was a successful day,” Vanessa Van Edwards, the bestselling author of Captivate, founder of Science of People, and past guest on The Startup Parent Podcast told me. “I thought being busy made me feel good, capable, and productive.” When the pandemic hit, Van Edwards had to slow down, and she realized for the first time in a long time how much she appreciated slow days. “I am fundamentally changed in that I now crave pauses. I block off at least one weekend day for nothing. I never would have adopted this changed viewpoint had the pandemic not forced me to slow down.”
There will always be deadlines, demands, and overwhelm. The moms I’ve spoken with are exhausted, and they can’t wait any longer to sleep. Some parents are skipping travel because it’s too tiring, while other parents are opting out of certain traditions that don’t feel good anymore. “I’m not sending holiday cards this year,” a parent said. “Maybe I’ll send a photo email, but that’s it.”
#3: They are letting go of so much more.
Moms are heading into 2022 exhausted, depleted, and burned out. What was possible in 2018 is not realistic today. Some of the things parents are giving up include holiday cards, holiday parties, and holiday travel. “I used to run around doing tons of holiday planning because I thought it made our family happier. It actually made us all miserable,” one mom shared with me. “We’re watching movies and ordering take-out this year.”
My own husband made it a work-wide policy to stop unnecessary video meetings, so now everything is a phone call unless it’s critical that it be video. They’re doing this as an experiment to make it through the winter season, and it may become a more permanent policy.
Another mom I know stopped making weekend plans, because she needs the weekend to nap with her kids if she wants to have any chance of making it through the upcoming week. “Honestly, I’m in bed as much as possible on the weekend if I have any hope of making it another week,” she said. “I’ve stopped apologizing for not being available,” another parent shared, “and I’ve started accepting that it’s just not happening right now.”
#4: Health comes first, including better work-life boundaries.
“I’m focusing on my health,” shared another past guest on my podcast. Health has to come first, which includes basic survival for many. “I am just trying to survive and give my kids love and attention,” shared Amy Sterner Nelson, founder of The Riveter and mother to four girls. “It’s been a pretty brutal 20 months and for us it just keeps going.” Non-stop childcare has run most parents into the ground, and it’s taken a mental toll on parents and kids alike.
Part of that mental toll comes from the blurring of work and life boundaries, shared Van Edwards. “As a parent in the pandemic I had to squeeze work in wherever and whenever I could, which meant I was working all hours. In the bathroom…at the breakfast table…in bed. It was survival.” But now that we’re in the long haul of this new working world, she said, “I need to bring back work/life boundaries.”
It’s time to stop squeezing in work across all the edges, and find space for mental health, physical health, and community again—for our long-term wellbeing.
#5: Fixed planning is no longer possible—resilience and presence are the focus instead.
“Pandemic parenting really messed with me,” Alexis Grant, founder of They Got Acquired and mom to two kids, wrote on Twitter. Grant has always loved strategic planning for the year ahead, but now she doesn’t feel like she has the capacity to do it the same way. “My previously futuristic brain can’t think more than two months ahead. I don’t trust that tomorrow will be similar to today.”
A dominant theme in the conversations I’ve had with other moms is figuring out how to plan and dream while living in constant uncertainty.
“I’m learning not to be attached to specific outcomes,” said an investor, author, and mom to two in Toronto. Being more present and resilient in the moment is a something I’ve heard many parents express. Trying to stick to a rigid plan or deadline creates further exhaustion and anger, so letting go of as many expectations as possible has been a universal way to cope. “It’s really hard to quiet my mind, but I think the old habit of keeping busy was also a form of escapism,” she shared. “So, when I say I’m trying to do less, I’m trying to make space to rest, read, draw, and meditate.”
For Alexis Grant, she realized that while she can’t control the outcomes, she can try to be more resilient in the face of change. “If school gets cancelled,” she said, “I want to be better about slowing down my work projects and being there with my kids instead of trying to cram it all into the same week—2020 taught me that trying to push through with everything just doesn’t work.”
We are living our new normal, and moms especially have come to terms with the reality that we won’t be waking up from this nightmare anytime soon. But even if 2022 doesn’t have that shiny, New Year glow for you, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. This New Year is asking moms to plan differently, to let go of “doing it all,” to prioritize rest, and to focus on what it is that you truly need this upcoming year. It’s okay to go slower than other people, to do things differently, and to be wherever you are in the recovery process. Moms have been through a lot, and this next year may need to look different if we’re going to make it through.
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