Kitchener-Waterloo·In Depth

Third wave of COVID-19 pandemic 'becoming unbearable' for mothers struggling to cope

Mothers trying to react to shifting rules around how Ontario battles the COVID-19 third wave say uncertainty about schooling and "arbitrary" rules about what can be bought are factors behind the high stress levels found in recent surveys.

Many factors in pandemic contributing, as surveys show mothers' mental health suffers

Chapin Korosec (left), Alexandra Kasper (right), and Lillian Korosec (baby) at Concordia Park. A new cause of pandemic stress is the declaration that children's clothing is not considered essential and can't be bought in-store. (Submitted by Alexandra Kasper)

The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is adding another layer to an already stressed demographic in the region: Mothers with kids at home are facing heightened anxiety and frustration, fuelled by shifting strategy and uncertain outcomes.

The province issued a stay-at-home order last week requiring people to refrain from activities except for shopping for necessities such as groceries, pharmaceutical products, health care access and to go to work.

For a new mother like Alexandra Kasper in Kitchener, Ont. the third wave of this pandemic has definitely brought a change to her outlook. 

"Mentally it just actually shifted that I'm angry and frustrated and feeling kind of hopeless and unseen in the current lockdown because things just seem arbitrary," said Kasper.

"It just feels as though the government guidelines are not at all considering the true issues people are facing."

School scramble

The experience is similar for a working mom of three teenage children, Andrea Ryan in Cambridge, Ont.

She says the late-breaking school closure announcements created feelings of confusion as education minister first Stephen Lecce announced children would be going back to school, then premier Doug Ford said children would not be returning. She says these plans were made without considering the mental health of working mothers like her, who have to scramble for ways to keep their children supervised. 

"These quick announcements made by our government – that really throws the family into crisis mode, every single time, it's just becoming unbearable," said Ryan.

"As a mother of three children who works, yes my kids are a little bit older, but I can't just leave and hope to God that they go into class, or that they're eating properly."

"For me personally I find that a lot of my stress comes from the constant worry about how the kids are doing," said Ryan. "That makes it hard because there's not much that we can do to fix the situation right now."

Growing children = shopping stress

With the new lockdown restrictions, retail stores are allowed only to operate online or through curbside pick-up. Big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco can only sell items considered essential such as groceries, pet care and household cleaning supplies, plus pharmaceutical, healthcare and personal care items. 

As a result, mothers with growing children are being affected. New policies restrict them from purchasing clothes and baby essentials. 

Children's clothes are not considered essential items under latest Ontario lockdown rules. (Tiffany Mongu/CBC)

Kasper says online clothes shopping for her 9-month old is practically impossible. She'll wait until the province loosens restrictions again, to go in-store and purchase a large lot of clothes that will range in sizes, since ordering online has not been successful.

"I tried ordering things online earlier in the pandemic and it either takes two months to get to you and by the time it arrives [it] doesn't fit... or it just isn't at all what you thought it was going to be in terms of the quality, fabric or the fit," said Kasper. 

More than clothing

It is not only clothes that mothers deem to be essentials for growing children. Kerri Rubicini, who runs a virtual mom club in the city of Kitchener says, she's heard from mothers that breast-feeding pumps aren't available in their stores. 

Kerri Rubicini and family (Submitted by Kerri Rubicini)

"I have a friend who had twins not too long ago and she said breast-feeding supplies such as breast-feeding pumps are [said to be] not essential," said Rubicini. "I find that very concerning for new mothers or mothers that are choosing that path to pump their milk." 

Virtual school is not ideal 

Some parents have found remote-learning to be difficult since they now have to assume roles of being a teacher or educational counsellor to their children.

Ryan and Rubicini say it has been very hard on their children to find the motivation to stay in school since, attending school virtually hasn't been the best experience for them

Ryan says it's been hard providing positivity and motivation for her three children to stay in school.

"This year's it's been exceptionally hard on them," said Ryan. "So trying to help them find the motivation to continue school work, to get online and complete it in the same way they would as if they were in [a] school, has been a big challenge in our house." 

Rubicini says it's been hard on her 10-year-old daughter's mental health because she enjoys being in a classroom with  friends. She told her mother she wouldn't go back to virtual schooling after April break, if that's what the future held. 

"Before April break happened she said 'If by any chance we have to go back to virtual leaning, I'm not going to do it.'" said Rubicini.

"I actually sourced out a counsellor for her because, she's just had a whole bunch of different feelings that [I and my husband] are not able to help her through."

Parent tips 

According to the latest survey by The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, nearly 24.3 per cent of women indicated severe anxiety. That's significantly higher than the 17.9 per cent found among men.

In addition, it was also reported that parents with children under the age of 18 living at home were more likely to report feeling depressed, than adults without children.

Mental health expert and CEO of the Jeboah Miranda Foundation, Jeboah Miranda, says the third lockdown has taken a mental toll on Canadian parents because many started the year feeling optimistic, that life was going to improve and stress levels would be reduced.

Entering another lockdown has brought back the stress and anxiety.

"What we've come to see now, is that we've gone into a third lockdown and many parents especially, are starting to lose hope," said Miranda. "They're overwhelmed by their financial situations... and they're overwhelmed by having to be at-home teachers and to make sure they're kids are healthy and mentally OK."

Miranda suggests coping strategies parents should consider during this third wave:

  1. Going outside for a walk in nature with your partner.
  2. Engaging in 20-30 minutes of frequent outdoor or indoor exercise.
  3. 'Deep belly breathing' an exercise that brings down the heart rate, alleviating the stress and anxiety.
  4. Engaging in play with children, rather than observing the play. 

Miranda also suggests ways new parents could cope with the pandemic.

She encourages them to accept how they feel in order to work through their emotions and to be honest while talking about their feelings, to also alleviate the loneliness felt during the pandemic. 

"Never feel ashamed of how you feel. It's normal and it's perfectly OK to feel that way," said Miranda.