woman running a marathon looking tired


Parenting During COVID Feels Like Running A Marathon, And I’m At Kilometre 26

Jan 27, 2021

When I think about my mental state when it comes to COVID parenting these days, I think of the language of marathon running. I’m at about kilometre 26.

For the non-runners out there, I can explain: in a marathon, no matter how well I’ve prepared for the race, there is always a point just over halfway where the reality of how tired I already am and how much further I have to go starts to sink in. The post-midway physical and mental fatigue hits, and it hits hard. And if I don’t pay close attention to my body and mind in that moment, things will not only be uncomfortable for remaining distance, they could get dangerous.

As I write this article now, in mid-January 2021, this is the point I'm at with parenting during COVID-19. I know we won’t be going "back" completely to a pre-pandemic lifestyle anytime soon, but I also hope we're over halfway there. The vaccine rollout plans seem to give hope of a finish line, or at least a point in the foreseeable future where we should be able to hug our loved ones again without worry, to have play dates, sleepovers and mom-hangs with friends.

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Racing Without Warning Or Finish Line

I realize this is not a perfect analogy, because none of us signed up for this marathon, and certainly didn’t train for it. It feels like we woke up one morning and the runners were already passing by the front door and there was no choice but to get up and join in, completely unprepared and under slept. And the exact placement of that finish line and what lies beyond it remain undefined. But I know, or have to believe, that we are moving forward towards it.

So here I am, at metaphorical kilometre 26. Tired. Mind, body and heart aches.

"It feels like we woke up one morning and the runners were already passing by the front door and there was no choice but to get up and join in, completely unprepared and under slept."

The strain on relationships, jobs and families can't be ignored. And if I’m honest, the vaccine news in December was like the cruel joke that kilometre 21 plays on your mind in a marathon. You think: “Halfway, I did it! I’m not even tired, what was I so nervous about? I can do the next half no problem." But what I didn’t know the first few times I ran a marathon is that the second half is nothing like the first. It challenges your mind and body in a deeper way, especially if you overdid it at the starting line, as so many of us do.

The vaccine was a much-needed cause to celebrate and it brought hope — but it doesn't mean the finish line is anywhere in sight. Passing kilometre 21 is a huge accomplishment and it's encouraging, but, at the same time, each new step is harder than the last. The energy it takes, the impact on the mind and body — it's not the same as those steps in the first few kilometres of the race. It's when you seriously reconsider how to run the rest of the race. When I think about parenting life these days, it feels like this.

In some ways, I'm used to it now — the precautions, the working from home, the balance of entertaining and educating our only child. But some days the mental fatigue of it all catches me and things that took effort, but were manageable earlier on in the pandemic, now seem out of reach. A box of educational crafts and activities sits gathering dust in the corner while my three-year-old runs circles around us on our laptops. Meanwhile, making dinner after working from home all day feels like a monumental task and the dishes simply do not get done.

Taking Stock And Checking In

If this were a marathon, what'd I do right now is take stock. Check my breathing, heart rate, pain levels, muscle fatigue. Maybe even do some walking and stretching, and talk myself up for what awaits. I’ve definitely gotten more skilled at assessing myself over the years, and nothing teaches you how to do this better than the terrible experience of going out way too fast and suffering the consequences for the remainder of the course. In one of my early races I thought I started out slow and was planning to speed up the pace every five kilometres. Then the goal became to maintain the pace for another five, then the goal became not to fall over before I reached the finish. 

It's time to take stock of my parenting pace for the next month, to look at what it’s going to take to get us all to the undefined finish line in our future.

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As a family and as individuals, my husband and I need look at what is necessary for our health — mental, emotional and physical — and what we can let go of.. We are lucky that our son is only three, so I'm not that worried about him "missing" any kind of formal education. But that doesn’t mean it's easy. He's busy, inquisitive, active and an only child who wants to play. My husband and I are fortunate enough to be working from home — sure, we're stressed, but in the grand scheme of things we are incredibly lucky. But it means, like many parents, we're juggling turns and tasks from the moment we wake up until we head to bed at night.

"I know it is not forever. It's time to dig deep and push through."

We've found some semblance of a routine that involves a lot of Cosmic Kids yoga time, some books, some free play and TV starting from late afternoon until dinner — and I don’t feel bad about that. We tell stories, we're slowly learning letters and luckily for us, our son has developed quite an interest in "helping" with cooking and cleaning around the house.

The pace you choose at kilometre 26 has to be comfortable. It can’t feel like you are pushing too hard. It still has to move you forward, you can’t lie down on the grass for the rest of the race. But your pace has to be something you can sustain. For me, that means we snuggle as long as my son needs in the morning, pancakes are not just for the weekend and my husband and I try to make sure we get outside and exercise. And we try to keep somewhat regular work hours. That’s about it, each and every day. 

I know it is not forever. It's time to dig deep and push through. I do this knowing that when we do reach that finish line, we can’t go back to being the people we were before COVID-19, just like how I'm not the same runner once I've finished the marathon.

We will carry on stronger for having learned the lessons along the way, for having gotten to know ourselves, our needs and exactly where our limits lie. My hope is that with these lessons, we will all be ready for the next time life throws us a curveball, or comes knocking with a marathon running by the front door.

Article Author Katharine Hagerman
Katharine Hagerman

Read more from Katharine here.

Katharine Hagerman is a global public health consultant currently based in Cairo, Egypt, with her husband and their three-year-old son. She holds a master’s of public health from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. During non-COVID times she spends summers ultra-running and teaching yoga in her hometown of Haliburton, Ontario. She occasionally writes a professional reflective blog turned personal musings page.

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