Life as the Juggler
By: Sarah Evers & Dr. Chip Roper
In the world before COVID, Chip’s office was in the center of midtown Manhattan overlooking Bryant Park. Every morning he’d walk across the serene park from the subway. But the park felt more like a carnival during his evening walk back to the subway. There were musicians playing in various corners, yoga classes, and hula hoop cohorts. And most days the jugglers were there. The leader was obvious, dressed a bit like a toned down circus clown. He was teaching a class of would-be ball jugglers right there in the center of the urban crush.
Juggling is an apt metaphor for parents with young children at home amidst the fits and starts of pandemic reopening. The continued need for frantic juggling is a reason COVID stress is not leaving us anytime soon. In this post, we’ll consider three factors that are causing reopening stress for parents and point to hope in Jesus’ wisdom.
Impossible to Plan
Our friends with children say a huge part of the challenge is their inability to plan. The primary supports they had relied on to “pass the ball” for a few hours a day (school, daycare, and summer camp) are terribly unpredictable. These institutions announce plans, change plans, and are still having their plans superseded by changing policy. Even summer camp is still subject to cancelations due to COVID outbreaks among counselors.
Productive people love to plan. But reopening, at least for parents, is a fits and starts reality. Incremental improvements then drawbacks, all under a cloud of uncertainty. This drives the inability to plan with any certainty, creating a massive strain. A massive strain that feeds into parental guilt.
Most working mothers we know feel guilty about the hours they spend at work, away from their children. When their children are vying for their attention just outside their home office door, the pangs can be intense. Perhaps this is why several million working mothers have dropped out of the workforce in recent years.
Fathers as a class do not seem to feel the same sharp guilt mothers do. Many would feel some tension when they’ve “had” to spend weeks on the road or missed games and recitals. After being more involved with the domestic scene for the last 14 months, fathers may be struggling with what to do as the back to office pressure mounts.
Feeling guilty because you either prioritize work or prioritize children. Is it okay for your kids’ psyche to constantly be told to “hold on,”’ “Mommy’s busy,” “10 more minutes”?
As one of Sarah’s clients commented:
“It’s been hard and isolating for my children, I want to make some moments special and engaging so they feel loved. And I end up feeling so tired being all things to all the people in my home while taking care of the majority of the needs in my home (cleaning, food shopping and prep, children’s physical and emotional needs, bedtime routines, etc).”
The guilt of not giving one’s best at home is compounded by the fact that the idea of returning to the office brings some moms relief. Does that make someone a bad mom?
Raising kids and surviving economically (never easy) are more ambiguous now. All of this leads to the third domestic reality.
When you watch a juggler, the juggling is always temporary. Whether rubber balls or chain saws, the juggler gets going, goes, and then winds down to a stop. Professional jugglers don’t juggle all the time. They rest. For those of us who are parents, who find work and home worlds mashed together, who find the providers we rely on unreliable, the juggling never ends. We are tired. We are overtired.
Exhaustion dogs us and amplifies our stress. Fatigue depletes our emotional reserves and we take it out on our children, feeding guilt, feeding more fatigue, feeling more stress, feeling left out of the post-pandemic celebration. What to do?
Making Progress By Taking On Burden
Jesus said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
A yoke was a harness, a constraint. Imagine two oxen, connected together. Jesus invites us into the harness with him. He invites us to take on his burden. Because he is with us, the constraint is easy on us, and the weight is light. Whenever we feel overwhelmed, we can ask the question, “is this a self-imposed burden and constraint or is it from him?”
Maybe our expectations of ourselves are not his. Maybe we are trying to prove something at work or at home (or in both arenas), that is wearing us out. Or maybe we are committed to the commitments Jesus has for us and we need to remember that he is there in the harness with us, pulling and guiding us forward, even though it’s hard.
How might a daily reflection on this picture of being together with Jesus, help those of us who face the strain of unpredictable parenting during COVID reopening?