The Pandemic Taught Women That Time Was Never the Problem

the pandemic taught women time wasn t the problem cat

Like all good epiphanies, this one struck when I was in the shower. It was right around the time our vaccinated selves were attempting to piece our lives back together in between variants. As I washed my hair and shaved my legs—indulging in the sad excuse called “me time”—my mind floated to thoughts of the “if onlys” I used to say before March 2020.

If only I didn’t have a commute, I’d work out every single morning.

If only I could work from home, I’d get family dinner on the table every single night.

If only my evening plans slowed down, I’d make date night with my spouse once a week.

Then there was a pandemic, which, in theory, cleared the way for each aspirational to-do to play out. I lost my commute. I got to work from home indefinitely. My husband and I were glued side-by-side on the couch together most nights, our once-robust social calendars slashed to shreds.

So how come none of these life adjustments cleared the way for my success?

What I realized that night in the shower was that time was never my issue. Survival was.

Let me explain.

Pre-pandemic, I was juggling so much. A job, a child, my friends, my spouse. In between, I still held the role of the detail-chaser—the one responsible for managing the logistics that make it all possible. (Play to your strengths is marriage advice I actually believe in; my husband cooks, I book the doctor’s appointments.)

But the pandemic, rather than freeing me up, only served to make my doer-of-all-tasks role more apparent. My aforementioned obstacles may have disappeared, but they were immediately replaced with new ones.

For instance, my commute evaporated, but so did consistent childcare, and I found myself pushing a 2 year-old on a swing during the hours I’d normally be smushed against fellow passengers on the subway. My ability to wear sweatpants all day was certainly welcome, but in place of my morning dressing and makeup routine, I found myself trading off with my husband for bonus work time. And as for those dates, we made an effort. Twice I think? But in this instance, time wasn’t the issue; it was ever-present exhaustion. It simply felt like too much effort to do anything that wasn’t Ted Lasso, 30 minutes being the maximum length we could sustain before passing out.

Initially, I thought I’d be able to become the multi-tasking mom who popped a lasagna in the oven to be ready come dinner at the same time I was penning a story. Spoiler: I could not, and to this day I continue to microwave my son’s dinners, while feeling guilty about it.

But what does this say about women? That there’s always more on our plate? That even if we are granted more time, our perpetual “if only’s” simply accumulate, becoming constant “you should’s”?

According to Dr. Gertrude Lyons, life coach and founder of Rewriting the Mother Code, an initiative that challenges the notions of motherhood and womanhood, it’s a reminder that we’re still holding onto a version of “mother” that’s simply not attainable. “Recognizing and changing the way we speak to ourselves all starts with awareness,” she says. “One of the telltale signs we’re being hard on ourselves is anytime we hear the word ‘should’ as part of our inner voice.”

Her advice: Mothers need to practice celebrating and acknowledging themselves along the way—regardless of how much you did or didn’t get done on a checklist. After all, she says, we are the ones with the power to exploit the wiring that got us to create those checklists to begin with.

This awareness is key as we consider how we’re spending our time. Are some of your “should’s” only on the list because of societal pressure? (“I should make my own baby food.” “I should sign the kids up for the travelling soccer team.”) If so, scrap them. Alternately, if there is one thing on that list that you really truly care about, it’s worth prioritizing. (Family dinner is mine; I’ve settled for three times a week and have relaxed on the food being served; it’s the scheduled time to regroup as a family that I care about most.)

Still, the message is clear: A lack of time is certainly a barrier, but a lack of self-forgiveness is the bigger obstacle.  

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...