Reflections On A Hard Year, Part 5: A Mother Reflects On Her Own Sorrow

The hardest part of the pandemic for me has been tolerating the deep sorrow that accompanies illness and mortality while simultaneously protecting my children from this very feeling within myself. 

Although I am one of the lucky parents – I did not contract COVID and was vaccinated in early 2020 – there was illness and death all around me.  The first months of the pandemic were hard — my uncle, who I grew up adoring (and feeling adored by) died suddenly from COVID. I remember one day in early April 2020 my mother called to tell me that he was feeling ill.  Three days later he died in a nearby hospital.  Luckily, his doctor was a family friend and allowed my aunt (his wife of fifty-five years) to be by his side as he took his last labored breath. 

My heart felt broken.  

Days later my family gathered on Zoom for his funeral and shiva.  I sat in my own home, on our family couch. I was surrounded by my husband and my two boys, my youngest, sitting on my lap, wrapping his little fingers inside my palm.  And, even though there were familiar faces and voices on my screen – my cousins, aunts, parents, and sibling – I felt very alone in my grief. So many parts of these rituals were missing – hugs with my family, communal vibrations of song that soothe when many voices join together in a single space, and of course, the presence of my family elders ushering us (the younger generation) through loss.  

All of a sudden everything and everyone around me felt fragile and I could no longer take anything for granted.  I stayed awake at night wondering how I would raise our two young boys if my husband (a physician who treated COVID patients) became ill and died? And what would happen to my dear boys if I died?

Without a government that took the pandemic seriously, how would I keep my boys safe even if I did manage to survive? And, in my most terrifying moments, the only thing I could think about was how George Floyd’s last words spoke every boy’s deepest source of security – “mama.”  

It is misleading to say that the pandemic is solely responsible for the slow tear that pervaded my veil of security. In the months prior to the emergence of COVID in the US, my life had already been uprooted by illness. In fact, I spent most of the fall of 2019 caring for important people in my life who were ill.  In October of 2019, I stayed with a close friend and helped with her two daughters as she endured treatment for stage IV lung cancer.  And then, in the final days of 2019, my father was diagnosed with Leukemia and I underwent surgery, donating my bone marrow to him to increase his chances of survival.  

By the time the pandemic hit, I was exhausted and needed time for reflection.  In a normal year I would have used the spring to sort out the feelings that came with the previous fall.  On my hours off from work and while my kids were at school, I would have enjoyed visits with my dad and taken long runs by the river. I would have met friends for tea and shared my experience, emerging from the interaction feeling grounded and full. Now, my whole world shrunk down to the few rooms of my home – with my kids at home for school and my husband working at the hospital I could no longer leave the house to hold my dad’s hand nor to go running by myself.  Suddenly, it was no longer safe to meet friends in person and as a therapist I often did not want to set up one more Zoom session even if it was for the purpose of talking to friends. I found myself crying in the shower so that no one would hear me, especially my children.   

As a daughter of a severely depressed mother, I have worked hard to hide my sorrow from my children.  I don’t mean I never let them see me sad or upset.  Rather, I’ve tried hard to protect them from the deep sorrow many daughters of depressed mothers inherit – the feeling that we are undeserving of goodness and are responsible to make our mothers better so that we may have the goodness we see others enjoy.  Over the years, I’ve buoyed myself with my professional work and beautiful experiences that remind me I am worthy of joy (such as fun family vacations).  And, I’ve healed the broken part of me through many deep relationships – my therapist, mentors, friends, and especially my husband who understand this part of me and support my many endeavors to live fully, with strength and joy. Together, we have been able to give our boys the things that my mother could not give me – a deep sense of hope, agency in the world, and freedom to be children. Now, without my traditional ways of recuperating – usually out of my children’s sight – how would I manage not to slip into my own depression?  How would I protect them from my own fears and sorrow – stirred by so much illness and death (not to mention protect them from very real threat of COVID)?

I wish I could say that over the last 15 months I rallied by establishing a daily practice of yoga, baking bread, and used the extra time at home to “Marie Kondo” my closets (as I witnessed so many others do in the many articles I read online at 3 am).  But, I did not.  My children are still home for remote school and they are unvaccinated. I had to find ways to allow myself to feel what I was feeling.  And I did.  I found a way to stay close to the rhythms of my sorrow and move through them, this time along side my children rather than outside their view.  

Over this pandemic time of sadness, I have come to realize that I do not have to hide my sorrow from my children in order to protect them.  In fact, I have recognized that in order to prepare them for life as it really is, I have to allow them to know about sorrow and sadness. And I have decided that we can now talk, as a family, about how some parts of life are naturally hard and sad and that giving ourselves care and comfort in these hard times is essential.

Before it was safe to have a babysitter, I would run around the baseball field, tracking my miles, while my boys played catch and cheered me on to run one more lap. Now, both of my boys look forward to beginning the week when they have “extra movie time,” while I meet with my therapist online.  They know that I often need to cry when I learn that their grandpa was re-admitted to the hospital and they see me moving through the pain by baking him his favorite date-nut bread for when he returns home.  Additionally, they accompany me on visits with my friends in the park, developing their own loving relationships with them.  

I am still tired.  I still look forward to the time when my kids can return to school. I need more time to myself and they need to feel independent and have time with their teachers and friends. In the meantime, I am doing the unthinkable – I am healing myself along side my children.  Without burdening them with my sorrow, I have let them see how I find my resiliency in the face of hardship. I am hopeful we will all emerge stronger and my boys, if they ever lose their own sense of inner strength, will know they can always find their way back.

The Transition to Motherhood

Dr. Corinne Masur

Recently a young mother and trainee at my Psychoanalytic Institute and I were talking about the transition to motherhood.  She has a four month old and she had just read an article that talked about “Matrescence”.  I had never heard this term before but I was immediately taken by it!  Finally, a word to name the developmental stage that women go through when they become mothers!


There is really nothing like this transition and yet we don’t talk about it much.  Going from being an individual who can do what she wants, when she wants, responsible mostly just to herself, to being totally responsible for a new, helpless human is an enormous shift. And it can be a shock. Suddenly, everything changes.  Independence and autonomy go out the window! Now the baby’s needs have to be constantly considered.  When the baby has to feed, sleep, be comforted or cuddled has to be taken into account before the woman can decide to do anything else. Life becomes less orderly and MUCH more messy.


This is especially true for women who worked and had control over their own schedules outside of work. Staying home and caring for a baby’s needs can feel like a huge shift in every aspect of her being – her schedule, her priorities, her freedom and especially, her identity.


I remember one new mother saying to me, “No one told me how hard this would be!” and she wasn’t just talking about taking care of her baby.  She was talking about so many things. She was jealous of her partner getting to go to work each day, getting to take a half hour for lunch, getting to go to the bathroom on their own. She went from working to being at home all day and she felt hemmed in. She loved her new baby but she also felt that his needs were all encompassing. She felt she didn’t get a moment to herself.  Her partner worked long hours and for those first few months she felt quite alone and isolated. She had friends but she did not feel she had time to reach out to them.  At another time she said to me, “The responsibility for keeping my baby alive is all on me”.  She felt the weight of this and it was nothing like anything she had felt before.  She also felt the weight of her love and connection to her baby and THAT was like nothing she had felt before either.


Of course, for each new mother and each new parent, what feels hard may be different – but for all new parents, especially first time parents, the transition to motherhood/fatherhood is huge. Each parent has to adjust to who s/he is now, now that s/he is not just an individual or part of a couple but now that s/he is responsible for caring for another human being and having that human being be totally dependent on him or her.  S/he has to rethink what it means to be HER.


This shift in identity is something that we take for granted.  But we shouldn’t.  It’s difficult – and comes with mixed feelings and in some cases, considerable struggle.  An article in Psychology Today compares matrescence to adolescence, another stage of life that can be stormy.


Every phase of development in human life comes with conflict. First time mothers may love their new role – but they can also hate it.  They can hate having to stay home because the baby is napping when they would rather be out on a walk or having coffee with a friend. They can hate the long days and the lack of adult companionship.  They can hate the total dependence of the baby, or the endless routine of feeding, burping, diapering, soothing. They can feel bored and beleaguered and resentful.  They can miss work and the sense of purpose that work brings. Deeper conflicts can be stirred up including feelings about how they were parented themselves or how they feel about bodily functions, time management, productivity, independence and commitment. And all of this is completely normal.


We need to acknowledge the significance and the difficulty of transition from non-mother to mother and non-father to father.  This is a life transition that resonates with past and future identities, goals, routines and ways of being.  It is transformative. The role of parent adds new dimensions to one’s existing sense of self, to one’s repertoire of feelings and abilities – but it is often a struggle getting used to the new role and all it entails.


And becoming a mother/parent during COVID?  Reread the above and multiply by 1000. All the normal challenges, deprivations and frustrations are magnified by the current conditions. New parents often don’t know what to expect from their baby, moment to moment, but now NONE of us know what to expect from the outside world. When will the pandemic be over? Will we get sick? Will our family members get sick? Will our jobs survive? Will we survive financially? Will daycares be open or stay open? Can we even grocery shop safely and if so, how many masks do we have to wear to do so? Moreover, it’s hard to find help. Relatives and babysitters can’t come over as easily to help with child care. Friends with babies can’t get together without negotiating around COVID safety. Life for the new parent is even more uncertain and more isolated than ever.

Some mothers are “on the brink.”.  It is just TOO much – particularly for single mothers, mothers whose financial situation is unstable, mothers who have to manage working from home and childcare simultaneously. Maternal stress levels are high – life can seem scary and tedious and frustrating all at once. Some have taken to going to a local park and screaming as loud as they can. One mother said, “I feel like a ticking time bomb…but then I am unable to defuse myself”. Another said, “Some days are so busy they feel like they don’t exist. It’s like I just went through 24 hours and I don’t remember any of it because I was just go, go go.” 


It is hard to concentrate on a new baby when there are so many worries. And at the same time, that is what is needed. Some parents find it an escape to just care for their baby. Some are glad that there is little for them to fear they are missing out on while caring for their infant during this time – after all, so little else is happening.  There are fewer distractions from the baby and more time to get to know him or her – and after all, that is the job of the new parent – to get to know the baby and to get to know ourselves in our new role.

Please join in the conversation. You can find Thoughtful Parenting on our Facebook and Instagram.

Kids Can Be Foodies Too! Check Out Netflix’s Family-Friendly Show “Somebody Feed Phil”

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It can be difficult to find a family-friendly show that’s a good fit for both younger and older kids. We love the new Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, which follows the travel and food adventures of Phil Rosenthal, a television writer who brings enthusiasm and wonder with him whoever he goes. He was recently interviewed by 7-year-old fan Evan Wittenberg, who asks the hard-hitting questions we want answers to, such as “What’s the grossest food you ate this season?”:

https://www.tastecooking.com/phil-rosenthal-vs-a-7-year-old/

We hope you enjoy the show too!

How Much Choice Do Kids Need?

UnknownDr. Corinne Masur

Once upon a time (when I was growing up) children were told, “Tonight we are having chicken a la king for dinner.”  Now, you might have hated chicken a la king, or perhaps you had the same thing for lunch at school…but that was STILL what was for dinner.

At some point parenting changed, and the idea that choices were important for children’s development became popular.  “Child centered parenting” was on the cutting edge, and giving children choices in what to wear, what to eat, and what to do was part of that.

At the very same time, our society was becoming increasingly industrialized with more and more consumer products becoming available in stores.  In the 50’s, as the world was recovering from WWII, middle class people in Western nations might have a car– or they might not.  But they usually didn’t have two cars.  Adult women might have a few nice dresses and a few for everyday wear, but that was it.  No one had a walk in closet–they didn’t need one! Children had clothes for dressy occasions, school, and play, and these categories did not mix.

Now that we have prepared foods at grocery stores, take-out food, fast food, Amazon, Target, and Walmart (plus lots of things imported from other countries where labor is cheap), dinner is often whatever your child wants. Kids often have a great deal of choice in clothing, and their weekends are full of playdates and activities of their choosing.

Is this helpful for children? Continue reading

Talking about Technology

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Dr. Corinne Masur

The promotional website for Screenagers, a film about technology in families, is offering new conversation starters for parents every Tuesday. This week, they’re focusing on how kids feel about their parents’ connection to technology and asking the following questions:

  • What are some of the best ways I give you my attention?
  • Do you find that I’m on my phone, tablet or laptop when you want my attention?
  • What are ways you can tell that I am only half paying attention?

And if you’re interested in learning more about the movie: “Award-winning SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions emerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.”

First Day of Daycare or Pre-school

daycareDr. Corinne Masur

Sending your infant or young child off to daycare or pre-school for the first time can be heart wrenching – for BOTH to you.

Suddenly, the baby you cared for so carefully will be in the hands of others.  This can cause parents to feel more anxious than they anticipated feeling!  Often parents feel a loss of control over their child’s care and wellbeing.  Fear, guilt, and regret may follow.

What can you do?

The infant who is 6-months-old or younger: Continue reading

The Importance of Failure

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Dr. Corinne Masur

Last week in The Sunday New York Times there was an article describing how college students need to to be TAUGHT that it’s okay to fail occasionally. Smith, a prestigious women’s college, offers a presentation called “Failing Well” during student orientation, which gives out a certificate saying, “You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb or fail at one or more relationships, hookups, friendships, texts, exams or extracurriculars or any other choice associated with college…and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent human.”

Evidently many 18 year olds are getting to college having suffered very few disappointments or failures of any kind. Or they get to college rarely having had to handle disappointment on their own. They are simply unprepared for this experience. Residence life offices are inundated with students who come in sobbing that they did not get their first choice of roommate, that they got less than an A- on an exam, or that they got rejected from a club.

How did we, as a society, or we as parents and educators and mental health professionals allow this to happen? We simply have to ask ourselves this question. Continue reading

Dr. Sears and Attachment

black_mom_kissing_babyDr. Corinne Masur

So many parents have read Dr. William Sears’ books and tried to approximate his description of attachment parenting. But how many knew that he and his wife developed these ideas not based on research, but based on their own reactions to their difficult childhoods?

It’s very challenging to adhere to his description of ideal attachment parenting (utilizing the co-sleeping technique, wearing the baby, and being as available to the infant and toddler as he suggests), especially for parents who work outside the home, have older children, or have to meet additional family demands.

Now, if the Sears’ work were based on solid longitudinal research, that would be one thing. It would behoove parents to make the sacrifices necessary to adopt some or many of his strategies. However, as it turns out, his theories are not research-based, but are rooted in his and his wife’s fantasies of what would have been better for them as children.

Clearly, a generation of parents have been strongly influenced by the Sears. And for those who were able to take the advice with several grains of salt and to apply their techniques when and where possible, babies may have benefitted from the closeness and attunement of these parents. But MANY parents have suffered the guilt of knowing they were not able to adopt these strategies due to limitations of time, money, energy, etc. And these parents have definitely been done a disservice by the Sears.

To learn more, check out this article in Time magazine and let us know what you think!