working mom mother's day María Jesús Cervantes with her daughters, Natalia and Lucía
Photo provided by the Cervantes family.

María Jesús Cervantes said she knows today will be a Mother’s Day like no other, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Every evening since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, María Jesús Cervantes said she locks herself in her car. She takes a few moments to shake off the day, adjust the rearview mirror, straighten her hair, and put makeup on. She then starts the car and drives around the block once or twice. Afterward, she calls a friend, reads, or sits quietly to scroll through Facebook. 

In no time, she’s all smiles again when she returns home. She said she just needs a short break not to lose it because being a working mom during a pandemic is exhausting — but also rewarding.

“I have a daughter in kindergarten and another in fifth grade…and it’s crazy!” Cervantes said. “I work all day, so between phone calls, I check their homework. Between video conferences, I make sure they bathe and eat.” 

Seven out of 10 mothers working full time, like Cervantes, in the United States, are now isolated at home since the pandemic hit. Cervantes has to balance working remotely with ensuring her kids stay on track with their education–plus, keeping her family sane during uncertain times. 

This is not an easy task considering Arizona is one of the worst states for working moms with a ranking of 38, according to Wallethub. This is due to wage inequality, having to work more hours regardless of family responsibilities, and high child care costs. Not to mention, the cultural barriers, such as machismo, that exist as unwritten labor policies in the workplace–contributing to a disproportionate amount of work at home and the office.

Cervantes, 41, is the communications director for the largest Latino nonprofit organization in Arizona. On weekends before the pandemic, she regularly attended lengthy community events, and during the week, she went to late evening meetings or participated in early morning calls. But Cervantes isn’t complaining, and said she feels lucky because she loves her work; however, she finds her schedule is just as hectic working remotely due to the stay-at-home order.

“We are working more so we can prove that we are doing something–that we are not wasting time at home,” she said. “But it is more than obvious that we are working harder because we are glued to the phone or computer all day; and some days, we don’t even have time to breathe.”

How The Pandemic Has Changed Cervantes And Her Family

Lucía and Natalia, ages six and 10, think they’re self-sufficient, but their daily school and personal needs are hard to maintain, especially with Cervantes’ husband, Miguel Ángel, a small business owner, going to work every day in construction. He’s also the only one to leave the house to buy groceries and pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy. This works best to ensure the family’s safety from the virus. 

“We are still looking for ways to calm the tension in our daughters, because we are two parents who work full-time, and we know we have two little girls who depend on us,” said Cervantes. 

After spring break in March, Cervantes became her daughters’ teacher. She had to download multiple educational applications, subscribe to YouTube channels, create Zoom accounts, and adapt to the new guidelines of each of her daughters’ schools. 

“I no longer know if I should be answering the phone calls or the WhatsApp messages, maybe the emails or the Zoom video conferences…it is chaotic,” said Cervantes. “We try to keep a schedule, but there are days when it doesn’t work, life happens, and it is tough!”

Cervantes added that when she feels overwhelmed, she tells her husband she needs a break and gets in the car. She’s not running away from her family; she’s getting closer to herself and her emotional needs. That short drive is what keeps her sane–especially when her mom got sick.

“I had a little breakdown when my mom had COVID symptoms,” said Cervantes. “Work, teaching at home, trying to keep a decent house, cleaning and then getting medical assistance for my mom was too much.”

She said she felt guilty after that little breakdown because she wasn’t able to take care of her mom and her daughters at the same time for a while. But they are all good now.

Cervantes said she has learned she’s not alone in her emotions. Her colleagues are empathetic because they too are struggling.

“They are also living in this new reality from their homes and that gives us a connection,” said Cervantes. “There is a greater understanding of the dynamics that families have and of the challenges that we have now, such as homeschooling. There are things that we cannot control, such as a daughter who arrives when you are in the middle of a video call to or a grandson who sits on your lap during the meeting.”

Despite the Challenges, The Rewards Are Humbling

On April 3, Lucia cried because it was her birthday, and she could no longer have the party she’d been planning all year. She thought the special date was going to pass unnoticed. 

Ensuring that didn’t happen, Cervantes said she contacted Lucía’s classmates and family members to organize a socially distant celebration. They put on a colorful and loud parade, and Cervantes said her heart melted when she saw her youngest smile.

That’s when she realized her headaches and the dark circles under her eyes since the pandemic hit have been worth it. 

“A small gesture can make all the difference,” she said.

For Mother’s Day, Cervantes said the celebration won’t be as grand as her daughter’s parade, but that’s okay. She’s looking forward to relaxing.

“I think we will make a carnita asada, but we are not cooking anything that requires me to spend the day in the kitchen,” she joked. “This pandemic has helped me remember what my priorities are, and without a doubt, my family will always be first on that list.”

She will, however, still enjoy a family walk through her neighborhood–the one simple pleasure she’s enjoying before Arizona gets too hot–and will stop and say hi to her neighbors. They all know each others’ names now.

“Here in the U.S., it is nothing like my hometown in Mexico, where neighbors become friends,” she said. “The coronavirus has brought us together, at six feet distance, but closer than we have ever been, and I’m also thankful for that.”

She knows that it will be a Mother’s Day like no other, but she said she doesn’t want it any other way. 

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