When my beautiful butterfly Dylan was murdered in his first-grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it took all the strength I had to be there for Jake, my older son who survived the shooting. There were days the grief was so overwhelming I couldn’t bear the thought of getting out of bed.
But despite the excruciating pain, fear and loss, I still had an essential job to do. Because I am a mom.
Jake was a third-grader when the tragedy happened and needed his mother then more than ever after losing his brother and best friend in one of our country’s worst school shootings. He was confused, sad, angry and needed help to make sense of his new reality and grieve his brother’s death. As a mom and parent, meeting my child’s needs came first.
Today, mothers around the country are also trying to meet their children’s needs. With COVID-19 we are navigating an unexpected and uncontrollable reality, anxious and uncertain as to what will come next in the war on our health and safety.
Women and mothers are playing many of the critical roles during this pandemic. We are turning our living rooms into classrooms, struggling to put food on the table with what’s available, making homemade face masks and hand sanitizer, and trying to make sure our children feel safe and secure as their world and ours turns upside down.
Women throughout the country have selflessly stepped up to the task, many of whom, like their spouses, continue to work from home while trying to be a teacher, cook, housekeeper, therapist, doctor and playmate for their children. It can be overwhelming for anyone, especially as we come to terms with our own fears and anxiety.
Today women make up more than 80 percent of the country’s healthcare workers and the majority of educators and school counselors in the United States. They continue to support their students and their patients—virtually or by putting themselves in harm’s way—all while helping to care for their own families’ needs.
Unfortunately, the potential for violence and self-harm have also increased as people quarantine in their homes.
Potentially life-saving tips, including suicide interventions, have more than doubled through our Say Something Anonymous Reporting System since the crisis began. More than a third of all tips coming into the system now involve potentially life-saving interventions. Reports of depression and cutting are also on the rise.
Recently, a teacher called the system after a student stated in a virtual chat that they didn’t feel safe in their home, were depressed and wanted to commit suicide. Law enforcement determined the student did, in fact, pose a risk to themselves and intervened with the necessary mental health treatment.
This is just one of many similar tips we’re receiving every week from other teachers, parents, students and school counselors. It is heartbreaking to see these reports on the rise—but it also gives me hope that people are getting the help they need because somebody reached out to say something.
Yet, I think about the countless other women and mothers who are struggling alone in the shadows.
Reaching out can be increasingly difficult during this time of physical distancing, particularly if there is an abusive partner in the home. That’s why it’s important to find ways to stay connected with others, learn the warning signs of someone at risk of harm, and reach out to get help. We need to take care of each other, as well as ourselves.
After the murder of my son, self-care was the last thing on my mind. But it was an important thing to do in order to provide the best care for my surviving son. We need to take care of our own mental health if we want to be there to support the ones we love.
The Most Important Thing Moms Should Do
This Mother’s Day, let us all give thanks to the women in our lives. Let’s do something special for all the teachers, school counselors, and healthcare workers who keep our families safe, while also caring for their own. Reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while who may be suffering in silence.
And make sure to carve some time on Mother’s Day, and every day, to do something to take care of yourself—you owe it to yourself and those you love.