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My mother, Sarah, keeps strange hours. My sisters and I joke that she’s nocturnal, often up through the night grading papers or cooking for the neighbors. From her bedroom in Kentucky, she often calls me during these late-night hours with updates on my many cousins, her mischievous students and the lone white duck in her neighborhood pond. Through the summer and fall, we had deeper conversations about policing, religion and mental illness — topics that might’ve led to fights in my high school years — and rich discussions of her childhood growing up on a dairy farm. When our eyelids start to droop, one of us interjects, “Well, I better get off here.”
This closeness wasn’t always the case. She had me at 42, and the years between us often felt like a gulf of irreconcilable experiences and values. I’m lucky that the pandemic brought balance to our once-volatile relationship, rather than widening its cracks, but this tension has often made Mother’s Day complicated for me, like it is for so many people.
As the United States approaches our second pandemic Mother’s Day, we wanted to explore this complexity. In the following excerpts, mothers and daughters tell us how this time of crisis has altered their relationships. For some, the pandemic brought them together. For others, it aggravated existing tensions, introduced new strains or brought unimaginable grief.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Before: I was close to my mom, Carol. We spoke often and saw each other at least once a week. She taught me to read, bake, give gifts, write thank you notes, camp and fill out job applications. She taught me to be kind, generous and compassionate. We didn’t always get along, sometimes weren’t very nice to each other, but we always found our way back to one another.
Now: My mom died on March 13, 2020. She was the first confirmed covid death in Colorado. The world turned upside down after that. I had my first Mother’s Day, birthday and Christmas without her this year, and the way I missed her left me breathless. Nothing prepares you for a world without your mother in it.
Before: Before the pandemic, my relationship with my mother, Evelyn, was very standard. She’s a traditional Dominican mother, and I’m her progressive American daughter, so things could be rocky when I was growing up. But it seemed like we learned to tolerate each other so we could care for each other as we believe family should. This was especially true after I moved out of state for university.
Now: I always knew my mother was a strong woman, but I don’t think she realized that I adopted her strength until the pandemic. I think she’s learning how to love me as an individual because she doesn’t have to actively care for me like her child anymore.
Before: My mother, Barbara, and I have always been close, talking to each other on the phone at least once a week given the one-hour distance that separates us.
Now: After moving back into my parents’ house for a few months during the pandemic to help them stay safe (from both the virus and anti-Asian attacks), my mom and I shared daily walks around the nearby schoolyard, sharing our deepest thoughts about life, love, marriage and death. Long after my mom passes, I’ll always remember this time we had together and how strong of a connection we formed.
(Anna is being identified by only her first name to protect the privacy of her family.)
Before: We weren’t best friends, but our relationship was a typical mother-daughter one. We spoke every couple days to talk about my daughter, her job and holiday plans. Many of our conversations centered on my mom, and she rarely asked about me. For my own mental health, I tried to keep those conversations to a minimum.
Now: We grew much further apart. It started when my mom chose not to tell me that she and my dad had covid early in the pandemic. She works a high-risk job, and I was worried. It took three months for us to even address, and the tension never went away. I also blocked her on Facebook because she started posting anti-Black Lives Matter memes and covid conspiracies. The pandemic has convinced me that this is going to be a transactional relationship going forward.
Before: There’s always been some tension between my daughter Sophia and me — and that’s especially true now during the teen/menopause years! Sometimes she could be angry with me for pushing her to work hard or limiting her independence. I initially had a very hard time accepting and managing her intellectual disability, Down syndrome, and her complex medical needs.
Now: She’s always been a daddy’s girl, but she and I have basically been alone together for most days since March 2020. We’ve spent a lot more time with each other through virtual school and speech therapies. We’ve pressed each other’s buttons but have had more space to work things out by slowing down and laughing with each other. When I got covid, I had to quarantine away from her in the house for more than three weeks. It was so hard for us to be in the same space but so separated and anxious. The pandemic brought us closer.
Before: My mother, Sally, and I have always been steadfast and true friends, even through the most life-altering challenges. Some of my fondest memories are from when we were both working. On an occasional nice afternoon, we would call each other, skip out on work and go play at the lake. So much love, laughter and life between us. We have been each other’s blessing through it all.
Now: Mom is 84 and her health declined during the pandemic (unrelated to covid). My husband and I moved in with her and have been her primary caregivers. Some days, I feel we are more patient-caregiver than we are mother-daughter, and I miss it dearly.
Before: My daughter, Elizabeth, was born in December 2019, so she was fresh into the world at the start of the pandemic. My mom, Nancy, and I were close, but she lives in New Jersey, and I’m in Perth, Australia. When I decided to move to Australia to be with my now-husband, I know it was hard to let me go, but she always said her role as a parent was to support my happiness. That mind-set is something I have tried to bring into my own role as a mom.
Now: My mom and I haven’t physically seen each other more than twice in a year. I’ve loved watching my daughter grow into a cheeky toddler, but it breaks my heart that my mom has to watch it through a screen. We try to FaceTime most days, and I find myself understanding my mother so much better now that I have a daughter of my own. Nothing fully replaces that physical connection. Every day, Mom asks me to “kiss Elizabeth’s precious cheek” for her, and a little piece of my heart breaks because she should be able to do that herself.
Before: My mom, Babs, has Alzheimer’s and moved to a full-time memory care facility in 2019. Though tragic, the transition allowed me to be involved physically and emotionally in her life.
Now: It’s been a tale of grief. I’m losing the race against time to be in my mom‘s life. Older populations have lost the ability to connect during the pandemic. Electronic communications have felt strange and distant. Emotionally supporting my father throughout this has been an honor, but also challenging. Recently, he got to see and touch her for the first time in over a year and a half. They have been together for 68 years.
Before: My relationship with my daughter, Rayne, has always been complicated and intense. We are only 16 years apart and have always been very close, but not always in the healthiest way. My daughter has struggled her whole life with severe mental health issues and has recently experienced chronic physical illnesses that have left her unable to work. She is a true warrior for surviving all the daily emotional and physical pain that endures. I financially support her, which is the easy part. But I have always struggled with finding the right way to be emotionally supportive while helping her maintain independence and autonomy.
After: Since the pandemic, our relationship has actually improved. Even though we live across the country from each other, and even though we had to go more than a year without seeing each other in person, we spent so much time together over FaceTime having deep conversations about relationships, love, sex positivity, social justice, racism, sexism, politics, family, trauma, etc. Although the pandemic has been very isolating for both of us, I will forever remember the silver lining of having our relationship grow and improve in such an amazing way.