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How to support moms through financial stress brought on by the pandemic

A new poll finds 25% of women say their families are still struggling financially because of the pandemic. KING 5 speaks with an expert on ways to lift women up.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — Mother’s Day is May 9 and a new poll finds 25% of women say their families are still struggling financially because of the pandemic.

The most common cause: Women left work or reduced hours to care of children and elderly family members. With the rising costs of housing and food, some women are bearing the pandemic’s economic brunt.

Sally McDaniel leads a group of marriage and family counselors at Greater Lakes Mental Health Care in Pierce County. She serves a lot of lower-income moms. McDaniel spoke with KING 5 about how we can support moms, and the women in our life who have taken on some real sacrifice.

The emotional impact of pandemic-related financial strain on women

Mothers are often the backbone of families -- they manage schedules and oversee household tasks, so it’s not surprising many moms, and women, are reporting an increase in caretaking work. 

With family members at home more due to the pandemic, there is simply more to do. More time is being spent making meals, grocery shopping, cleaning and in many cases supervising online learning.

Women are reporting high levels of burn-out, McDaniel said. Working moms are simply putting in more hours, and worries for the safety of children and older adults is catching up with us.

Many are coping with fear exhaustion.

McDaniel said she, and the group of family counselors she works with, are noticing increases in women experiencing anxiety, depression and anger associated with pandemic stress and the additional work it brings. She advised us all to encourage women to get support, especially when they talk about it.

“If you hear a woman say, 'I just got myself back into counseling' or 'I need to get into counseling,'" McDaniel said to encourage them. "Say 'I’m so glad you’re doing that for yourself. It’s important to take care of you, too.'"

How women can emerge from the pandemic with good mental health 

The pandemic demanded swift changes and sacrifice, so McDaniel said it's important for moms to acknowledge all they have accomplished. She said recognizing they have done amazing work for others matters.

After all we have been through, part of self care for many moms is prioritizing what needs to be done and letting go of other things. McDaniel advised many of her counseling clients to practice rational detachment. 

To use rational detachment, observe your feelings, especially when confronted with a difficult task. By observing, you can choose how much of that feeling you want to absorb. Rational detachment can reduce stress and it helps us feel more grounded, according to McDaniel.

Another thing McDaniel said women could use more of is alone time. A walk around the block or a hot shower, or just listening to music alone in your room are good ways to take the edge off. She said staying connected to friends who nurture you is also important. Chatting with someone you know well and having a laugh together is a good way to bolster your spirit.

Supporting women as they return to work 

Many women, including moms who left the workforce to care for family during the pandemic are now looking for jobs, and that can be difficult.

Women, especially moms, often have different needs for working. McDaniel said access to high quality childcare can be a major factor. If you are supporting a mom, McDaniel said one good way to help is to seek out childcare resources in the area. You might find out which childcare centers have openings and ways to get financial assistance.

As more women look to rejoin the workforce, new skills and training might be relevant. Some employers cover the costs for training and some educational institutions can connect women to scholarships and financial resources.

For many women in the workplace, flexibility is key to staying employed. 

McDaniel recommended to women she works with to be upfront with potential employers. Share your needs for schedule flexibility before you are hired, she said, and try to enter the conversation with resourceful ideas that could help your employer. 

McDaniel said women also need to be clear about their needs for compensation. Knowing if the job is worth taking, before you take it, is important. Trying a job and then asking for greater flexibility or more money later is harder than asking for what you need upfront.

Some moms are staying home 

The pandemic shifted dynamics for many families. One trend is some growth in ongoing remote learning and home schooling, and as a result some moms learned they would rather be home longer because they're enjoying focusing more exclusively on connections in the home.

But, the transition to not working outside of the home can also be a challenge. To ease the transition, McDaniel recommended women take stock. 

If a woman is questioning her value without a paycheck, make a list of all the benefits her work creates. Profits can be counted in non-monetary terms and might be worth a lot more to you.

Encourage the pursuit of interests and passions, from hobbies to learning to volunteering, or all of the above. It's still important and healthy for women to have interests of their own, McDaniel said.

And, if going back to school is on the table, McDaniel said be encouraging.  

Growth is always something to advocate for and there are a number of scholarships and programs dedicated to supporting moms, and women, who are ready to learn something new.