To navigate the pandemic with a toddler and a newborn, support from her family has been key, says Squamish's Chelachatanat (Stephanie Johnston).
She is a single mom to a 3.5-year-old Kwúsen and a 10-month old, Payton Anthony.
Being that he was born amid the pandemic, she considered naming her baby Covii, she said, but ultimately changed her mind.
Reflecting on the last two years of COVID-19, she said, "there's so many positives and…so many negatives."
During the pandemic, she moved in with her family.
Her kids' fathers are in their lives as well.
Though she has support, she said one of the biggest challenges has been the social isolation for her and the kids.
"When we got up here, everything closed down," she said, noting the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) family program she was attending with the kids was suspended for a time, due to the pandemic.
"I'm a new parent; how do I let my kids interact if we are supposed to social distance?" she said, recalling how she felt during the tight restrictions.
Even playgrounds were off-limits early on.
With the cost of daycare and injuries she suffered after being hit by a car, Chelachatanat isn't working full-time right now.
So most of her time has been spent with her children at home.
"We go out for walks," she said, adding she will call up fellow parents to go for walks together, but said it has been "hit and miss," and often when plans are made someone has felt sick or worried they might be.
Now, with things slowly opening up, there's more to do, but it feels out of her comfort zone, Chelachatanat said, recounting a time she wanted to take a fitness 'circuit' class recently, but found it hard to leave her kids, even with their grandma.
"My youngest started crying just before I left and I felt so bad. I was like, I can't leave," she said.
Without her mom, brother and sister, she said things would be much more challenging and more lonely.
"Yeah, my family is probably the biggest thing. No matter how upset you can be at your family, we always will still be, 'What's for dinner? Are you hungry?'" she said, with a chuckle. " It's really helpful that my family's here... It is just really nice to have family around."
In a follow-up email, Chelachatanat said in the days since the interview with The Squamish Chief, she had connected with another local single mom who also has a young son.
"Getting together has been a blast for us and the boys," she said.
With her friend, she also decided to rejoin her baseball league, something she was second-guessing earlier.
"I have introduced her to the game, and we can take our kids to the field — [creating] a sitter, buddy and future player. When I play, she watches the boys; when she plays, I have an eye on the boys," she said.
"This is my social...Otherwise, it's home, and grocery store and kids' store for the kids' needs."
The study "Examining the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on family mental health in Canada: findings from a national cross-sectional study," found that parents — particularly parents experiencing stressors including financial and employment insecurity and pre-existing mental health conditions — reported worse mental health since the onset of the pandemic compared with other Canadian adults.
Data for the study was collected via an online survey in May of 2020.
Worsened mental health was significantly more prevalent among women, parents under age 35, parents with a pre-existing mental health condition, parents with a disability, and parents reporting financial stress.
What was somewhat surprising to the study's researchers Anne C. Gadermann, a UBC professor, and postdoctoral fellow Kimberly Thomson was that the results were not all bleak.
"Given the multiple stressors facing families, we were not surprised to see parents reporting worsened mental health and increased negative interactions with their children — harsh words, conflict. However, contrary to what some might expect, we found that parents were also reporting increased positive interactions with children, including more quality time together, showing love and affection, feeling close, and observing resilience in children. Often, the same parents would report increases in both negative and positive interactions, possibly due to increased opportunities for interaction," they said in a joint written statement to The Chief.
The researchers say an additional element that they touched on only briefly in the study was parents' observations of how the pandemic had affected their children's mental health.
Sixty percent of parents reported their children's mental health had stayed the same since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while 25% indicated that their children's mental health had worsened.
"We hope that more research draws attention to the mental health impacts of the pandemic on children and youth," they said.
The researchers say that out of their study, they hope folks recognize the increased pressure and mental health burden of the pandemic on parents and "make accommodations to support mental health whenever possible."
"At the individual level, parents reported several self-care strategies that had helped them cope with stress during the pandemic, including going for a walk and exercising outside, as well as connecting with friends and family," they said.
"At the government level...a significantly higher proportion of parents with children [under]18 at home reported accessing federal financial benefits compared to the rest of the sample as well as food-based community programs such as the food bank or community kitchens. The proportion accessing financial supports and food programs was even higher among families reporting financial stress."
A high proportion of parents compared to the rest of the sample also reported having a supportive employer as a factor that helped their stress related to the pandemic.
The researchers also conducted a follow-up study looking at parents’ mental health in the first eight months of the pandemic that found similar results to the first.
"However, since that time, there have been changes that may have improved or worsened parents' mental health, including the availability of vaccines in Canada and the spread of more contagious variants of the virus. Because of these continual contextual changes, it is imperative that we continue monitoring the mental health impacts of the pandemic on parents, children, and our population as a whole."
Don't be so hard on yourself
Squamish's Linda Simpson is the author of the parenting book Commonsense Tips for 21 C Parents, and published advice columnist.
She is also a grandmother.
She notes that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has repeatedly said over the last few weeks that we have to learn to live with the virus and so parents of young kids, like everyone, are going to have to acclimatize to the "new normal."
"Parents just need to give themselves time," she said.
"This too shall pass; you're going to feel more comfortable as you see your friends doing it. And they're doing it successfully."
For parents with very young kids, say under three years old, there is no need to worry about the socialization gap the pandemic has brought, she said.
"If they're under three, and they've been at home, they're getting the socializing they need," she said.
When parents are anxious, she noted, that gets passed on to kids.
"If you are anxious, they are going to be anxious," she said. “What I would definitely say to parents is: …take the pressure off yourself, you know…centre yourself, do some yoga, meditation. Do things that will help you to deal with the stress."
If you are feeling tired, or overwhelmed, or whatever it may be, Simpson says to be age-appropriately honest with children about it so they see that you are human too and that you use methods to cope.
Teaching kids to be resilient will be useful during and after this pandemic, she noted.
"I was reading something this morning about how there's the possibility in the future that there could be environmental lockdowns. We don't know what kids are going to grow up in, or [what] they're going to be faced with," she said.
"So coping skills will be really important.... I mean, if anything, this has just pointed out the vulnerability of the world. And that's not going away, that's not going to get better."
Did we fall out of love or is it the pandemic?
Lawyers are reporting an uptick in couples seeking divorce during the pandemic, but Simpson suggests feuding couples take a step back to ensure the discord is not due to the strain of the current crisis.
"We're still not out of this, and if you can wait for six months — if you still feel the same way in six months — then [split]."
She noted couples have been put under incredible strain and are spending much more time together at home without other outlets.
She recommends the partners make more time for themselves and have some honest conversations.
"And, if you can, counselling," she said. "If they could get back to a life that has some sense of normality, then assess."
More than anything else, however, Simpson's advice for parents through the pandemic and, in general, is to trust themselves.
Parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to be perfect, and they look for external answers, but often the answers are common sense, she said.
"It all just goes back to common sense…Just live your life, trying to distance yourself from other people's expectations [and do] what feels good for you…It's not about what your kids' friends are doing," she said.
"I think that parents are wonderfully educated today, but, maybe, too much so.... What's your gut telling you? Generally, they've got the right answer of what they should do."