Mothers around the world face unprecedented challenges to parenting as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which has forced many to home-school while  balancing home and work life, some while also functioning as essential workers outside the home. To honor Mother’s Day (May 10) and these extraordinary women, Barnard’s “toddler whisperer,” Tovah P. Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and associate professor of psychology, offers advice specifically for how best to celebrate their special day in these extraordinary times. 

Tovah Klein

At the Toddler Center, Klein and her research team study children’s social and emotional development and the influence of parents on it, including toddler memory, the role of children’s play, and the experience of being a parent during a child’s early years. When the College moved to online learning in early March, Klein and the Toddler Center faculty quickly adapted and created new ways to stay in touch. The staff now hosts virtual sessions with parents and children, as well as virtual teacher-child/family calls, and they publish a newsletter twice a month that includes information about what toddlers need to feel safe at this time, activities that dovetail with the virtual sessions, information on what the staff is up to, and more.

In this Mother’s Day Q&A, the mother of three and author of How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2 to 5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success provides answers for how we can pay tribute to the moms in our lives this Mother’s Day, even during a crisis. (For students’ reflections on their “Barnard mothers,” visit the story here.)

What are some ways that families can celebrate moms while the nation still largely practices social distancing?

Kindness can be shown in many ways, depending on your family, culture, and traditions. Recognizing what Mommy does can be done in quarantine. Young children can make pictures and cards. Families can make signs celebrating the good things about Mommy. There could be a special breakfast or meal. Just because you’re restricted to a small area, whether it’s in an apartment or a big house, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. You have to say today is a special day and somebody is being made to feel special. 

Also, moms should reach out to other people in their family, like a grandmother and aunts, and they can set up a virtual call for Grandma. Adult and young children can make cards that they share virtually to celebrate Grandma. Children can even share a storytime with Grandma, and each child can share a special moment that they remember or are looking forward to experiencing with her when the quarantine is lifted. Sharing memories can be a really great moment. Technology is our friend in this one.

For some people, grandparents might be in the neighborhood, but you can’t see them. So instead, you can leave something on their doorstep, a package, and maybe even be in the car when Grandma gets it, connecting from a distance by waving from the windows. 

What is your recommendation for how single moms can take time to honor themselves, especially if they are deemed essential workers?

They really deserve an honor beyond an honor, because they’re being asked to do something nearly impossible. Full-time workers are putting themselves at risk, and their children still need them. Hopefully they can carve out even 10 minutes on Mother’s Day, or a day close to it, to appreciate themselves. If they can get up before their children, they could make a list of the good things that they feel, take a little extra time to have morning tea, or. If they get a chance, they can take a walk by themselves. Any way to take a step back and reflect on the incredible job they’re doing, rather than being hard on themselves, is best. So often, when we’re in so many roles, and these are big roles, we’re hard on ourselves. The mom feels she’s not doing enough at work, for her kids, for herself, and she could flip that and appreciate all she’s doing. She’s coming home and getting her kids to bed every night. She’s doing a great job!

What should parents be most mindful of when it comes to online learning for their children?

Online learning is not genuine learning for young children, but with Mommy’s love, support, and reassurance, getting them through a day is better than anything right now. But if online learning is not working, those moms should back off. Children will learn by being home, going through routines, reading a book, whether Mommy is reading or the child is reading. It’s really her love and presence and reassurance that is important. Online learning can take a back seat for most children, and mommas should take the pressure off themselves. 

[Read a feature story describing President Sian Leah Beilock's challenges with home-schooling in the Washington Post, from May 4, 2020.]

For more Mommy tips from Klein, view the video below: