COVID 2020: Let’s Just Say I’m Not in Charge

As anxiety over the pandemic, kids’ schooling, job losses and racial-justice issues ratchet up the stress on U.S. families, mothers offer perspective on the pandemic.

Catholic mothers like Catherine Deavel (top)  and Carla Bretón (lower right) have been leaning in to their faith, finding patience and perspective amid family life.
Catholic mothers like Catherine Deavel (top) and Carla Bretón (lower right) have been leaning in to their faith, finding patience and perspective amid family life. (photo: Courtesy of the Deavel and Breton families)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — After protests sparked by George Floyd’s death in police custody turned violent in late May and a gas station near her family’s home in St. Paul, Minnesota, was torched, Catherine Deavel and her family joined a Rosary procession through their neighborhood, praying for peace, justice and hope amid the ashes.

“We were praying for our neighborhood, as local store owners were putting up plywood over shattered windows and preparing for what they knew not,” Deavel told the Register.

“Afterward, my husband and I tried to explain to our children the difference between protests and rioting. How can you lovingly deal with people you disagree with? What are the unforeseen consequences of someone’s actions?”

The protests were the latest, but not the only, challenge this Catholic mother of seven and others like her have faced during the cascade of crises set in motion by the 2020 pandemic and the lockdown that followed.

Eight months after rising COVID-19 transmissions sent kids home for online instruction, U.S. parents continue to juggle work and childcare duties in crowded households. Meanwhile, essential workers return daily to the front lines, and family breadwinners pray they will survive the economic fallout. 

 

Testing Their Fortitude

Public-health experts have reported a resulting spike in anxiety and depression. And during the 2020 election year, some political groups have tried to channel U.S. moms’ “rage” over delayed school reopenings into partisan activism. 

During interviews with the Register, Catherine Deavel and other Catholic mothers agreed that this unprecedented time has tested their fortitude, even as they expressed gratitude for their family’s relative economic stability. 

But as believing Catholics, they also spoke of the constant battle to meet fear with love, the need for prayer and the unexpected gifts that have lightened their burden.

“‘Rage’ may be a little much, but I’ve been frustrated and exasperated,” said Deavel, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas who is teaching part time this fall while her children are enrolled in on-site classes at St. Agnes School in St. Paul. “But as a mother, it’s your job to do the best you can. It’s a chance to practice what you preach.”

Deavel’s husband, David, an assistant professor of Catholic studies at the university, served on the St. Agnes School committee that developed protocols to safely begin onsite classes in September. After all the hard work, the couple is pleased with their children’s successful return to modified classes. Even their first grader, who had registered his dislike of wearing a mask all day, has adjusted well.

Yet as she reflects on the past eight months, Deavel also sees the fruits of the enforced togetherness and the struggle to maintain a united front. After supervising her children’s classes at home for many months, she sees the value of her vocation as their primary educator. At a practical level, she has developed a better understanding of each one’s needs, along with learning style. 

“I’ve learned when to push or give them the opportunity to set their own pace,” she said. 

 

Staying Grounded

And as she and her husband work to keep the family safe and grounded during tough times, she sees the power of their shared faith and vocation as Catholic spouses.

Throughout this time, she has stuck with her daily practice of reading Bible stories with the younger children, while the older ones pray the Rosary and study the Bible with their dad. Morning offerings and the Angelus at noon and six have also continued, when possible, giving the day additional structure.

“When things were touch and go, my husband insisted that we should go to Mass in person whenever we could,” she said. “This was a huge lesson for our family. We say that Christ is present in the sacrament, and as a married couple we were witnessing that.”

The effort to protect the family’s emotional and spiritual equilibrium has strengthened the bond between husband and wife.

“I am so grateful for his willingness to conquer all the things that need to be done,” she said. “He doesn’t panic easily. He believes that God has put us at the helm: We need to make decisions, figure out how it will work, take care of the kids, and do the laundry. He also knows when we need a break.” 

But she admits to lingering fears regarding the future, not only the unpredictable consequences of the 2020 presidential election, but the possibility that the protests prompted by Floyd’s death could turn violent again, depending on the outcome of the officers’ trial. 

“I don’t know what is coming next,” she said soberly, as she continues to pray for justice and healing in the Twin Cities. “2020 is a year in which I am not in charge. We need to pray and trust in Providence.” 

 

Laser-Like Focus

When Carla Bretón, a Catholic mother of two in Denver, first learned about the potentially dire health risks posed by COVID-19 transmission, she worried about what it would mean for her family and whether she would be able to keep her job.

Bretón works for the Archdiocese of Denver in Hispanic ministry, helping to manage family programs and an online Spanish-language graduate program linked to a Mexican university, Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. A native of the Dominican Republic, she and her husband, a mining engineer, have enrolled their daughters at Catholic schools. 

But Bretón also has a genetic heart condition that puts her at higher risk during the pandemic, and so she was grateful that the Denver Archdiocese gave her the option to continue her ministry from home. 

At present, she has maintained a laser-like focus on her children’s emotional and spiritual needs, while pivoting to virtual platforms that help her stay in touch with colleagues and the people she serves. 

“I have taught my daughters to pray the Rosary and pray to God,” said Bretón. “I am a Marian Catholic, and you can’t find an easier way to go to the Father than through Mary. He will not say ‘No’ to the Mother.”

Initially, Bretón’s teenage daughter resisted some of the health protocols that reduced her contact with her high-school friends. 

But after the archdiocese launched an online youth group and invited her daughter to facilitate the discussion, the teenager developed a newfound sense of purpose as she helped peers stay connected.

Bretón found herself on a similar trajectory, as she organized an online discussion group for Hispanic mothers in the immigrant community. 

“I realized I wasn’t the only mother in my situation, so a moms’ group that allowed us to share our experiences and emotions so we could make a community,” Bretón told the Register, was a blessing.

As local public schools began virtual instruction, many of these mothers lacked basic computer skills and felt powerless to help their children. Those who worked as house cleaners worried they would become infected with COVID-19 and transmit the virus, but had no other option for earning money.

“They are immigrants and have been working non-stop, with the goal of returning to their country with money in their pocket,” said Bretón, noting that some now regretted they hadn’t completed their education. 

The online moms’ group shared ideas for tamping down stress. Part of the conversation focused on taking time for prayer and celebrating the sacraments.

“We discussed how everything happens for a reason, and even in bad situations you can rethink your life and do something new,” she said.

“Maybe this is the time to go back to the Church, teach your kids about the faith, and grow in the faith as a family.” 

The ongoing discussion exposed a rise in domestic violence between spouses and parents and children during the lockdown. And Bretón has helped to develop a new program that will train 20 community leaders to teach about the subject and provide help for hard-pressed families, and that has renewed her sense of mission.

“This is my community,” she said, “and I have seen that God has acted through me.” 

 

‘Our World Has Shrunk’

Out in California, Kristin Cox, a mother of two, is also battling health issues that have shaped daily life during the lockdown. “Our world has shrunk,” Cox told the Register, reflecting on her decision to keep the girls at home during the fall term at Church of the Nativity School in Menlo Park, where she is a school board member.

The months of one-on-one time with her daughters, age 10 and 12, have turned into a blessing for Cox, who previously worked in a demanding high-stress job.

“Many mothers have made a different choice or were not afforded a choice,” she said, noting that she felt lucky to have the time with her children.

When public-health officials ordered residents in the Golden State to stay home last spring, Cox worried about the safety of her husband, Andy, a first responder, and she continues to pray that he will not contract the virus. 

She also thought about her grandparents who were young during the Great Depression and how that time shaped their life choices. Her younger daughter, an extrovert, had the most trouble adapting to the new protocols, while the older one, an introvert, had the opposite response.

“She bought herself a T-shirt that says, ‘Social distancing? I have been preparing for this all my life,’” Cox laughed.

When that daughter bumped into some acquaintances after long months of sheltering in place, Cox could see that everyone had trouble striking up a conversation, a sign that social skills were growing rusty. But her daughters have grown much closer as they turn to each other for companionship. 

The whole family, she said, has learned to be “more patient and gentle.” Likewise, the girls have remarked on Cox’s striking sense of calm, prompting their mother to explain how prayer sustains her spirits. 

Indeed, when the tumultuous events that have punctuated the past eight months spark painful flare-ups with her chronic health condition, Cox knows that she will find respite in the Lord. 

“My faith tells me that God permits things, even when they cause suffering, because they will bring about a great good,” she said. 

That gratitude for God’s loving providence spurs her efforts to care for her family, check in with her own parents and touch base with friends. 

“I try to focus on what God is asking me to do right now,” she concluded. “Sometimes his voice comes in a whisper. But God is calling us to rest on him.”