Your Voice. Your Story.

Single Mother’s Dilemma: Nursing the Vulnerable at Work and at Home

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single mother Liz in mask
Liz C,

“I don’t have any more time in my day. I don’t have any more energy. I don’t have what it takes to do what I think I’m supposed to do. It’s just the expectations of being a parent right now are so difficult.”

Michigan was one of the last states to have a Covid-19 case diagnosed. As a single mother, Liz was just really hoping that her state would escape. There were too many people in her life who were vulnerable. Her son had respiratory issues since he was born, and she worked full time at a home-care company for the elderly, both doing home care and working at independent living facilities.

 “I don’t think during this time at the beginning, I ever [felt] really safe only because there were so many unknown factors.”

When the first case happened in Michigan, Liz contacted her son’s pediatrician’s office and asked about the best options for her son if something happened. The response was disheartening. She was told to make sure everyone washed their hands and kept their fingers away from their faces, but if her son did get symptoms, he was to go straight to the hospital, not to the doctor’s office.

It was a really scary time for this single mother. Liz lives close to the Detroit metropolitan area. From almost no cases, the numbers scarily shot up. Then March 13th came, and most of Michigan shut down.

Shutdown did not bring relief. Instead, it intensified all the pressures. Others could stay home and would eventually get unemployment benefits and that $600 a week bonus. Liz’s work was considered essential, she didn’t have that choice. She could choose not to work, but she wouldn’t be eligible for any benefits, so she chose to work. On top of this, schools closed. Her kids stayed at home, but she had to continue working, and she was a single parent. Child care options were very limited, and her kids’ dad only took them for the weekends. Fortunately, she managed her schedule to be with the kids more by working Thursdays to Sundays instead of normal weekdays.

Liz's family

Work was frustrating as well. It was just so hard to find proper personal protective equipment. They weren’t working at hospitals, but they were working with a vulnerable population. Her boss told her to get in and get out, keep away from people, and get the job done, so when she got to work, she rushed through what she had to do.

Liz’s job brought her in close contact with her clients. They were in independent living situations, but they were older and many still needed help going to the restroom or taking a shower. At this time, in order to keep their clients safer, families were no longer allowed to visit, so caregivers were the only people they had. Liz had a very intimate role. Sometimes it brought her into the harsh realities of the new pandemic guidelines. Sometimes the family would call her to bring their loved ones to the front door for a reunion through the glass, but for those with cognitive diminishment, this was even emotionally harder. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t see their family.

When Covid made its awful entrance into the facilities, she had to keep a close eye on her clients. If they showed any symptoms, they would be sent to the hospital. Several clients did test positive for Covid, and they didn’t come back either. Their company lost several clients, and the facilities had quite a few pass away. It was scary. When they did come back, their outlook on life completely changed.

Dealing with emergency medical service is a regular part of Liz’s job, but after the pandemic hit, seeing them was shocking. She’d see them with big respirator masks.

“These tough guys that I would see daily, they would come in and they just had fear in their eyes. It was the saddest thing…  It really hit home how serious it was because they had seen it, they were living it, and it was scary for everybody.”

And then they just disappeared. The EMS guys she knew weren’t showing up. Instead, EMS would be coming from Bay City or Midland, which were hours away, rather than from Detroit. She didn’t know what happened to the people she knew. Were they overwhelmed? It was so weird.

At the job, Liz was certainly exposed. Coworkers tested positive in the same office. It was impossible to know who was positive and who wasn’t, which was very stressful.

Where they were was right in the center of the pandemic, and that brought new fears. Many of their caregivers were young: 18, 19, or 20. There were big questions about their responsibility. Were they obeying guidelines, washing hands? It was only after testing started to happen that she could feel a little sense of relief.

Liz was tested herself. Everyone was. She worked in two different communities, both at which she was tested. Communities can be contained, but if an employee came back with the virus, it put everyone at risk.

The virus was always on her mind. It was especially stressful coming home. She imagined that the virus was all over her steering wheel and her clothes. It was overwhelming. Then when she got home, she’d go to the back door, pop her shoes off, strip off everything, take it downstairs, load it into the washing machine, and take a shower. It felt like the virus was everywhere.

“So for my kids, I’ve been 100 percent upfront with them about what’s going on. I haven’t tried to sugarcoat it. It’s a serious thing. They know that I have to go to work. They know that I have to work with the old people, but they know that I am doing everything that I can do to protect that.”

Her kids understood that she was doing everything she could to keep them safe. The hardest part for kids was just having them away from a routine and not seeing their friends. A large part of their support system was lost. When nobody could come over, they were like, “What do we do now?”

During the pandemic, Liz spent a lot of time with her kids during the week. At times, as a single mother, she still had to do work from home with kids running around. It was challenging to say the least. Liz had the additional task of trying to teach them at home, but she wasn’t a teacher, so they did lots of art projects and watched documentaries. Her kids listened to her, but it really felt that the walls were closing in on them. They just kind of got through the day.

Eventually, Liz did contract Covid. She came down with a mild cold-like version of the disease. Fortunately, her kids were with their dad at that time. She had a fever of one hundred for two days and a feeling like a sinus infection. Then she got over it. I was very mild, and she feels guilty that she had such a mild case compared to the horrors out there. The way the regulations at the time had been set up, though, if someone tests positive, after three days of not having symptoms, she could go back to work. So, she went back to work.

The pandemic has been hard on mental health, and Liz has felt the awful loneliness and the pressures of being a parent and a single mother. Dealing with the emptiness has been very difficult. She calls her dog Stimulus, to help her out of the lonely times. At least she has a family and is working outside. She can imagine how bad it must feel to be stuck in a house with no one. With her kids, she tries to keep these feelings inside so her kids can have good mental health.

“My kids are already thinking about going back to school and they’re anxious about it. I’m trying to stay light about it and let them know that, you know, it’s OK. Let Mom worry about whatever mom needs to worry about. You’re going to be fine.”

The reopening of schools is causing her more worry. Where at first she thought that schools reopening would be a good thing and she was sure proper protocols would be taken, now she’s not so sure. The numbers are rising in Michigan, and she’s second-guessing putting her kids back in school.

“I have no idea what to do. I don’t have any more time in my day. I don’t have any more energy. I don’t have what it takes to do what I think I’m supposed to do. It’s just the expectations of being a parent right now are so difficult.“

There are no right paths. She’s a single mother taking care of her kids and working a full time job during a pandemic. She worries about her son going to school, and she doesn’t know how she’ll take care of her kids if they don’t go to school. It makes her feel alone, and she doesn’t feel the support of the community. Everything has just gotten worse with the debates on reopening the schools.

The reopening of schools has become a flashpoint for this single mother.

“There’s such a divide going on that it’s really ugly. When this whole thing started, everybody came together. They were supportive of each other, and we were all doing our part. Now, it’s like, everyone has such strong opinions one way or the other, and they’re being so hateful to other people if they don’t share their same views. It’s like everyone is being torn into different directions… There are fights over masks and parents arguing over whether they’ll send their kids to school or if they’re going to have them go virtually. If you don’t agree with someone, then you’re wrong. It’s just turned so ugly here.”

Read another family’s story of how they fought against all odds to bring their newborn son home from the NICU.