Parenting alone during COVID‘When a storm comes, you just get blown over.’
Editor’s Note: This is one of four stories published today examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on single mothers. Photographer Yehyun Kim and reporters with the CT Mirror tracked the lives of the three women profiled in these stories over the last nine months, interviewing and photographing them as they experienced lockdown with their children and as the state began to open up last month. A podcast featuring two of the women in this series can be found here.
Moneisha Bryan barely left her bed last September. She wasn’t sleeping much, though. She was simply too depressed to get up.
As a 24-year-old single mom raising three young boys – ages 4, 5 and 7 – in a pandemic, she was consumed with worry about her finances.
“What’s wrong with me? I feel crazy. It’s not cool to be depressed,” Bryan reports thinking then. “All you do is feed the kids.”
Her Manchester home was already emptied out. Afraid of weathering a COVID winter alone in Connecticut, Bryan gave away all her furniture in anticipation of a move to Florida. She thought she could give her kids a better life in the south, where she could save money on rent and wouldn’t have to worry about winter utility bills.
Bryan didn’t go through with the plan – her father helped pay the rent at the last minute and some neighbors who were moving gave her furniture to replace what she’d already given away.
Although she’d already started a three-month leave from her work as a pharmacy technician — planning to transfer to a branch in Florida after it ended — she stayed with those plans because her children were only attending school part-time in Connecticut, requiring her to be at home.
“The kids were not going back to school [full time],” Bryan said. “If they went back to school like 8 to 12, I can’t work, because I was working 8 to 3, sometimes 8 to 4.”
It was the second time Bryan would be required to take an extended break from work to care for her children — Aaron Hodges, 7, Kayden Hodges, 5, and Myron Hodges Jr., 4. In March 2020, Bryan learned that her sons’ kindergarten, preschool and daycare center were all temporarily closing due to what was then an unfamiliar threat: COVID-19.
“That is like a feeling of getting hit by a truck,” Bryan said of losing all her child care support. She couldn’t go to work with young kids at home.
What Bryan thought would be two weeks of unpaid leave ended up lasting for two months because she had COVID-like symptoms with dry cough and fever (she never got tested). Even after her kids began to attend a reopened daycare center part of each day, Bryan reduced her working hours by almost half from what they were pre-pandemic to help her sons with their online learning.
“Your brain is a muscle,” Bryan said. “If I allow them to miss school and let their brains become stagnant, that’s going to be the worst for them.”
Even when her leave of absence ended, Bryan couldn’t work more than once a week, the day her mother was off from work and could take care of her children. Her kids were on winter break and, with such drastically reduced income, she couldn’t afford to hire someone to watch them.
“For a person like a single mother who’s already struggling financially, there’s no roots,” Bryan said. “When a storm comes, you just get blown over. Everything you worked to build up is demolished again.”
A few months later, as spring flowers bloom around Connecticut, Bryan is feeling better. As the weather warms up, she can again bring her sons to a nearby park to play outside. The stimulus check even allowed Bryan to send her two older sons to gymnastics for the first time, something she always wanted to try as a child. And, thanks to a recommendation from a friend and Medicaid, Bryan began to take anxiety and depression medications for the first time, which help her to sleep at night.Yet, Bryan knows that she cannot rely forever on the government relief like SNAP benefits and stimulus checks. Nor does she want to. Aware that it’s not enough to work once a week, Bryan recently started her own business, purchasing clothes, home goods and accessories cheaply to sell to others at affordable prices. She is also thinking of doing hair for additional income.
But in the meantime, she’s not stressing about the pieces falling into place, living modestly, with furniture salvaged from the street and plenty of dollar-store purchases.
“Now I’m fine with not knowing. You can’t always have everything figured out,” she said. “If you don’t have it, you don’t have it.”
And she goes to church and prays, believing that God has a plan.
“So now, [I’m] accepting myself and still working towards my goal,” she said. “That’s how I’m different after the pandemic. That’s how it changed me.”
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