For Anyone Who Needs to Hear This: You’re Going to be OK


It wasn’t even six months ago that I sat in a large ballroom with colleagues from the hotel company I work for. We were seated arm-to-arm (who could have guessed what a novelty that would become?) as we listened to a risk management workshop about China’s burgeoning issue with what experts were calling “the novel coronavirus.” The picture looked grim — but that was happening some 7,500 miles away. We went off to our dinner parties that evening, had our cocktails, and celebrated being together.

And then March came. Like so many others, I became a causality of the crumbling hospitality industry. I was looking down the barrel of a lengthy furlough with no pay and a full load of uncertainty about how it would all play out. As the world came to a grinding halt, so did pretty much every constant I counted on: my career, half our household income, childcare, and any semblance of a routine.

“It’ll be fine.” “You’ll be fine.” “You’ll bounce back so fast!” “Enjoy the time to slow down.” “It’ll be so nice to have time with the kids.” “Find a new hobby!”

All great ideas, yes, but let’s be real: I was terrified.

And since we’re being real, let me also say: the idea of being home with my kids for such an extended period was scarier to me than actually getting COVID, not getting my job back, or trying to figure out what my new hobby would be. In hindsight, the idea of having time to find a new hobby while quarantining with a preschooler and a toddler is pretty laughable.

I learned fairly quickly after my first child was born that I was not built to be a stay-at-home-mom.

Maybe there is a defect in my maternal genes, but I struggled. I suffered a bout of postpartum depression, could not quite master the art of being-in-the-moment (I blame the lack of sleep), and had difficulty giving up my professional responsibilities while on maternity leave. My career was something I worked hard for – and at. It was part of my DNA. I needed to work. I wanted to work. It’s what I was good at. I didn’t know anything about being a mom.

The onset of motherhood was like an earthquake to me. It shook me hard. And now, amid this pandemic, I found myself back in a situation that required me to let go of who I was – even just temporarily – and refocus.

I cried. A lot. I was grieving. I was mourning the loss of my identity and control over my life (something that does not come easy to my type A personality). I had to figure out who I was at this juncture. And I had to figure out to show up for my family while we navigated the sadness of missing family and friends, missed milestones, and a whole lot of confusion.

Did I hide in my bathroom? Absolutely. Did I hide in my car? Yep. Did I take the (extra) long way home from the grocery store on occasion? 100%. Was I angry? YES. But I knew I had to find a way to get beyond that.

I started making a plan every night before I went to sleep. I needed to wake up with a sense of how I would tackle the next day. What would I do with the kids? What was I going to cook for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and the 125 snacks in between)? What steps would I take to clear my path professionally? How would I find peace?

Eventually, things got better. Or maybe I finally just adapted. I learned I am a better mother than I thought. I learned the slow cooker is not that hard to operate. I learned I do not always have to have the answer (at least not instantaneously).

We have no idea what’s to come in the next several months. What we do know, though, is that we have control over how we handle it. We have control over the choices we make for our family to keep them safe, healthy, and sane. We have control to redirect and find a new path when we need to.

The truth is, it really will all be OK. We will all survive whatever transitions we may be going through. It is OK to be sad and to grieve for everything we feel we’ve lost. But through that, we can also find our way.

So – while the world may take (a lot more) time to course-correct after 2020, we can find peace in our ability to right our own worlds much faster.

For anyone who needs to hear this, you’re going to be OK.

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Jessica Milton Rifenberg is a working mother with two active boys – Ryan, age 5, and Andy, age 2. A Miami native, Jessica and her husband, Chris, moved to Wellington in 2015 to find a quieter place to raise their family. She is a communications professional in the hospitality industry and is privileged to work from home – helping make the life balance just a little bit easier. Jessica has lived in New York and Los Angeles but always managed to find her way back to the Sunshine State. She and her family do best when they are on the move; they are always looking for another adventure around town or on the road. Jessica is a graduate of the University of Miami and earned a professional certificate in journalism from New York University.