SA mom living in New York opens up about juggling motherhood and working from home: ‘You don’t have to be Supermom or Superdad’

Lihle Z Mtshali and her children (Photos: Supplied)
Lihle Z Mtshali and her children (Photos: Supplied)

Lihle Z Mtshali moved from South Africa to the US in 2010 to be with her then-fiancé and now-husband Leith, with whom she’s raising a young family.

(Photos: Supplied)

They live in New Jersey, just 30 minutes away from New York City, which has recorded a total of 361 313 coronavirus cases with 28 663 deaths, New York Times reports.

YOU chatted to the mother of daughter Thando (22) and sons Langa (7) and Thakasa (2) about her experience of being so close to the epicentre of the novel coronavirus.

“We are fortunate in that we moved from the city to the suburbs in August last year, so we haven’t been right in the thick of it,” Lihle explains.

“However, it’s still hard to not be able to take advantage of all the culture New York City has to offer that we had been so used to over the years. My children love museums.

“The boys also love visiting the many children’s museums around the city. Langa’s favourites are the Children's Museum of Art, where children can also create their own art, and the Liberty Science Centre, which is an interactive science museum and learning centre.”

Lihle tells us that her family have been social distancing from 13 March and are unable to visit any of their favourite educational spots in the buzzing city.

Even though the 43-year-old freelance writer and editor is no stranger to working from home, her biggest challenge so far has been home-schooling.

“Finding ways to keep Langa, who’s in the first grade, motivated to do his schoolwork hasn’t been easy,” Lihle said.

While he has access to online resources like virtual museum tours, science and art experiments with online art teachers and Zoom class chats, Lihle says the youngster misses having real-life interaction.

“He wants physical interaction with his classmates and friends, he’s getting sick of doing everything online,” she added.

While Thakasa is too young to understand what’s going on, Thando, on the other hand, misses her young adult life with her friends in NYC.

“But she’s doing daily video calls with them, she cooks and bakes and the other day she even went to drop off an Italian bread she made to a friend’s front door in a neighbouring town.”

And while Lihle thought that working from home and parenting would be easy, she concedes her pre-lockdown schedule has gone out the window.

(Photos: Supplied)
(Photos: Supplied)

“I have to find pockets of time during the day where they’re both busy with their own things to do my work or even go to the bathroom by myself. Usually it means waking up at 3am to do my work,” she revealed.

“My husband is an essential worker, so he’s still going to work. But, as soon as he comes home and has sanitised himself of the outside world (a ritual that involves taking off his clothes outside, using the side door to get into the house, throwing his clothes in the washing machine and immediately jumping in the shower), he takes the boys so I can have some free time,”

This routine, Lihle admits, has helped her stay sane

In addition, the daily schedule she’s drawn up for her children has also been helpful.

“Children thrive on routine, so even though ours is not rigid and we deviate from it from time to time, we do have a daily schedule.”

When it comes to explaining the coronavirus to her children, Lihle has taken a different approach for each of them.

“Thando is old enough to understand it on her own. All we had to do was reinforce that. All we had to do was reinforce that social distancing and staying home is important.We found a lot of literature online that helped us explain what the coronavirus is to Langa and how it affects the body and makes people sick,” she explained.

“What has really helped make this easier on him is knowing that the whole world is on lockdown, nobody is going to school, all his friends are home, even his cousins all the way in South Africa are also not going to school. Knowing that he’s not alone in this bizarre situation has helped.”

Lihle’s advice to all parents at this time is, “To be kind to themselves. We are living in unprecedented times, you don’t have to be Supermom or Superdad and don’t try to force your family to do whatever that mom influencer is doing online.”

She further emphasized the importance of doing whatever works best for your children and family as long as it doesn’t harm them.

 (Photos: Supplied)

“If you’re far from home like I am with no idea when you’ll see your extended family again, try to keep in touch with your family and friends back home as much as possible.”

Lihle usually sees her family at least once a year, which unfortunately won’t happen this year, so being able to connect with them virtually every day has helped fill the gap.

“I’m in a family WhatsApp group with about 50 participants – my mother and her brothers and sisters, my cousins, my nieces, and nephews. We’ve been sharing a lot of family history, happy memories, lots of laughs, which has helped me stay connected to my people and not feel so far away.”

Sources: New York Times

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