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By all signs, the impact of the pandemic will disproportionately fall along gender lines, with mothers more likely to lose employment and carry the load of crisis schooling at home. While there are online COVID-19 resources like the downloadable Child Mind Institute parent guide that help, there is nothing that replaces a strong physical network (even if that means Facetime and Zoom parties at this time) that promotes resilience. Studies show that high income mothers are more likely than poor mothers to have emotional support, resulting in disparities in physical and mental health issues.

I am part of a support system of different categories of mothers, all of whom I consider friends and comrades in these shelter-in-place times. These real and reciprocal relationships with other mothers are my part of my personal story of survival, yet the social scientist in me can’t help but group them by key characteristics. There are four types of moms in many of our communities:

1. The Survivors

These are mothers that are used to being the backbone of their families. For the most part, whether married or unmarried, they are the matriarchs. They are the planners, typically well organized and seem to seamlessly juggle multiple projects at a time and know everything about their children. They are usually well-connected and have important people’s names and numbers on speed dial should they need to personally resolve a crisis. In my experience, this group of mothers are self-made, or at least self-sufficient, and if they have struggled financially, it was earlier in life and have used these experiences as fertilizer for their current success.

2. The Endurers

These are mothers that always seem to have the worst of the world thrown at them. They are juggling major challenges yet rarely speak about their struggles in group settings. These are the mothers that will call me at midnight because they need a sound board to rationalize some pressing issue that jeopardizes the safety of their family. And by the next morning, they are showing up in a group setting of some organization that connects us, never speaking a word about their sleepless nights. Yet, they wear the pain on their sleeves and have intimate connections with the healthcare system, as they have been hospitalized for several physical ailments.

For these mothers, their stories are their treasure and it takes ultimate trust to seek outside assistance. In my experience, these mothers are typically foreign-born, or first generation immigrants. While they experience financial insecurity, they will likely only reach out to a trusted religious organization, close family and friends or a community group for support.

3. The Healers

These are mothers that no matter how much I may want to appear strong and capable, they have the unique ability to give me permission to melt into tears and give me space to be soft. The thing is, they provide this same comfort for so many in their network and I’ve found that many of the mothers in this category are older, mostly grandmothers raising children. If they are not married, it is likely because they are widows. And while spirituality is a fabric of what lends to their compassionate ways, it’s rarely religious.

They have known pain and imbalance, yet have found a place of peace that when they meet firebrands like myself, they have the unmatched ability to cool everything down. The only question I leave when we part ways is, who cares for the caretaker?

4. The Warriors

This is the mother that is ready for war at all times. She likely has children with special needs and has learned the hard way to fight first and ask questions later. She yields a personal power that is not meant for intimidation, yet anything in the way of victory is a distraction which she prefers eliminating. Ironically, I’ve found that while these mothers are tough on the exterior, they have a sense of humor that is unmatched and genuinely love being with children.

More often than not, these are single mothers who are fearless in yielding any resource to enable their family to succeed. They understand the social services networks, know the traps in the criminal justice system (mostly because they’re supported many in their communities while in a jam) and understand how to bounce back from any adversity: be it homelessness, health care crisis or any other human services issue. They are beyond survivors — they are warriors who never give up on me, so I can never give up on them.

These are broad categories of mothers, and I must admit that it’s difficult to self-identify with just one of these groups. After all, these are my friends and a little bit of each of them live inside of me. I benefit from the cross pollination of each and evolve with my own identity, which I suppose is a fifth category: the scientist. 

It is in reflecting on my own survival dance that I discover why I needed the warrior mothers in my network: to not be swallowed by the horrors of systems’ failures. And only in being deeply scarred that I surrendered to the healer mothers to help me find my way to treatment and care. They came to my defense when I had a nervous breakdown and needed medication and counseling. And as I found strength to focus on my healing, I found comfort in the company of the Endurer mothers, who needed me as much as I needed them. Together, we found balance.

Through it all, it is the strategic mind of the survivor mothers that helped me rise from the ashes of trauma and the debris of failures to learn to yield my own power. I embraced their courage as my own, and in doing so, learned to be fearless when interacting with those in the highest levels of government and business. Without any of these mothers, there would be no story because there would be no human life.

At this time of re-imagination brought about by COVID-19, my morning panic attacks are not just a reminder that my own healing journey continues but that I must stay close to my network of mothers. And in my worry and pain is the reminder that so many more mothers are yet to discover their network, access their power and process their pain.

I am reminded to be gentle with myself and find just enough balance that I too may be just the scientist that the next mother needs in her network to find the formula to her own survival dance.

So, as we uncover paths to safely reopen schools, I am confident in the lessons which my mothering story has taught me: If I am successful in getting a diverse group of warriors, survivors, endurers, healers and scientist mothers to have a seat at every decision making table, I am confident in the revolutionary transformation that will take place in education, healthcare and other avenues in the systems of care. This was the knowledge of 7th Century indigenous African societies that entrusted the rites of inheritance of property to the mother, developed social order with her children’s interest at the center and developed generational plans for succession and sustainability with her vision as the compass. It is in this indigenous intelligence coupled with my own lived experience that shapes my worldview. And as a scientist, I won’t rest until I see this grand experiment come to life in the playground of democracy.


Chioma Mary Oruh, Ph.D., is a proud mother of two brilliant sons with autism who currently attend nonpublic schools and have attended both traditional public and public charter schools in Washington, D.C. After many years of service as an educational advocate, collaborating and partnering with several nonprofit organizations and government agencies, Oruh has branched out to establish Chi Bornfree, LLC, a single-member company providing parent advocacy coaching, business consulting and other education and health care-related products.