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When What Parents Are Feeling Is More Than Just Stress

“We have to think about getting back to what that routine care looks like — or when there are concerning things, recognizing that ‘I still need to get it checked out,’” Dr. Zelechoski said. Avoiding care “could be much worse than the short-term worry about going back for an appointment.”

For Ericka Andersen, a writer in Indianapolis, who has two children, ages 2 and 4, the pandemic has meant a long-delayed annual physical: A non-Covid-related reschedule in early 2020 was extended even further once the pandemic closed down offices for nonessential appointments. Andersen had to wait nearly 10 months.

“It really concerned me,” she said. “I just want to make sure, as someone who has a history of cancer in my family, that nothing is wrong.”

Dr. Wen, who has had cervical cancer and is also at high risk for breast cancer because of her mother’s diagnosis at age 44, said that this lack of knowledge can then restart the cycle of stress. “For me, missing my preventive screenings would have a potential physical consequence, but also it would cause an extraordinary amount of stress,” she said. “I would always be thinking about: Should I have gotten screened earlier because I may have cancer?”

Denise Ojeda, an education equity advocate who has an 11-year-old son with special needs and who lives in San Antonio, said she also put off a health care visit, in her instance for a bad case of hives, hoping she could tough it out. After two weeks of trying over-the-counter remedies to no avail, she ultimately sought in-person care and got relief almost instantly.

“I think so often we focus, as parents, on our children and their needs first,” said Dr. Wen, who has two children ages 3 years and 6 months. “But we need to be healthy in order to care for others around us too. And that includes both physical as well as emotional well-being.”

According to Dr. Zelechoski, who has three kids — 10, 8 and 4 — choices like these can add to a parent’s already full plate and exacerbate “decision fatigue.” Parents must determine everything from the right schooling for their children to who’s in their “bubble” to whether it’s safe to simply go to the grocery store — all of which can be exhausting on their own, but especially during a major public health crisis.

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