As a society, we are in the midst of a “new normal”. In what sometimes feels like a wild dream (or nightmare), we’ve gone from roaming freely through our lives to practicing “social distancing” in the confines of our homes while states, schools, and communities shut down non-essential operations completely. As schools close and many workplaces turn to remote employment, working parents have found themselves struggling to balance their newfound roles as both full-time employees and full-time educators/childcare providers.
The following tips have been designed to support parents who are working remotely during this transition.
1. Be Gracious With Yourself And Your Colleagues.
We’re all negotiating a new norm and ‘hiccups’ like kids interrupting the web conference, a dog getting excited about a passing squirrel, and other family care challenges that come up are to be expected. They are also things that other colleagues, teammates, and customers are likely contending with. One of the most helpful things that you can do, at the outset, is set realistic expectations for yourself and your new working environment. For instance, if you have toddlers or young children, don’t put pressure on yourself or on them that they stay completely silent during meetings, or become frustrated when they don’t. Instead, be proactive about their presence– you may find that, in doing so, you set a healthy new tone for many of the calls or meetings you attend. You may even create an environment of relief for others who may be in a similar situation.
2. Create A Dedicated Workspace
While working from the couch is always comfy, try to compartmentalize a physical space where you can be productive. This will, both psychologically and physically, normalize working at home, and help to set physical boundaries between work-life and home-life. It can also serve as an indicator to others in your home life that you are in “work-mode”, creating a signal that there are certain times or spaces in the house in which disruptions should be kept to a minimum.
3. Communicate, Communicate…And Communicate
Blending work and life in one physical space requires more intentionality than ever before, and will involve what may seem like an abundance of communication among the many players in your newly co-mingled life. If you are partnered, try sitting down each evening and charting out the coverage schedule for the next day. Consider when screen time is critical and when heads-down work time is needed. Also, reach out to your manager and/or direct reports: create blocks of time on your calendar when you know family commitments will come up (nap time, preparing lunch, a virtual lesson, etc.) and provide visibility to your team by scheduling that time as you would another meeting.
4. Share And Seek Support From Your Colleagues
If you’re not the only working parent in your company, seek out those who are also parents and buoy each other. At the social impact company EVERFI, members of a Working Parents Affinity Group have banded together to share schedule templates, pass on free and subscription resources, and post a good meme or two for levity in the group chat. They are also working to host virtual storytimes where employee’s older children read to younger children. Creating a space for you to seek out or offer support, resources, encouragement, or to simply vent can do wonders for both your well-being and your sense of camaraderie. And if you don’t have that kind of network within your company, consider doing a Facebook or LinkedIn search for a group focused on working parents– you’ll likely find that many are in a similar situation as you.
5. Intentionally Carve Out Some Time for Self – Care.
First, repeat the following: This. Is. Hard. It is perfectly okay (and quite acceptable) to admit that this scenario is stressful. And this, compounded by the fact that it is not time-bound, can take a psychological toll. The reality is that you are currently working two full-time jobs, which in and of itself is stressful enough. Add to it the fact that society as a whole is currently in the midst of a global pandemic and yes– you’ll likely find that your stress level is higher than ever before.
While you cannot control certain aspects of the current situation: how long schools will be closed, whether or not your family will be directly impacted by COVID, or what the fate of your company will be during this time, there are certain things that may be within your control– including how you structure your days. For instance, try re-visiting tip #1 and putting one or two 15 minute windows throughout the day where you do something for you. Consider things like opening up your meditation app, standing on your porch/deck/some outside space and deep breathing, listening to music you enjoy, picking up a crossword puzzle, hiding in your closet and eating Girl Scout cookies – whatever is physiologically soothing to bolster you throughout the day.
If you find that the mental health effects are impacting your ability to cope or function, consider reaching out to your employers EAP (if they have one), or a local counselor– many of whom are now offering telehealth. And, if things get to a point where you are considering harm to yourself or others, please text HOME to 741741, or call 1-800-273-8255.
At the end of the (very exhausting) day, the reality is that this period of time will eventually pass. And, in many ways, there have been some silver linings through the dark clouds. We have been forced to challenge the historically held status quo of remote work. Parenthood, an aspect of identity which many have held closely guarded, has become front and center alongside one’s career, shedding light on the often unseen challenges that working parents face. And one day, children will grow up and recount the “global pandemic” that they experienced in their youth as a defining moment on their character-building journey. Until then, reflect on the tips above and consider how to incorporate them, with intention, as you manage multiple priorities day to day. And remind yourself that, however hard this is, it is a defining moment in your character-building journey as well.