A truly unique feature of the Coronavirus pandemic is that it has many parents facing an unprecedented work-life imbalance: working from home while also looking after our kids who need attention, meals and, for many, homeschooling.
This is not ‘normal’ working from home. Shifting your mindset from “working from home” to being “at your home during a crisis, and doing your best to work” is the first important step to being able to manage. Of course, working parents are well used to juggling work and family responsibilities, but this is entirely new and, let’s be frank, it is harder.
Every household situation is different; from family set-up, age ranges, health concerns, work commitments, to special needs. With this in mind, we have tried to set out below a general 3-step approach to help get through this challenge.
1. Maintain routines
Keep your broad daily structure the same as it has typically been. Beyond the benefits of familiarity, maintaining a regular schedule will help your work and childcare commitments.
Do your best to maintain a usual wake-up time and bedtime routine, keep meals to usual times (it’s easy for these to slip, and when they do you’ll see poor energy levels, behavior, and communication of all family members), blocks of activity, and outdoor time which will help mimic routines children are used to at school.
2. Create modified schedules
Next, build a schedule for each week that incorporates these routines but is modified to account for your work/meetings and other new responsibilities.
Consider your child’s schedule, your work meetings, chores, and what you have for each meal. Take this information and put it into your calendar. Then create work blocks. Depending on your situation, here are three suggestions that could suit your family:
A partner swap
4-hour shifts during which one partner works while the other supports or cares for the kids.
30-minute to two-hour shifts that rotate among the adults.
Dividing the day
If you are parenting solo, it’s best to compartmentalize work and home as much as possible. For example, give your children your focus in the morning (wake up and attend to emails before they do) and then work in the afternoon while they entertain themselves with lego, coloring, movies, computer games, playing outside – anything that requires you less.
You could set up a traffic light picture system on your office door so your children know when you must not be disturbed. This should work for all ages if kept simple, but additional sticker/chocolate incentive for little ones may also help….!
All this said it is important to be realistic and flexible. There is little to be gained from forcing reluctant children to study, and a ‘last-minute-important-meeting’ might not fall at a convenient time. You need to keep communication open with your partner, boss, and/or colleagues and creatively find solutions. One may simply be to say ‘no’. You shouldn’t be afraid to explain your constraints at this unusual time. This is not normal working.
3. New ways to do old things
Finally, if your children are used to having playdates or weekly activities, they still can – just in a new way. As a bonus, if your children are engaged it could give you uninterrupted work time. Some options to consider:
Set up a playdate using Google Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, or any other similar web conferencing application. This can be as simple as the children catching-up together, maybe sharing their home-learning activities, or perhaps one of the parents leading an activity like reading books or singing. Grandparents could get involved with this too. Older children can play computer games collaboratively.
Do free online classes like Cosmic Yoga or P.E with Joe, and there are many more ideas on YouTube, and you should join in if you can! Also, make sure you all get outside once a day, ideally for a walk or time in the garden, or even just sitting on your balcony – fresh air really does help.
Collaborate with other families you’re close with to share information; like meal plans, activity schedules, or lesson plans. Take the recommendations and pick some things that you think would suit your children. Use this as social time for you as well – honestly share your experiences, and how you are feeling. All shared moments during this separation are beneficial. Remember to prioritize your well-being too.
It’s worth remembering that the way we are able to connect, communicate and work (us and our children) in this pandemic is with technology. Inevitably, screen time is likely to increase for all of us. Try not to let this worry you – we need to get through this time and stay connected. You can revert to your previous rules when life returns to normal.
Remember to celebrate your wins!
Everything you achieve in either aspect of your work or home life is a win, and you must remember to acknowledge this.
Parents are not superheroes and you should not try to live up to your usual standards. Try to adjust your own expectations to the new situation, and those of your child. But most of all, be kind to yourself.