Working while parenting during the Pandemic
While we are all adjusting to this new reality that we are in for an unknown amount of time, the media has leapt on telling us what we already know. The New York Times did a great piece on how this is shaking out among families in terms of gender breakdown and NPR gave us a look into what it is like to have to teach in addition to parenting.
But I truly appreciated the articles from places like The Insider that at least tried to provide some sound guidance and practical tips for how to adjust and make this work. So I thought I would add to the general Internet Advice Wheel and throw out some tips for how to navigate this world as a version of working from home, parenting, and teaching is going to be the off and on reality for an unknown amount of time for many families.
Before you even sit down and start creating a million and one charts and time tables, sit down with any other adults who might be helping during this time. If you are lucky, this might include your partner or a grandparent. If it doesn’t, do you have a neighbor or a virtual family member? Be creative in thinking of your network of possible adults. One person I know has set up a daily Grandma Skype call for an hour so she can take a recurring meeting. Another person I know reached out to her daughter’s preschool teacher and enlisted her help in coming by occasionally. Let yourself think of who can help and who also needs help. Often, even if you can’t send the kids to a neighbors, you and the neighbors can switch off on monitoring the kids through technology. Now is the time to reach out.
Once you have this group together, it is time to think about what are your priorities and your values. Why is this work important? Well, more fights are caused over a perceived values conflict than about the small “thing” that you think is involved. For example, if one parent thinks that the most important value is to keep money coming into the household, another parent thinks making sure the kids are feeling safe and secure is the top priority, and grandma thinks it is to keep the kids entertained, the minute the kids start to get loud during a meeting someone is going to overreact and the other adults are going to be frustrated that the first parent is not being flexible. However, if everyone understands that income has to come into the house, the other adults are already arranging the schedule to facilitate this goal and when it can’t happen, the other adult is more understanding.
Here are some questions to help you with this conversation. Remember, there is no wrong answer but honesty is important. The more honest you are now, the fewer fights down the line.
- What is the most important priority right now? Is it making enough to support the family? Being there for the kids? The kids education? Making sure you feel like a safe and loving family? Remember, while all values are important, there can only be one #1 priority.
- What is absolutely essential to meet this priority? Does Mom need a quiet desk area to take meetings? Is it a functional high speed internet connection to connect to the school? Is it enough snacks to keep the kids quiet? What is not essential and just a nice to have?
- What are the consequences if this priority is not met? What are the consequences of sacrificing some of the other priorities?
And remember, try to let judgement go of each other’s values. If you don’t understand where the other adults are coming from, ask where the value and their feelings are coming from. Ask how their family prioritized values. Ask them what they think will happen if this value is not the top priority. Explain your hopes and worries. If this conversation is still heated, set a timeline. Try it with one value as the priority for a week with a scheduled time to revisit the conversation next week. Just because you have one priority for a week does not mean that it can’t or won’t change as this whole COVID-19 pandemic evolves.
Now that you are all on the same page, it’s time for scheduling. Since the internet is already full of a great set of tools, I’m just going to link to them but also remind you that your two best tools are a sense of humor and flexibility. These will get you through more challenges and mix ups than all the best tips and tricks in the world.
- COVID-19 Daily Color Coded Schedule: This does’t have to be your schedule but this is a great breakdown and having something like this posted on your walls will help everyone in the house feel more in control.
- Realistic Daily Schedule for Toddlers: Every kid is different but since attention span and ability for small tasks changes so rapidly, having a breakdown by month for your toddler(s) can be helpful.
- Development Stages for Children: While many of you will be aware of or know this information, a reminder is always helpful when you are spending all day with your kid. For example, if your kid is under 6, asking them to play quietly by themselves for 2 hours is incredible difficult while completely age appropriate for your 9 year old.
Activities for when your working or on a video meeting
Great, you both agree on your values, you have a schedule, your ready to go. Except, wait. You have a work call with your work team at 10 am. And your husband has a Sales call at 10 am. And both are mandatory, you’ve already tried moving them. Now what? Now, we go to the list of infinite activities that your kids can do quietly while your busy and you pull on that flexibility and sense of humor. I recently saw a CEO during an All Hands call have his 3 year old in his lap and take pauses while she whispered in his ear. There is a chance that someone may not understand but most of the world is being considerate and flexible as we are all in this together. So here is a round-up form the great Internet Advice Wheel again to get you started:
- Quiet activities for your toddler to do next to you while you attend a meeting.
- Quiet DIY activities for your kid. They need a little prep work before the meeting but will help you all week long.
- For the Love of My Kids – Mastering Quiet Time. This isn’t a free ebook but it is a helpful eBook if you are really struggling. She gives some real practical advice on changing how you and your kids perceive quiet time. If you’ve almost got it down, I would encourage you to reach out to your Mom group but if it feels out of your grasp, this book might be a game changer for you.
- Reading. I cannot emphasize this one enough. If they are old enough to read even the most basic book which should be around ages 5 to 8 depending on the child and the school curriculum they have been exposed to, have an infinite basket of books around. Even better, the more they see you reading, the more they can be “like mommy or daddy” and join in. Get them a special reading chair or nook or fort and make it a special time.
- While this list from The Australian Parenting Guide is specific for ADHD learners, it is absolutely a great guide for your pre-teen and early adolescent while stuck in the house. I would focus on the classroom strategies and the strategies to manage energy and tiredness. Pre-teens and adolescents will be going through a lot of chaos over the next few weeks and all of these strategies will keep them focused on learning and growing.
This list isn’t exhaustive or maybe even include some wonderful resources but it is a reminder that this is an ongoing struggle for all parents at all times. The difference here is the length of time and the isolation of the crisis. Creating a plan and having backup strategies will help relieve your own anxiety and create more calm in the house which is good for everybody. And remember, Pinterest, Google, Mommy blogs, School sites, and Parenting websites and magazines are all your friends during this week. Reach out!