The Working Parent Quarantine Balancing Act

Are you working from home and trying to take care of your kids at the same time? With parents all over the world trying to balance work and childcare – Zoom meetings and conference calls have gotten way more “entertaining”. Though, so has the stress-level of parents everywhere who are trying to ensure their kids are successfully engaging in their remote learning programs, or that their children are safely occupied for some periods of time so that they can be at least an ounce productive. 

Being on maternity leave myself during this scary and bizarre time, I don’t have a ton of personal experience to lend to the conversation about being a productive employee and a good-parent-during-quartinetine so I have asked a bunch of other working moms to figure out what the heck everyone is doing to keep boats afloat. Here it is: 

1. Lower All Expectations

Emily (mom of two) said, “the pressure of a buttoned up schedule, variety of activities, limited screen time, clean house and beautifully prepared meals is just not a reality right now. Giving yourself grace and being real about how much you are able to do is step 1.” This is a very common thread amongst most of the parents I talked to. Luckily, everyone is in the same boat so customers, co-workers and managers have been understanding in a lot of scenarios when kids bombard a virtual meeting on the work front. It is up to us individuals to give ourselves slack when it comes to personal things like the house being tidy or meals being well-balanced and fresh. A lot of moms noted that having a candid conversation with their partner about the responsibilities of the kids, work and household helped – have it early, have it often.

2. Create a Flexible Work Schedule

Caitlin (mom of three boys) said “we definitely made a schedule!” A few others I talked to confirmed this worked best for their family. I had one friend tell me that she and her husband both get up at 5am to start being productive and switching off by 5:30am, one hour on with the kids, one hour off. She noted, “however, you use your time is up to you – showering, working out, doing actual work, taking a call, etc. But when it is kid time, it’s kids time and when you are off kid time – it is productivity time.” Exhausting, but effective for them (who are both in sales and can largely adjust their calls and work time to that arrangement).

Another set of parents had a similar concept in place – but doing it by half day. She began working at 6am and took a break at noon to eat lunch with her kids and do a hand-off with her husband (who essentially is on “kid duty” from the time they wake-up). Then, she puts her todders down for a nap just around 1:00pm and jumps back on the computer before they are up again. Her husband works a 12:00pm-8pm day. Another, exhausting but doable routine for a family with flexible work. 

A mom close to me mentioned “we’re fortunate both of our employers “get it” and not expecting 100% output right now. We compare schedules on a daily basis to prioritize meetings and times we need a quiet space vs. taking meetings in the ‘family space’.  It’s forced us to question if each meeting is really necessary or could be done via email. Also, I’m using a leave policy in place and plan to take Fridays off during Shelter in Place to avoid complete burnout.” 

If you have the autonomy or flexibility to create your own schedule and have a partner to trade-off with, you are very, very lucky compared to most people. There were a few folks I heard from who said they simply weren’t keeping boats afloat, felt completely defeated and drained, and were just happy their house wasn’t “on fire” yet…

4. Sleep, Eat, Repeat 

Kate made an important comment about self-care, “there isn’t time to do a mud face mask or take a bath but I definitely have to prioritize getting enough sleep and eating regular meals and snacks so that I don’t get completely exhausted and hungry. That’s all of self-care I can do right now.” It’s true that making sure your essential needs are taken care of is critical to preventing burnout, sickness or complete physical/emotional and mental destruction. If you have time for a long hot shower, a moment to read, mediate or talk to a friend – that is also great for your well-being. 

5. Create Some Kind of Structure

Although some days are just going to be crazy-hectic and completely lack boundaries, normalcy and routine, if you can implement any kind of structure on a somewhat regular basis – it may help the whole household. A friend of mine told me, “we don’t have jobs that make it easy to move our work into odd hours – it has to be a regular business day for us.” For them, that means more screen time for the kids, and much more chaos and stress for them. But, they have set-up some structure in their house that helps their kids give them space and know what to expect next – like some routine of iPad time, independent play, reading time, a family-lunch break and some fun together just before eating dinner (take-out!). There kids have picked up more chores, and they are happily rewarding them for this! 

6. Virtual Activities for Kids 

Although I am no doctor and I am sure the recommendations for screen-time have not changed just because we are in a pandemic – the mom in me says “now is not the time to worry about limiting the ipad to 1-hour a day!” There are tons and tons of programs that are putting out their products online – for now. Zoos, museums, music classes, art classes, schools, doctor’s offices, and more.

Although I’d normally advocate for more play than screens – all rules need to be adjusted during home confinement and no one should feel guilty about it! Emily said, “now that my daughter’s regular activities are mostly virtualized, nearly daily she has a morning activity like music class, preschool circle time, and ballet.  This has helped create a sense of normalcy and socialization that’s important for a 3 year old. I’ve also been surprised at my 19 month old’s attentiveness to music class over video. It’s been nice to be part of their activities, see the wonderful teachers and their personality in these settings. There are so many free resources like Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube, storytime videos from the local library, and others.” 

‘Virtual’ babysitting also seems to be a thing. More than one parent mentioned to me that they Facetime aunts/uncles/grandparents for extended periods so their kids can interact with someone else so they can get things done (like cook dinner, take a shower or send that last email!). For some, it seems to work better than others, but for most everyone – it has increasingly become a normal part of the day. 

7. Acceptance

The common thread amongst most parents is that the struggle is real. This sh*it is hard, tiring, scary and sad all at once. However, a lot of people said that the first few weeks were the hardest and they have reached a state of acceptance – their house is going to be messier for now, their kids are going to have a tough time too, and their work is going to slide a bit. There is a reminder from a few people who said something like “it has been really hard, but I don’t have it the worst.” The people making the biggest sacrifices for us are the healthcare workers and other essential workers (at grocery stores, farms, pharmacies, etc.) that are quite literally putting their lives on the line to take care of us all. “I can’t imagine being a nurse, doctor, or any other hospital staff member right now – scared, exhausted, sad, drained – and potentially having to live away from my family for the foreseeable future to not risk their health too. That’s the hardest balancing act between work and parenthood right now. Us on zoom calls with our kids running naked in the background? We have it easy.”