I love working from home. I love my kids. However, I do NOT love working from home while also homeschooling my kids. The last few days have been a huge challenge. I’m exhausted. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like I should read this article again. And then, read it once more.
So, then why am I up late at night writing a blog? Because I want to help people understand what might help working parents get through this. I know working parents aren’t the only ones who need help – my heart goes out to parents who’ve lost their jobs and to people who feel isolated and alone – but, as someone who is personally struggling with being a working parent, I thought I could share some thoughts on that at least.
For context, my husband and I made the hard decision over the weekend after our kids’ school was shut down that we are going to try to take care of our kids without additional childcare in the house. We will have to keep assessing this as time goes on, but we thought that at least for the first few weeks, with all of this social distancing, it was the right thing to do and that we could pull it off.
Our situation may be better than most. Our kids are 6 and 8 – old enough that they can listen to reason. We have plenty of space. The kids get along and are close enough in age that they can do the same activity or assignment. My husband is working from home and is also helping. Oh, and we have two iPads that our kids would happily use for 8 hours straight, without even asking for food…
Even with all that, it has been a hard first few days. It would probably have been hard even if we had had full-time childcare. I am navigating a lot at my company while also trying to help our clients. My husband is fielding calls from all his clients about what to do with their investments. We run into each other in the kitchen grabbing pistachios and compare data points, “Dow dropped below 20K,” “Governor extended the school shut down,” “So and so had to shut down her business and her husband lost his job last week.” Aak!
Then the homeschooling is layered in on top of all that. The emails from the school are piling up in my inbox. We print worksheets and we lose them. We start projects and don’t finish them. I try to create a calendar every morning, which worked for a couple of days until the kids made their own updates (adding more videos to the mix). We start with good intentions of dividing up the day and organizing their activity switches between meetings, but then the calls start coming in and the work needs to get done and the entire plan goes off the rails. It usually ends up with us finding them in a fort somewhere watching Minecraft how-to videos.
Personally, I am struggling to stay grounded and focused, at a time I need to be more grounded and focused than ever before. I am usually pretty good at this, so this is particularly unsettling to me. It isn’t just about not having all the time I need through the workday to work or to meet with people, it is also about not being able to be optimally focused and productive when I do.
I know we are going to figure this out. I had a bad day. Tomorrow is another day. And I promise I’ll blog again when I have some tips on how this is actually working, but in the meantime, I’ll get to my point here.
After reading this article about how we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be working all the time during this crazy time, I felt compelled to share a few thoughts on how people can help their colleagues with kids who may be struggling to work from home:
- Provide infinite flexibility for when work can be done. As usual, I’m getting way more done in the wee hours of the morning and late nights. More than ever, let’s try to be flexible on when people work and when we meet. People may be able to accomplish much more in off-hours.
- Reduce expectations. I’m still very much working a full-time job, but the number of hours has definitely dropped. I imagine that is going to be true for many people. If our total hours of productivity are going to diminish, let’s help people focus on the right things at the right time.
- Minimize meetings. In normal times, I sometimes spend 7-8 hours of my day in meetings, but these days, 4-5 hours is about all I can swing. Going back-to-back-to-back is a killer right now, even though in normal circumstances I do that for days. We can all be sensitive about the number of meetings, just as we need to be sensitive to having enough connection time too.
- Embrace the kid interruptions. My kids are used to being at home at times when I can’t be interrupted, but it isn’t fair to them, or me, to do that to them all day long. We had some kid guests pop up in a meeting just the other day and it was actually pretty great. I’ve just let up on the rules a bit for my kids to allow them to interrupt me for quick questions and it makes a big difference. Making it okay, maybe even encouraged, to have kids pop into calls or video calls can go a long way in improving morale and reducing people’s stress.
- Send some encouragement. I’ve had multiple colleagues reach out to me and check in on me (thank you!), and it truly makes a huge difference. So, check-in on your colleagues and employees – not to micromanage them, but to see if they are okay, and check on how they and their family are doing.
- Know that not every day will be a good day. It is going to be a roller coaster. Some days we aren’t going to get a lot done. Others will be better. So be compassionate, be kind, and be understanding.
There’s a huge opportunity here for us to show our employees and colleagues we care about them and to treat them with kindness through a hard time. If we give people a bit of freedom to figure this all out, it can be a great opportunity to improve how we prioritize and focus together. Now is the time to support one another and do what we can to come together (even if we have to be far apart). I believe we can come out of this even stronger if we can just give each other a little grace.