Imagine this: It’s a pandemic. You are working from home. Your son is in preschool, but due to poor air quality from wildfires today, school is canceled. You are feeling constantly guilty because you have to work and can’t just spend time with your child. The sky is dark orange from multiple layers of smoke and looks like the scene out of the original Total Recall movie when Arnold visits Mars. Your building is under construction and they are jackhammering right under your bedroom makeshift desk. You are busy photoshopping the background of a sweet potato image which takes an immense amount of concentration. You are feeling focused, confident, and, despite the chaos around you, like you could actually have a few moments of successful work. Just when you are finishing the final touches on that sweet potato image, your 4-year-old son barrels in the room to ask for his fifth banana muffin of the day and grabs your arm (attached to the mouse) to get your attention. It happens so quickly that you don’t even realize that the sweet potato now looks like an abstract piece of art. Thank goodness for ctrl-z!
This was my day at work on a Wednesday in early September. Stories like mine are all over social media with the hashtag #ParentingInAPandemic, and while they are sometimes funny, sad, difficult, cute, or maybe slightly annoying, they are … real life.
Life is weird, and while I am not a parental expert, I am a parent. Here are 4 four tips for #ParentingInAPandemic that are helping keep my family sane during arguably the most challenging working parent year in generations.
4 Tips for #ParentingInAPandemic
1. Be Realistic
Build a schedule that your family can use as a guide so you don’t have to make the same decisions daily. If you are able, have at least one family meal a week where you talk about what’s coming and make a plan for the week. Try not to be too rigid. You want to be flexible to respond to whatever might arise to mess with your plan. Always shift to do what’s best for you and your family that day. When school is closed and we still need to work, we set up play stations for our son around the house. Magnatiles and puzzles on the bed in my wife’s “office;” paper, scissors, and art supplies in my “office,” and blocks and cars in the living room to keep him engaged even when we are in meetings. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work. And my wife or I have to rearrange our schedules or shorten meetings so one of us can be with him. Make sure you communicate with your manager and your peers and teammates what is realistic for your schedule and workload that day.
2. Be Kind
Be kind to yourself and others. This is hard, and no one is doing it perfectly. Try not to judge yourself too harshly and remember, kids or no kids, the grass is often greener on the other side. We are all in the same boat, even if our specific hardships may be different. Some of us might have a kid jumping on the bed behind us while we make a presentation to the company while others are alone and feeling isolated and missing human connection.
Don’t take it all too seriously: this is life. Make silly faces – start that next meeting with you jumping on the bed. Sing songs and dance to some punk rock (might I suggest our family’s current favorite, Superman by Goldfinger.) Do something that makes you laugh every day. While it won’t change the color of the sky, it might make you and someone else smile, which can be life changing in the moment.
4. Be Healthy
Staying healthy is more important than ever. Eat fruit, exercise, breathe, reach out to a friend, put on dress socks, or whatever makes you feel fancy. Make time in your day to do something for yourself and for others: take 90 seconds to do some breathing exercises before you dive into your day; schedule 15 minutes to chat with a friend or colleague that you have not heard from in a while; stretch on the floor.
Small things like a good laugh, a kind word from a friend you haven’t spoken to in ages, or a really rewarding 5-minute stretch between juggling this crazy pandemic working parent life can make all the difference during these difficult days.
Julie Collins is the Marketing Director for The FruitGuys and a working mom, swimmer, and outdoor enthusiast.