As a full-time writer with two small children, I can definitively say that the last several weeks have been the hardest of my life. Turns out that when you’re providing childcare, trying to work, and hunkered down amid a global pandemic, there’s little time left for safeguarding your sanity.
I’m alive, healthy, and employed, and for that I’m grateful. I know that the real heroes are on the front lines, offering medical help, volunteering, selling groceries, delivering food, providing unemployment advice, or reporting for small, struggling papers and bringing the truth to a society that does desperately needs it. Countless people are underpaid and simply cannot work from home right now and they deserve genuine praise.
Because so many of us have taken on new roles at home that involve a juggling act of work and parenting, I’ve decided to share some wisdom I’ve accrued so far. It’s saved me from the brink and it might just do the same for you and yours.
The repetition and monotony of the quarantine might be killing your adult soul but it can be candy for kiddos. Make a schedule and stick to it. In fact, slap it on a giant poster board with scribbles and other props and make it your daily sundial. Repetitive rituals are familiar and comforting, just ask your grade school teacher or nanny. Fill the schedule with various activities (walks, arts and crafts time, dance party, etc.) and give each a sizable block as it’s more of a guide than a lesson in precise punctuality.
There’s far, far too much in the way of multimedia right now. But you can be selective, and, in the process, even educate while distracting the kids. Sesame Street is go-to excellence, but there are a few other options, too. Red Yarn is one of the best, an interactive sing-along variety show that includes puppets, dance parties, and refreshingly woke commentary about our current pandemic situation. If you can’t get your toddler to respect hand washing, or just plain want a dynamic outlet for 45 minutes three-times-a-week, this show is for you. It’s free, but donate if you can.
Also, FaceTime your relatives. Have a grandparent read the kiddos some books from afar or play an imaginary game so you can hide away for thirty minutes and catch up on some emails. If your family is close, it’s a win-win as they miss the contact and you need the slivers of time to open your laptop.
Fresh air is the ultimate medicine these days. Go on walks with your kids or set up a tent in your backyard. Appreciate the little things — bugs, birds, flowers, dogs, trees — and work on identifying them with the whole family. And while it’s tempting to take every chance to open your laptop on your porch, it’s often too distracting. A lot of people aren’t working right now and are out and about. You’ll end up people watching. Consider outside time as a restorative segment that will relieve stress and allow you to focus better and work more efficiently another time.
Breathe. You are working but your kids aren’t, and they’re confused and at home for an elongated stretch. Avoid simultaneous work and play as much as possible as you’ll sell one side or both short. I’ve learned to sneak small tasks in on my phone via mobile-friendly platforms like Dropbox or Slack. Save the more involved stuff for off-hours, like nap time or when the kids are asleep for the evening. Your employer or colleagues surely know by now that nobody is really operating according to a traditional work schedule. If you’re doing the Zoom meeting thing, and the parameters are loose, hang out with your kids at the same time and don’t worry about staying in the video frame (also, you can record the meeting and playback later).
It’s practically insulting at this point to hear about friends who have time to learn about basketweaving and bird calls. As a working parent, you’re trying to merely put pants on your kid or remember to eat lunch. Politely ignore your single friends. I’m usually not one for distance, but the trials and tribulations your non-parent pals are going through are very much not yours. Besides, you don’t have time for that. Find support through fellow parents and reserve that window you would have otherwise used for browsing your social feed for actual work.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a significant other in the house, exploit that. Iron out blocks of time each day in which you can fully work and vice versa. When you do get these protected time slots to yourself, maximize the hell out of them. Lock yourself in your home office, silence your phone, and only open work-related web tabs. Throw on some music to drown out the sound of your kids breaking things upstairs and get into the zone. Better still, if you can mentally prioritize the day’s work tasks beforehand, you’ll be ready to attack the most critical projects.
Know that this too shall pass. As a parent, think about sleep regressions or other seemingly impossible stretches with children and how trivial those seem now. We will look back on quarantine times with a different lens at some point, too. Continue to remind yourself that the current climate is temporary and consider how much stronger it’s going to make you going forward. The superpowers of flexibility that come from being a parent have never been more useful. Let them guide you to the promised land.
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