Because of COVID-19, many people around the world are working from home for the first time, which leads to all types of new changes and challenges.
But offices and businesses are not the only institutions requiring people to stay home. And that means that for parents, one of the biggest changes they’re dealing with is their new coworkers – their kids.
Probably most of us have seen the 2017 clip of Prof. Robert Kelly’s BBC interview being interrupted by his two adorable children, but this little upset is becoming more of a reality while people are confined to their homes.
I spoke to three awesome mothers who are trying to keep the work-life balance steady and keep their sanity with their little bundles of joy.
Emma Kate is an art teacher and stay-at-home artist and mother with three little ones in Memphis, TN. In non-quarantine times, she teaches private lessons in her at-home studio, as well as conducting workshops at a local studio.
Her at-home studios have looked different over the years – a small set up on the coffee table, a corner in the kids’ playroom, and now finally a room of her own – but she feels lucky to be able to be so mobile with her work.
Emma Kate and her husband welcomed their third child into the world at the end of February that her two older ones (3.5 and 2) refer to as “angel baby.” Because of the new addition, Emma Kate was not planning on teaching at the local studio until the fall.
In that sense, she tells me, the COVID-19 lockdown has coincided nicely for her work-life balance and has allowed for more quality time with the baby and an easier transition from a family of 4 to a family of 5.
However, she tells me that the most difficult part about being home with the little ones all day is never being able to catch a break. Typically, other family members are around to take the kids for a little while, but under lockdown, Emma Kate and her husband have been just taking turns.
Another challenge she finds is switching from “mom brain” to “work brain” when the home and the studio are the same. She’s adopted a “ritual transition” that helps her make the switch – in normal times, going to a drive-thru for a Diet Coke, but now, talking her dogs for a walk around the block.
Keeping the little ones occupied and quiet – especially when Emma Kate needs to work – is a challenge for all parents. But luckily, Emma Kate has plenty of activities, games, and podcasts (!) that her kids enjoy. Sometimes she gives the older two empty cardboard boxes, a flashlight, and some markers, and “they’re good to go for a couple hours!”
They also enjoy coloring pages and painting rocks to leave around the neighborhood, so it’s clear the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. And for the baby? Emma Kate tells me she puts her in a baby wrap and she falls right to sleep, leaving Emma Kate free to work on her next project.
“I wish somebody had told me to be easier on myself,” she tells me. “I’d feel guilty for not finishing all of the chores every day. Now I set an alarm a couple times throughout the day to tidy and clean. But my house won’t fall apart if there are dishes in the sink. Messes will always be there.”
She says that the most important thing to do is to give your kids some undivided attention for a solid chunk of time every day. “It fills my kids’ needs for my attention and care, making it easier for them to understand when I ask for my own time later on,” she says.
Shawna is an Office Manager for a software development company whose work almost always requires her to be in the office. Due to COVID-19, she and almost everyone else on her team are working from home.
She now goes into the office once a day to check the mail and voicemails and such, but she’s switched the rest of her work to her home office.
Shawna has two children – an 8 year old son and 4 year old daughter. She tells me that the first two weeks working from home were some of the hardest weeks of her life.
“For me it was like trying to actively watch three movies all at the same time,” she says. “Normally, you can pause the home life movie while at work. And occasionally you may have to pause the work movie to unpause the home life movie to respond to some call from the kids’ school. But then you can resume the work movie.
And suddenly I found myself playing the work movie, home movie and marriage relationship movie all at the same time – not able to pay that much attention to any of them but all of them needing immediate attention.”
Now, she says, her family has settled into more of a routine. Her kids attend a Montessori school, which has a big focus on tactile and hands-on learning, but helping them through their online work has given them the chance to connect more and spend more quality time together.
They cook together, take walks and ride bikes every day, and spend time in the yard playing.
Before the lockdown, Shawna tells me, she sometimes found it difficult to be fully present when playing with her kids, and she would find herself thinking about all the other things that she needed to do. “But with no where to go and time to do all the things on my list, I have started to figure out how to be present in the moment and live with more ease.”
Shawna believes that every family will have to figure out what works for them during this time of change, but she encourages families to discuss these challenges.
“At the beginning of this, I kept hearing so much positivity about hanging in there, and all I wanted to do was scream and cry, but I didn’t want to bring others down. Eventually I broke down and did cry, scream, yell and tell friends and family how I was falling apart. And it felt good to finally feel all the emotions I was hiding.”
Shawna says that allowing herself to face these emotions is what has allowed her to move forward and figure out the rhythm that works best for her and her family.
Darla is a life and business coach based out of Portland, OR with a 4-year old daughter. Running her own business, Darla was already doing the majority of her client work over the phone or via Zoom.
But the changes brought on by COVID-19 include her inability to attend workshops and networking sessions, and more time with her husband, who typically travels 50% of the time as a photographer for a global non-profit.
Being at home with her daughter full-time has prevented Darla from being able to focus on her business as much as she was before. She tells me, “The days when I try to do too much and pull myself in too many directions while also being on the parenting clock are the most challenging.”
However, she knows that the biggest reward in all of this is the time she gets to spend with her daughter. “20 years from now I won’t necessarily remember all the work I didn’t do, but I will remember all the time we got to spend together,” she says.
“The days when I lean into parenting and be present in the moment are by far the most beautiful gifts I could imagine unwrapping from a pandemic.”
Darla and her husband keep their little one busy with crafting, puzzles, and tent forts in the living room. Living in an apartment with no outdoor space, Darla explains that she’s had to get creative with their outside time. “Some days we might walk in the industrial area and find all the flowers we can.
Other days we might head to a deserted parking lot with sidewalk chalk, have a picnic and watch freight trains go by.” Her daughter also enjoys bath time and educational kids’ shows on YouTube (which are good opportunities for Darla to get in some work with minimal distraction).
As advice and encouragement to other parents dealing with the work-life balance, Darla says, “It’s okay if every day is not your best day. Expressing your moods and emotions in a healthy fashion exemplifies the same for your children.”
As these working moms said, everyone needs to find their own work-life balance in these times – regardless of whether they have children or not. But it’s important for all of us to give ourselves some slack during these times, too.
Below, I’ve listed some resources to keep your little ones occupied throughout the day (courtesy of my lovely interviewees!).
But remember that there are all sorts of resources to help us adults keep our sanity, as well – from online writers’ retreats to meditation/reiki workshops to more serious guides to coping from local Crisis Centers.
Here’s hoping you’re staying safe and staying sane!