They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it can feel like the other villagers are nowhere to be found. You may be taking on the roles of several people as your child’s parent, provider, teacher, and favourite source of entertainment. School closures and various travel restrictions have made it hard to get the public or family support that parents typically rely on.
What’s more, with many workplaces shifting to a work-from-home model, parents of young children may be left trying to do it all: look after children while managing the responsibilities of part-time or even full-time employment. This can be incredibly stressful on households with two parents, and puts even more strain on single-parent families or families where one parent frequently travels.
If this sounds like your household, you may have found yourself asking the following questions:
How am I supposed to get any work done?
How can I spend quality time with my kids when I’m short on time?
How can I fairly divide the responsibilities with my partner?
Should I be managing my time differently?
What can I do to keep my kids entertained so I can get work done when we’re all home?
I could really use a break…how can I get one?
Manage your expectations
As a working parent, the reality is that you only have so much time and energy. You can’t be all things to all people. While you might love to be a star employee and the parent who engages your kids in enriching, educational activities from breakfast until bedtime, something’s got to give.
Perfectionism will only lead to self-destruction and exhaustion. Let go of the idea that you need to be perfect, and give yourself credit for doing the best that you can with the resources that are available to you right now. These are exceptional times, and some days will be more about surviving than thriving.
Plan ahead for success
Day to day, your needs and priorities may shift between work, parenting and self-care. At the start of each day, create two to-do lists.
On the first list, write down everything that absolutely must get done. On the second, write down things that you would like to get done, but which can be done on another day if needed.
Remember to put your self-care tasks on the “must do” list occasionally. If you don’t take the time to recover, you won’t have any energy available to give to anyone else.
Review weekly schedules on the weekend so any conflicts in the upcoming week can be worked out in advance and not the day of. Determine who will be transporting kids to and from school or other activities, and who will be handling things like grocery shopping or cooking. Communicate if anything will need to be done that is outside of each person’s usual responsibilities.
Use your less busy moments to prepare what you can ahead of time. No one likes the stress of running late for a meeting because they had to spend 15 minutes trying to find their toddler’s missing shoe. Get the kids’ lunches made, bags packed, and clothes laid out the night before school or daycare. You may also try menu planning on weekends and freezing meals ahead or preparing slow cooker meals.
Have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place. Granted, with children, it may not always stay that way — but knowing where to find your keys, wallet, school bags, and so forth will relieve some of the chaos of the morning rush.
Get creative with scheduling
In two-parent families, do you both need to be working a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday? Would it be feasible for one of you to work part-time? Would it help if one of you worked on Saturdays or Sundays, and spent time with the kids on a weekday instead?
Can one of you work mornings, and one of you work evenings? Would it make things easier if one or both of you could work more days from home? Only you and your partner know what works best for your family and particular work situation, but don’t be afraid to reassess if the way you’ve always done things is really the best approach.
Maybe a stay-at-home parent would like to go back to work, or a working parent would prefer to stay home? Keep an open mind as you explore your options.
If you can afford it, why not hire someone to handle household tasks like cleaning or lawn care? Other ways to save time and energy are to have groceries delivered or to sign up for a meal kit delivery service. If it’s not absolutely essential for you to do something yourself, consider the benefits of hiring a person or a service to help you out. Can you pay for more daycare, after school care, nannies, or babysitters? Maybe you just need someone to help you out for a few hours in the morning, and then you can work while your child naps in the afternoon?
If hiring extra help is just not in your budget, there may still be other creative ways to outsource. Consider teaming up with other parents in similar situations. You could take turns watching each other’s kids in-home once a week, participate in meal swaps, or alternate driving the kids’ carpool. Talk to your friends and family about where you’re struggling and you may just come up with a few mutually beneficial solutions.
When you have to do it all yourself
If you’re a work-from-home single parent or your partner works away from home, there may be times when you have to work and parent simultaneously without any help. The pandemic has shown us that children don’t care about important meetings, or even if their parent is being interviewed on live TV. To them, you are still just mom or dad, and your important meeting is as good a time as any to demand a juice box. So, what can you do?
Work in short chunks of time
As much as you would love to sit down uninterrupted for five hours to get some work done, that probably won’t happen with small children at home. Look at your day and determine where your windows of opportunity for maximum productivity lie.
For the tasks that require extra focus or quiet (such as when communicating with clients), do your best to plan those activities for before your kids wake up or during nap times. Other tasks, like writing something, might be doable while your child watches a movie or plays with toys.
If you have a baby or small child that only settles when you take them for a walk in their pram, this time doesn’t have to be completely unproductive. Get out in the fresh air and brainstorm, problem-solve, or make phone calls while you walk.
For all of those other times when your child is wide awake but you still have work to do, nothing brings on the mummy or daddy guilt quite like telling your child “I can’t play right now” for the hundredth time. So how do you keep them engaged and having fun while you are busy?
Set up stations. Take a few minutes to create different activity centres for self-directed play: art projects, playdoh, workbooks, building blocks, games, or even an obstacle course. When they lose interest in one station, direct them to the next one.
Resort to screen time when needed. Fortunately, screen time can be so much more than cartoons. Some great online options for kids include educational programs, educational apps, or even kids’ yoga and exercise classes! You might even give grandma a video call and have her read stories to your little ones.
If you can work from home, is it also possible to work from a playground or a play centre? You may not be able to go down the slide together, but at least your kids will be able to run around and enjoy themselves.
Invest in the ultimate plaything. A large trampoline for outside? A bouncy castle for the garage? Maybe it’s not something you’d normally buy for your kids, but if it gets you hours of uninterrupted work time, it might be worth the investment.
Know when to quit
If your child gets extra cranky or needy in the late afternoon, be realistic. It’s probably not going to be a very productive time for you work-wise, so maybe you’d be better off putting your screens away and giving them some quality time.
If their interruptions mean that it’s taking you 45 minutes to write a five-minute email, take that as your cue to stop. If the task can wait until your child goes to bed, you’ll probably find that the quality of your work and your efficiency in completing it will improve.
As frustrating as the blurred boundaries between work and home life are for you, it can be just as frustrating for your little ones. Have a set window of time each day designated for quality time together, and a longer time period on the weekends that they can regularly look forward to.
Maintaining some YOU time
You can’t be the best version of yourself at work or at home if you’re always giving to the point of depletion. Self-care isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessary tool for preventing burnout. Here are some ways to conserve and restore your energy:
Look after your health
When you stop to feed your kids lunch, don’t forget to feed yourself as well (and no, eating the crust you cut off their sandwiches doesn’t count). Your brain needs more than a cold cup of coffee to function at its best, and it’s more important than ever to keep your energy levels up and your immune system strong. If you need some exercise and a parenting break, try going to a gym where childcare is available. It will give you some quality alone time, boost your mood, and help to keep you well.
Know when to say “no”
Your free time is a rare and precious commodity. Keep your schedule open where you can, and only commit to events that are important and personally meaningful to you.
Get some sleep
If you have a small child who wakes you up frequently throughout the night, you need to sleep as much as you can, whenever you can. If you work away from home, try taking a nap in the car or close your office door on your lunch break. At home, put yourself to bed as soon as you can after putting your kids to bed.
If you work from home and your kids nap during the day, can you sleep for a few minutes too? There’s nothing lazy about napping. Even the world’s toughest soldiers can tell you that rest is a weapon. To maximise your focus, energy, creativity and patience — you need your sleep. Get it when and where you can.
Today’s action steps
1. Create your two to-do lists: the “must-do” and the “would like to do” for today’s workload
2. Decide on ONE of the following tasks to complete this week and schedule a day to do it:
Arrange to outsource at least one responsibility.
Discuss ideas with your partner for how you might rearrange your work schedules.
Plan six kids’ activity stations for when you are trying to work with them at home.
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