There have been many lessons learned through the challenges of being a working parent during COVID-19.
Since March 2020, life has been incredibly and drastically different in a way that nobody could have ever predicted or imagined. Never would I have thought that we would be hiding in our homes, afraid to open our doors and windows, ordering food and house supplies online, and waiting eagerly for the boxes and bags to arrive only to leave them in the garage or drown them in disinfectant before we dare to use or consume their contents. We don’t commute anymore, but we work all day and night long. The laptop barely shuts down. And to top it off, we have taken on new roles: teacher and camp counselor. O.M.G.
This Is Humbling
For many of us, we have a professional identity. It includes the proper clothing, shoes, ties, and other accessories. We dress the part to play the role we want to portray in our place of work. Fast forward to the last four months—Zoom calls, kids climbing into parent’s laps, kids screaming in the background, or even my seven-year-old son who pulled his pants down and waddled into the bathroom. Yup, it was captured on my husband’s camera as he watched the chuckling, not entirely sure what was so funny at first!
When you think about it as working parents, we have been able to hide the ugly parts of our family life and only showcase the proud moments—the homerun, the touchdown, the first place trophy or ribbon. We have been able to keep these parts of our family lives out of the awareness of everyone around us as we continue to portray our family in the ways that are most flattering.
Not now. Not anymore. And, it’s OK. Our families are loud, and family life can be downright ugly at times. When did we become so embarrassed by the human beings we bore into this world? Why do we think we need to present this neat, pretty, polite family of ours? Now, it’s all there for the camera and your co-workers to see. The sooner we become more comfortable with the fact that life is messy and that our kids don’t follow what we say the first time we say it, that our teens don’t want to spend time with us, and our younger kids aren’t as independent as we wish for them to be, the sooner we can admit to our human-ness. It’s not a reflection of personal weakness but rather, the natural flow of life and human relationships.
The Burnout Is Real
Physically and mentally, many of us are just burned out. Many of us are consumed with worry about the COVID-19 virus, about its spread, about school, about our continued isolation. Then mix in a bit of depression or sadness about the life we once knew. Will we “return to normal”? What will “normal” look like? Will we ever be able to live life as freely as we once did? Right now, those questions are big, and the answers are somewhat non-existent.
Think about how many days you have taken off since March 2020. Likely, you haven’t. Perhaps it’s time to take a day off and spend it by yourself so you can decompress and recharge. Take turns with your spouse. If that’s not possible, ask a family member to give you a few hours to spend by yourself.
Modify Your Expectations
When quarantine started, my goal was to maintain the same number of work hours, the same level of cleanliness in my house, a high level of engagement with my children, and the list went on and on. It has not been possible to have this added level of stress due to the virus, many life limitations, and additional parent roles. That’s way too many spinning plates that we are trying to keep in the air. It’s not possible, and it’s time to let them crash and break. It’s time for some new and realistic expectations.
Slow down. Schedule downtime into your schedule as often as you can. It’s not natural to go-go-go all the time. Although our children’s activity schedules have subsided significantly, we still work long hours or hold expectations in our heads that are creating stress and anxiety. As a working parent it’s OK to reset and figure out a new way of running your house. If your kids are old enough, set up a system where they can help with chores, preparing meals, or washing laundry. If they need a material incentive, go for it! If they are motivated by privileges, go with that.
During the last four months and two seasons, life has been incredibly different, but I’m going to choose to walk away with a few messages that the universe is trying to pass along.