Updated: May 11
While work and life have now become boundaryless, devising any sort of plan to find balance is seemingly impossible. It is clear that many – if not most – working parents are not okay, and that is understandably normal during these far-from-normal times. Here’s what I’ve learned from my occupational therapy (OT) background and the experiences of my pediatric OT colleagues.
As if working and parenting separately weren’t already challenging enough, I keep hearing about the parents (my guestimate is roughly 100% of them) who are struggling to maintain any sort of sanity under quarantine as they do their absolute best to work, parent, and homeschool their children – all simultaneously. I am not a working parent but can empathize with the challenges that parents are faced with during this time. My hope is to provide some comfort to working parents as they navigate through one of the most pressing issues resulting from COVID-19.
First and Foremost: Practice Self Compassion and Forgo Perfection
You may have some “better” days, and you have likely already experienced many bad days. You might feel like you’re struggling like never before, but these are also times like never before. It is clear you are doing the best you can, and from an outsider’s perspective, your best efforts may be better than you’re giving yourself credit for. Here are some ways to cope with all that is going on:
Throw perfection out the window – it’s okay to lower your expectations considering the circumstances (your house doesn’t need to be tidied every single day)
Put aside those tedious to-do lists – focus solely on tasks with immediate deadlines (save those home improvement projects for later)
Set just one weekly goal to make life feel a little more manageable (make dinner as a family once this week)
Dedicate non-negotiable time to yourself (a solo stroll around the block)
Allow yourself to feel frustrated, guilty, angry, afraid…your feelings are valid! But…
Be self-compassionate – beating yourself up won’t make things better
…But, letting go is harder than it sounds…
So, if you are still in search of practical tips to support your children, know that many of the recommendations and suggestions around managing your work-from-home life and your wellbeing can also apply to your children’s.
Create a Schedule as a Guide and Use Visual Cues
Schedules serve as a guide for yourself and your children during this time. Like your own day-to-day schedule, your children’s schedules may not flow like clockwork either, but routine provides structure. If you’re longing for control in your daily life, chances are, your children are too. Utilizing visual cues can also be helpful in reinforcing schedules and availability.
Allow your children to feel a sense of control by giving them some choice of how their schedules are laid out
Schedule recreational and virtual social time (playtime), movement and relaxation breaks (downtime), meals and chores (family time), and adequate sleep, in addition to designated school time*
Post all family members’ schedules in an accessible space so everyone is aware of each other’s time
Reinforce availability by putting up a green sign for “come in” or a red to signal “do not disturb” (and remember to respect your children’s time, too – if they are busy, don’t interrupt unless necessary)
* Your and your children’s wellbeing are the top priorities, so if you’re like this working mom, who found homeschooling to be too much, put it on pause and focus on the things that keep your family safe and well.
Set Up a Designated Work Area
You may have noticed setting up a designated working space for yourself has been helpful for your productivity. Work with your children to set up comfortable spaces that are conducive to their working and learning styles. If you have the space and resources, allow them to set up:
A makeshift desk at your dining table, clear of distractions
A cozy fort filled with blankets and pillows (this can double as a safe space)
A backyard workstation with some sunshine and fresh air
Encourage Movement and Stress Management
You’ve probably heard a thousand different ways to incorporate movement and stress management throughout your day – because it’s so vital to both physical and mental wellbeing. Our adult bodies crave movement, but children need even more. Likewise, adults feel the need to manage stress and anxiety, and although children may not understand their own need, they require it too.
Invite your children to join you in a streamed yoga class, meditation, or on walks
Try deep pressure, such as a weighted blanket or a tight hug, which helps to calm the body and promote self-regulation
Some activities children can do on their own:
The Kiboomers – music and dance for Pre-K and Kindergarten
The Learning Station – music and movement for Pre-K and Kindergarten
Cosmic Kids Yoga – yoga and mindfulness for 3+
Go Noodle – movement and mindfulness for elementary school ages
FitPros' COVID-19: Activities to Do with Kids – for all ages
Communication is Key
Hopefully you’re in a working environment in which you can communicate to your manager and your employer is taking action to support you through these challenges. As important as it is to communicate with your employers, communication with your children is necessary as well. You may not have all the answers but keeping communication honest and calm while allowing your children to share their concerns with you can help ease their worries.
Make your home a safe space with age-appropriate communication styles
Read simple COVID-19 social stories to young children who want to understand more about what’s going on
Take It One Step at a Time
Unfortunately, there is no “fix-all” solution, and understanding that your children are just as confused and overwhelmed as you are during these unprecedented times is important. People generally dislike change (you’re probably experiencing this phenomenon now), so try one strategy to begin with. Celebrate the small victories and when you face a losing streak, remember self-compassion and let it be.