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Working and Parenting During COVID-19: How Does One Manage the Impossible?

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

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.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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

  • And if it wasn’t already, make the Beatles’ Let It Be or Frozen’s Let It Go your new theme song (maybe even sing and dance to it with your family as you clean up the kitchen together)

…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

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash