I am not the only mom at Uptick, but I am the only mom with multiple young children, so I guess that makes me an “expert” in survival strategies for working from home with kids. I’ll be honest, though: Over the past couple of weeks, I have felt like anything but an expert. The days are long, the lines between home and work are blurred, and most of the time I’m just trying to keep my head above water.
Now, though, things are going to get even more complicated because not only will I be working from home, I’ll be teaching from home. At the same time, apparently.
It’s true that I spent a solid decade teaching high school Spanish, but I wasn’t trying to teach while also working another full-time job. And my students were older teens who could handle their own snack and potty needs — a far cry from my three young daughters, who sometimes want a “bathroom buddy” and who require approximately 58 pieces of cheese per day just to survive.
But I digress. This article isn’t about my children’s cheese addiction; it’s about thriving in the face of a seemingly impossible situation. So, working parents, let’s talk about how we’re going to make this happen.
Making Peace with the Unexpected
There are three things that have the potential to push me over the metaphorical edge: repetitive noises, frequent interruptions, and having multiple conversations at once. I am an extremely focused person, and once I am “in the zone,” it’s almost physically painful to be pulled out of it — and nearly impossible to reenter once I’ve mentally disengaged.
So, as you can imagine, working from home with my husband and three young children has been a little bit of a challenge. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed this unprecedented amount of time at home with my people, and I’m hoping society will reevaluate its priorities once all this is over. But at the same time, I was counting on that whole April 6 back-to-school thing, and when Governor Ivey announced that all Alabama K-12 public schools would move to e-learning through the end of the school year, I found myself — how can I put this delicately? — struggling to accept the situation.
And by “struggling to accept the situation,” I mean, I panicked.
Naturally, because I am a professional, my first reaction was to air my grievances on Slack.
It was somewhat therapeutic to commiserate with the other Uptick parents, but even after posting a gif of Kermit the Frog saying “Help” into a telephone, my chest felt tight. Coordinating in-home activities for our daughters, ages 9, 7, and 4, had been difficult enough for my husband and me without having to worry about actual school work. How were we supposed to work full time while also teaching curriculum for three kids?
I still don’t have the answer to that question, but I do have some coping mechanisms that I’m going to put in place starting today. If you are also a working parent who’s desperately trying to figure out how to manipulate the laws of time, maybe these will help you, too.
#1: Accept Your Humanity.
Between working as the Director of Content Marketing for Uptick and running a household of five people, my to-do lists are normally long enough to wallpaper a room. However, now that I’m adding “poor substitute for an elementary school teacher” to my job description, I’m going to have to rethink those lists.
I am one person, and as far as I know, I’m not a cyborg; I will not be able to manage a team of eight marketing professionals, homeschool three children, cook three square meals per day, keep the house sparkling clean, complete my freelance work, and exercise every day.
I can, however, make plans to complete a handful of those things. Some of them will be daily essentials (we have to eat no matter what), but others can be moved around, outsourced, or temporarily paused.
The freelance work may have to stop for a season so that I can engage my kids in their education. The house may be slightly more cluttered than usual — or I may have to embrace my children’s subpar, though enthusiastic, cleaning skills — so that I can go for an evening run to clear my head.
The point is that life as we know it must change, and it’s up to us as parents and businesspeople to figure out what that looks like.
#2: Rethink Everything.
From working hours to screen time, this is the moment to question everything you’ve ever known. Sound scary? Heck yes, it does. But when “working from home” involves listening to Baby Shark on repeat and breaking up fights about markers, you gotta innovate, baby.
Take a good look at your work schedule. Is it possible to shift your working hours around? Will your boss allow you to work early mornings and late evenings so you can be more present with your kids during the day? Are your coworkers willing to reschedule that 4:30 meeting so that you’re not trying to log into Zoom during the witching hour? Find out what’s possible, and restructure your day into something that won’t leave you feeling frazzled by dinnertime.
You may also want to ease up on those screen time rules for the kiddos. Yeah, that’s right: I’m saying more screen time might be warranted during a global pandemic.
It doesn’t all have to be GoNoodle, though (and if it is, good luck getting that “Poppin’ Bubbles” song out of your head). There are multiple national parks, museums, and other attractions offering free virtual tours for kids who are old enough to care, and of course there are educational websites like ABC Mouse, Clever, and Prodigy. If your child attends a public school, they may have logins for these already.
And, I mean, there’s PJ Masks and My Little Pony. Sometimes kids just want to watch TV, and sometimes, it’s okay to let ‘em. Especially when you’ve reached the point where a “fun family outing” is driving the minivan around the neighborhood just to make sure the battery doesn’t die (not that I would know anything about that).
#3: Recognize the Beauty in the Breakdown.
In many ways, the past few weeks have been a full system breakdown. Everything has been turned upside down, things we took for granted are no longer an option, and a lot of us are not feeling okay about it. But there are still so many incredibly good things happening around us, and we have a choice: Will we focus on what’s broken, or will we focus on nurturing the beauty within the brokenness?
This mindset shift has been the toughest part for me so far, mostly because I am a task-driven achievement junkie (any other Enneagram 3w2 people out there?), but also because of that focus thing I mentioned earlier. I don’t like to be pulled away from whatever I’m working on, and I don’t like to shake up my plans.
This is an extraordinary time.
For families, for businesses, and for society in general.
Yes, it is very hard. Some people are either sick themselves or have a sick person in their family, COVID-19 or otherwise. Some are facing job loss. Some are afraid to go out in public because they are part of the “at-risk” population. In many ways, this crisis is tremendously hard, and I’m not trying to downplay that.
But in other ways — especially for parents with children still at home — it’s like opening a Christmas gift you forgot you had and being reminded of all the reasons you love these people so much. If we ever wanted to revolutionize the way we run our families, there is quite literally no time like the present.
So, working parents, my challenge to you (and also to myself) is this: In the coming weeks, as you’re problem-solving with your coworkers on Google Hangouts while also digging crushed goldfish out of the carpet, give yourself a little grace and look for the good. You might actually find a better way to do things, in your work and at home.
In the meantime, keep washing your hands and try to get your kids to stop touching their faces (and yours). May the odds be ever in your favor.