Parenting during a pandemic: Practical advice for working from home with kids
The responsibilities that come with being a working parent can make a person feel stretched thin in the best of times. Throw in a global pandemic that prompts unexpected remote work and distance learning scenarios, and things can start to feel next to impossible.
Keeping kids entertained throughout the summer while balancing the duties of your day job is an accomplishment worth celebrating. It’s even more impressive for parents who are furthering their own education at the same time. But with school back in session, many parents are feeling overwhelmed by the new circumstances.
Some districts have already reopened schools for the 2020-21 school year. Others began the new year with virtual learning and will continue to assess the situation as conditions evolve. While it remains uncertain what the future holds for professionals and their kids, it’s clear that everyone will have to make the most out of the less-than-ideal conditions that lie before them.
As you navigate the ups and downs of parenting during a pandemic, utilize some of the following tips for working from home with kids.
The realities of parenting in a pandemic
Before you can even begin to grapple with the struggles that come with meeting the demands of your career remotely while balancing at-home childcare, it’s important to remember that you’re currently parenting during a pandemic. Circumstances can feel more unnerving than ever, and if you feel a complicated mix of emotions as an adult, it’s a safe bet that your children are wrestling with some inner turmoil as well.
Above all else, it’s important to help your kids feel secure, both physically and emotionally. They will likely have an evolving assortment of questions about COVID-19, the safety of their loved ones, the intensifying political climate and more.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) encourages parents and guardians to continually make themselves available to calm any fears or explain any confusion their kids may experience during these unprecedented times. The most helpful approach is to answer their questions simply and honestly.
The ADAA also suggests that it may be worth monitoring your children’s media consumption. Stories covered on the news right now can be exhausting, scary, confusing and overwhelming for the general public – especially for kids and teens. Limiting your kids’ daily media intake to a reasonable level can help curb unnecessary worry.
3 Ways to survive working from home with kids
If your current reality includes exhaustive attempts to complete your full-time workload from home while also caring for your kids and possibly even facilitating their virtual learning, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t make your reality any easier.
As you attempt to find the right balance for your family, consider the following three pieces of advice.
1. Establish a routine
One of the reasons most kids thrive in daycare and school environments is because there’s an abundance of structure. Their days are planned out for them with a thoughtful balance of education and fun.
To ensure the most harmonious experience you can at home, you should attempt to do the same. Maintaining healthy routines can help create a sense of order that will offer some much needed reassurance in a very uncertain time. Children of all ages can benefit from routines that are predictable, yet still flexible enough to meet individual needs.
Whether you have school-age children who will need your assistance with distance learning or you have younger kids who aren’t yet following a school curriculum, structure and consistency can help lay the foundation for an environment in which everyone can be comfortable – and eventually thrive.
Try using a timer to indicate dedicated work and/or school time. If you communicate to your kids that you can all take a break and do something fun every 60 – 90 minutes, they’ll be less likely to interrupt you. Multitasking can actually decrease efficiency, so if you’re able to have some dedicated work time in short bursts, you’ll likely be more productive.
Another basic rule of thumb is to work smarter, not harder – be sure utilize all of your resources in an efficient way. If there’s another parent or caregiver in the home (or even older, more responsible children), consider sharing the load of childcare by taking shifts. Maybe you’ll oversee the kids in the morning while your partner covers the afternoon. By discovering the best way for each family member to pitch in, you’ll find that everyone’s able to accomplish more in a given day.
2. Set boundaries
Once you’re able to establish a good rhythm with your family’s new at-home routine, it’s important to make note of where work and school begin and where they end. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that it can become easy for lines to blur when professional and home life occur in the same space.
For some, this makes it harder to remain productive. For others, it becomes increasingly difficult to disconnect from work even after working hours have wrapped up for the day.
Mapping out a schedule that designates working and non-working hours can certainly help. But the APA suggests taking it a step further if you can by identifying specific work spaces in your home. Whether it’s an office with a desk, a table set up in a spare bedroom or an open corner of your dining room table, having a certain area for your professional tasks can help you shut out distractions, and then leave your job responsibilities behind when you officially close your laptop for the day.
Establishing boundaries in this ‘new normal’ should also stretch beyond the blurred lines between working and nonworking hours. The truth of the matter is, if your entire family is currently working and/or learning from home, that’s a lot of togetherness – and everyone needs a bit of space every once in a while!
It can be important to practice self-care by taking some time for yourself when possible. Even small things like taking a solo walk, going for a drive or gardening with headphones on can help you detach from your constant surroundings and recharge. It’s also vital to maintain healthy habits like eating well, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep – things like this can help you cultivate the energy you’ll need to take on each new challenge as it comes.
3. Prioritize communication
It seems the only thing that’s certain these days is the fact that everyone’s sense of normalcy has flown right out the window. And while establishing routines and instating healthy boundaries can help keep things on track, adaptability has become a necessary way of life for everyone.
What is effective for your colleague’s family may not be as effective for your family, and what works for you one week might not work the following week. It can feel unendingly stressful, but one simple rule of thumb will always make everything easier: communicate, communicate, communicate.
Let your supervisor and peers know what you’re juggling at home while you try to keep pace with your typical workload. This can pave the way for some added flexibility that will make your ‘new normal’ a bit easier to navigate. Most employers understand that in circumstances as unforeseen as these, everyone will need to collaborate with their managers and/or direct reports to craft a plan that works for them.
It’s expected that working from home with kids means that you won’t get as much uninterrupted time at your desk as you’d like. Because you’ll be divvying up your time between professional tasks and childcare, it can help to maximize your touchpoints of communication. This might mean having access to your work email on your cell phone and downloading a team communication app, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
Set your family up for success
Many are rightfully doling out praise for our healthcare heroes who have been putting themselves at risk on the frontlines since the pandemic reached American soil. But it’s been suggested that working parents have also become unsung heroes in this crisis. Continuing to support a family while not only raising kids, but also calming their rising fears and helping them cope with learning from home is no easy feat. But you’re doing it day in and day out.
You are now armed with some practical advice for parenting during a pandemic. Use these tips as you navigate the murky waters of working from home with kids, and you’ll find the best rhythm for your family.
For more information and advice related to career development, vocational advancement and other professional pursuits, visit the University of Massachusetts Global blog where new content is published regularly.
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