If I had a nickel for how many times I have heard, “these are unprecedented times,” and yet it seems like not all people understand the magnitude over what working moms are undertaking.
Repeat after me: You are not merely WFHWK (working from home with kids). You are surviving a pandemic and trying to work while taking care of kids at home. And many of us are also trying to homeschool on top of that.
These are not the same! In these times, we cannot be expected to continue as if we are in the office with business as usual.
I was inspired to write this blog post following this LinkedIn post. She brings up some valid points, and I would also like to discuss them.
Dear Companies: Working From Home With Kids in a Pandemic is Not the Same as Working Remotely
Working remotely is the dream. I’m so thankful for my current arrangement with my job and client, working across the ocean while my husband is stationed in this amazingly beautiful place. But this only works for me because I work so hard to be as seamless as possible.
Here’s our situation – I’m 5 hours behind my client and colleagues (timezone). That means I’m just waking up, and my colleagues have already had half their day done. It means I have to be up very early to make most meetings. It means if my child needs anything from me in the morning my time, I’m missing out on the few hours of overlapping work time I have with my team.
And having my 5-year-old at home, continually interrupting, always wanting something, and unable to go to preschool because everything is closed? Well, I’d be lying if I said my work productivity isn’t suffering. It is. And it’s understandable.
We cannot give 100% to work *and* 100% to parenting.
It’s not possible to be everywhere and everything right now. Working moms have always had it hard, ever feeling torn between our two worlds. But right now? Our worlds have collided in a cosmic explosion, and we’re still expected to maintain our efficiency and poise?
Impossible. Maybe do-able in the short term. But this hasn’t been the 2-week quarantine we were all told to prepare for when the pandemic first started. Some of us are going into our 3rd month. When the last normal day we had was Friday the 13th, we begin to wonder how we’re going to manage it all without crumbling.
Yes, we place some activity in front of our kids so we can get some work done. I’ve been using ABCMouse and Little Passports to help give the child something educational to do. Plus, lots of preschool activity books. We try to get our child busy with something right before we hop on a conference call. But we also know the reality is the kids will get bored or decide this is the perfect time for a meltdown or need their butt wiped, or are dying for a snack.
And while older kids can understand the “don’t interrupt mom’s meeting unless someone is bleeding or actually dying,” a young child in need of mom’s attention right then, and there cannot be reasoned with or stopped.
Some days are a nightmare, and other days feel like a marathon of success. I’m coping day to day, celebrating the small wins and silver linings where I can.
Managing expectations from your Manager
I’m thankful we haven’t had any video calls with my colleagues. Both the company I work for and the client where all my project hours are allocated have said no videos over VPN. But companies expecting their employees to do video conferencing with families running around in the background are out of touch.
Daycares are closed. Schools are closed. This is not the time we can just get a babysitter while we work.
If you’re a people leader with no kids or have forgotten what it’s like to have little kids, listen up. Asking your employees with young kids at home to work regular hours with back-to-back meetings is not only an impossible expectation but an insensitive one. Keeping rigid deadlines for the sake of deadlines (when an outside source such as a regulatory agency isn’t driving that due date) is unreasonable.
Moms, if you’re struggling and agonizing over your workload and project expectations, now is the time to schedule a chat with your people leader. A healthy discussion of expectations and realistic schedules is imperative right now.
This conversation needs to identify that we are not working in a perfect world, not is this our usual performance. This time, obviously, is a state of emergency. Raise the point that both you and your partner are trying to successfully make it through each day on a daily basis.
Now is also a time to give ourselves some slack! We’re going through a traumatic time, and we all deal with trauma differently, sometimes how we cope changes daily. Ditch the mom guilt and forgive yourself for not living up to your own impossible expectations.
Build a WFH schedule allowing shared responsibilities with your spouse
Unless you have one spouse who is an essential worker and is required to continue physically returning to work, now is the time to build a work from home schedule that works for both you and your partner. This schedule will allow you to share the responsibilities of childcare and important meetings.
Sometimes that looks like switching off who is responsible for keeping the kids busy while the other person is on an urgent conference call. Sometimes that looks like staggered working schedules.
I have to work early in the morning to allow an overlapping schedule between myself and my colleagues in a timezone 5 hours ahead of me. So, my husband has been taking care of our child’s needs in the morning. He’s military, but he works a typical 9-5 in our timezone, which allows for that shift. The kid eats breakfast with Daddy and plays in the living room for a while (my husband’s desk is set up in the kitchen/living room area). This usually means it is tablet time for a while.
If I have lots of back to back meetings, that starts to break down as my child eventually wanders into my home office and starts wanting my attention. If I have a decent break between meetings, I like to use that time for some homeschooling. Otherwise, it is more screen time for him.
My son has daily sight words to start learning, and there is usually some kind of activity or assignment for the week. This week he has to write a number chart, so I’m having him write 20 numbers each day until he gets to the full 100. If he’s in the right mood, he can work on those while I’m doing work. If he’s in the wrong mood, all bets are off.
Unless I have a meeting conflict, we take a nice long lunch together, and then I try to convince our son to take a nap while we both do more work. Then since I started super early, my workday ends before my husband’s. So then I do more homeschooling or other activities with our son. Or work on this blog – like this article.
I don’t know what we’ll do when the “stay home order” ends and my husband has to return to the office, while preschool is still closed. My fairly well-oiled current schedule will fall apart.
We need flexibility
During these crazy times, we need a flexible schedule. Let us work odd hours to get our projects done.
Maybe we need to shuffle schedules for when our significant other is home and able to take care of the kids so we can have a few hours of uninterrupted focus on a difficult task.
Don’t expect us to “stay green” or be available at a moment’s notice. My client uses Skype, and my company uses Teams, both have the feature to show if you’re actively working on your computer (green status) or if you’ve “gone idle” (yellow). My status might have turned yellow, but I am probably still sitting here trying to work on that task, except now I am also arguing with a tiny human about what he should be doing.
I might not respond to your email right away, or I might send several emails after the child is asleep. I am putting my hours in; they just might not be consecutive. Some managers understand this, but others need a gentle reminder that we are doing our best to keep projects moving during this crisis and that we need deadlines and schedules to reflect reasonable expectations.
Moms are not the only people stressed.
Moms (and Dads) are stressed. We’re stressed and feeling the burden of this stress. And we’re doing our best not to show it. But it’s not just us.
One demographic we often fail to consider is the children themselves. Many kids are experiencing big emotions with this complete upheaval of their lives.
As parents, we are doing our best to quell their fears, while calming our own. There is so much uncertainty about the future. And yet so many pressures to continue distance learning so as not to fall behind in their grade-level education.
Not only are parents working full-time and taking care of their kids, but now we are also wearing the hats of teacher and therapist.
How and when are all these roles supposed to overlap?
It’s not realistic. If we try to excel at everything – we tend to fail at everything. This is why I like to say balance is a sliding scale. Sometimes you focus on one aspect, and at other times, another. So having that autonomy with our home lives and or workloads is key.
Remember to take a break.
Of course, that is true for my 5-year-old and mamas with babies and kids under 3? I’m sorry, I know this is just so hard. There are no breaks. You’re always on. Your mental load is infinite.
The most important thing right now is a connection with our family. The reason our kids are climbing on us during conference calls is because they want our attention. If we are able to build in break time to focus on connection, everyone’s happier and distractions are less severe.
If the breaks can’t happen during the workday in any meaningful form, focus on the quality time after COB. After everyone finishes working for the day, we like to go for a family walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes this involves putting on masks if we want to get takeout for dinner. This daily brain break and fresh air is an absolute must after the long, stressful days of everything.
I also try to take an actual lunch break with the family. Having small kids at home, you can’t just ignore lunch. Mealtimes become a big deal and take up more time than the office lunch breaks we are used to taking.
We all need this time to decompress and get that brain break. Our eyes need a break from staring at the computer for so many hours. And our soul needs this time off from worrying, too.
We are all doing the best we can. We don’t all have the same “full plate” during this pandemic, but we all have something on our plates that takes our focus away from work. Let’s understand and give each other, and ourselves, grace during this period of change.
When things eventually get back to normal, then we can focus on productivity again. For now, let’s achieve survival and change the meaning of a successful day.
What parenting and working from home during the pandemic issues are you struggling with?