After ending yet another Zoom call, I notice the house is unusually quiet. My second-grade son, who shares my desk in our home office, has stepped out of the room but left his school-issued iPad. As I approach my kids’ rooms, I can hear my husband on a call in the guest room (his temporary office). My daughter’s door is closed, and I know I’ll find them there, headphones on watching 5-minute craft videos on YouTube (which I can’t disable because teachers occasionally use it for school).
As I open the door, they quickly close the browser and give me a look of guilt. I redirect and get everyone back on task, reminding my son he is late for his next Zoom class. My 10-minute break is over, and it is time for me to get back to the Zoom chats and new emails that have been pinging from my wireless headphones since I left my desk.
At Holtzman, we are blessed in this pandemic to be able to work remotely and have relatively stable careers. I feel particularly grateful that my kids are mostly independent with their virtual learning. In contrast, we have welcomed over 10 babies to the Holtzman family this year, all of whom were born to first-time parents. While their situation comes with its own set of challenges, there are a few things we can all focus on during this pandemic to make parenting and working from home slightly more manageable.
Here are a few work-from-home strategies you may find helpful:
Reassess Division of Responsibility at Home
When my husband began traveling frequently for work years ago, we used a responsibilities chart (like this one) to help identify who would take responsibility for various areas of our life to keep our family and house running. We discussed my mental burden – the small things I must remember to do, like scheduling doctor appointments, planning birthday parties, managing the family calendar, planning summer camps, and registering the kids for school. This enlightened him to how unequal our division of labor had become and how it was getting worse with his travel schedule. While he took over laundry, it made sense for me to take responsibility for school-related obligations unless he was home and could help with projects and homework. At the onset of the pandemic, we had to reassess our division of labor because being the primary parent responsible for school became an overwhelming burden with the kids’ transition to virtual school.
While I still oversee our son’s day-to-day schedule, my husband helps ensure all assignments have been completed and submitted. He is also our “tech support”, which, in addition to enabling plug-ins and rebooting, entails calming our daughter when she is sobbing because a tech glitch prevented her from completing an assignment or reading the questions on a quiz she failed.
Significant lifestyle changes, such as those caused by the pandemic or becoming a new parent, warrant having these conversations with your partner. It prevents too much burden, perceived or otherwise, from falling on one person. Or, as in my case, it forces one person to acknowledge the uneven distribution, even if there is no short-term solution. Having this conversation may also help avoid resentment over time.
Delegate at Work
Even with my husband’s recent help, sometimes I get desperate and delegate. Three days before a May deadline, this is an actual email I sent to my 10-year-old daughter:
Why is it we wait until survival mode before we start asking for help? This is particularly true for me professionally. There is likely a direct correlation between the efficiency of my projects and my husband traveling for work because I am forced to focus more and assess how much (or little) I can accomplish by a deadline without help. Take time to evaluate whether specific tasks can be delegated to someone with more capacity. Often, we either assume nobody has the capacity or we do not want to burden someone with “our” work. However, true team members help reprioritize projects and redistribute responsibilities for the betterment of the group and the objectives of the firm. Do not be afraid to reach out for help.
Working from where you live can easily erase boundaries once drawn by the commute to and from the office. It is important to establish new routines and draw new boundaries to distinguish between work and family time, such as taking a walk, catching up on news, or having a cup of coffee away from the computer. However, for those of us working and caring for children at home, work and family time can easily become interchangeable.
Holtzman’s flexibility has allowed parents to establish various work arrangements that work best for their families. Some are splitting workdays with their spouses and working non-traditional hours (early mornings, late evenings, weekends). Others have hired part-time or full-time help during the day. Since our children are older, my husband and I work mostly traditional hours, but we take frequent breaks throughout the day to touch base with our kids. Whatever method you establish, it is important to be consistent and communicate your availability to both your peers and supervisors at work as well as your family.
For example, since I share my office with our son, I have blocked the time he is in synchronous learning on my calendar so I am not in meetings at the same time he is listening to his teacher. This has the added benefit of not sitting in Zoom meetings all day. However, if I am preparing to lead a presentation, meet with an audit committee, or speak with a potential client, I give my family a few days’ notice and frequent reminders so they know not to interrupt.
During this challenging time, where millions of people are creating new ways of working remotely with kids, everyone must create a scenario that works best for them.
Assess Emotions Frequently
In March, when schools first announced they would be closed for three weeks, I came across the following:
It was a great reminder that this pandemic could have long-term emotional ramifications on our children, and we need to figure out how to support them. Some kids may be more impulsive, indecisive, and dependent on others. They may also become more self-aware, more emotionally expressive, and better able to manage stress on the other side of this pandemic.
Our children’s developing emotional intelligence is directly impacted by how we respond to their emotions and outbursts (and our own). While it is difficult to see our kids struggle, we are their safe place and should encourage them to talk about their fears and frustrations to help them identify and process those feelings. Sometimes getting a professional involved is helpful when parents and children are struggling to do this alone.
While my kids’ emotional intelligence is at the forefront of my mind, it is important to assess our own feelings. Much like our children, our stress tolerance is strained, and we may be prone to more outbursts than usual. Lately, I have noticed my short temper is driven by a lack of time alone. Other than an occasional early morning run, I never have time to myself. I began to express to my family the anxiety that builds when I do not have peace and quiet to recharge, so they are intentionally finding opportunities to leave the house together and give me a few hours alone.
We must calm our minds, feel our emotions, and listen to our bodies during times of stress. We can do this by making intentional choices to get enough sleep, eat healthy, set time aside to be still, connect with friends or family, exercise, enjoy a hobby, unplug from technology, and reflect on what we are grateful for. This allows us to build more positive energy and become more resilient to stress.
Bringing It All Together
Working parents should recognize there is no perfect balance between work and home life, even in a non-pandemic world. However, having empathy and flexibility at work, enlisting help, and actively trying to build resilience to stress can help you manage through this strenuous time.