How the pandemic has changed my parenting
Working at home with kids? Here are proven tips from a weary supermom trying to keep pace.
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As a digital-learning expert, mother and partner, my life recently imploded like a dying star—three massive worlds reborn as a black hole in a single moment—and I became the sole orchestrator of a strange new universe with no instructions or prior experience to guide me.
In early March, we received news that schools would be closed indefinitely—a heavy blow for our 5-year-old daughter, a lively kindergartner with sensory differences, who was just getting into a rhythm in a new city with a new school and new friends. And we learned that my partner—who we thought would be sent home for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis—would be an essential worker in his hospital’s response.
I’m the Director of Digital Learning Experience for a software company, and we have a way of categorizing tasks based on priority. A Priority Zero—or “P0” task—is the highest, most critical need, which, if not addressed immediately, could cause major disruption or even systemwide failure.
I started thinking: What’s my P0 in this new everything-from-home universe?
“If we’re not looking for ways to reinvent ourselves during this critical time, to question the way we normally do things and to help define what the 'new normal' should be, I think we’re missing a rare opportunity to transform our lives for the better.” - Renee Haran
Unable to sleep, I watched a video of exhausted, guilt-ridden working mothers being interviewed about their new lives as weary ladyboss supermoms. A psychologist was emphasizing the importance of keeping relationships intact through the crisis.
“This is my new P0,” I thought. “Who cares if all of the homework and cleaning and work goals are met if my most sacred relationships fall apart in the interim?”
Three months in, here are the guidelines I’ve collected while navigating uncharted territory and striving to keep my family (and work) relationships strong.
It’s my version of a ladyboss supermom.
Taking calls outside gives you a fresh perspective. Our fig tree is starting to grow fruit, and baby birds are being fed by their busy bird parents. Photo credit: Brian Haran
Working at home and leading my team from home
Set expectations, and set them again if they don’t stick. Be your own advocate. This could look like requesting shorter meetings as a default, declining noncritical meetings, blocking out time for your family during the day or reminding folks of your time zone so you can meet your children’s needs.
Make space for people in a social capacity. Have a drink in a virtual social hour, take a last-minute call from a colleague so they can vent, celebrate a major milestone. More than anything, folks want to be reminded that compassion and empathy can still be found.
Get out of your workspace. A recent study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience shows that happiness in humans is linked with exploring and experiencing new and diverse things—something nearly impossible to do when you’re stuck in the same place 24 hours a day. Variety literally leads to more happiness, so take some meetings standing, take some of them walking, take some of them sitting in a garden with a drink of your choice and linger a bit.
Our daughter learns at her new desk—the dining room table—during an online tutoring session. Photo credit: Renee Haran
Schooling in place
Be realistic about formal learning. Kids, especially younger ones, are learning an enormous amount right now—from you, from playing, from watching and doing real stuff away from the rigidity of the classroom. Be reassured that they aren’t going to suddenly be at a disadvantage if they don’t master all of their math this month. We’re limiting formal learning to two 30-minute sessions a day and bookending schoolwork with play.
Let children lean into their wacky interests of the week (or day), and lean in with them. This is a quick and easy way to connect. So far, my 5-year-old has had a manga phase, a bear phase, a tiger phase and a penguin phase, and now we’re in a Lilo and Stitch phase.
Let your school know what your situation is. As a digital learning expert working full time, I have struggled with the amount of work I am expected to do with my kindergartner each day. We are only doing mandatory assignments, and I am turning them in through email rather than uploading them through the Learning Management System. Be honest and advocate for your family.
Consider getting virtual support. If you are able and have the means (I acknowledge this is an enormous privilege), online child care, tutors, health care, and even recreation can be leveraged to give your children some consistency and one-on-one time with someone other than you. I used my own direct network: a mentor and professor’s daughter for tutoring and child care, a best friend and bandmate for virtual karate, and my health care provider for child telehealth.
Use your work technology in new ways. Some videoconferencing apps have built-in, collaborative annotation capabilities that can be used for drawing and coloring. We are also using the iPhone notes app to scan our daughter’s mandatory printed/paper homework, sending it directly from the app to her teacher via email.
Sheltering in place has disrupted routines, sleep arrangements and cleaning regimens in our house. Rooms wear multiple hats. Photo credit: Renee Haran
Sheltering in place
Let it go, let it go. Because home has suddenly been taken over by school and work, our home is going through a bit of an identity crisis. My work computer is currently sitting on top of a pile of unfolded laundry on top of an unmade bed in my tiny guest room, which is also serving as my office. The dining room table is piled with schoolwork, and our kitchen counter is covered in disinfectant wipes, masks and gloves. Give yourself some grace when it comes to house chores, and do what you are able.
It’s OK to revert a little. I am hearing stories from friends and family with children of all ages who are reverting in some way or another: co-sleeping, wanting to be breastfed even though they were weaned a couple of years ago, asking for pacifiers, etc. We are allowing our daughter to sleep wedged safely between us. I have reverted to mostly sleeping when she does, my own sort of return to fourth-trimester days.
Let yourself (and your partner) lean into your wacky interests. When I’m awake at 3 AM and can’t go back to sleep, I’m earning an online certificate in permaculture design. My partner is building a new guitar fuzz pedal, and we’ve rekindled our band from our 20s for a virtual music fest this summer.
Gauge your family climate by the banter at the dinner table. If things are too tense or weird or quiet for too many days in a row at dinner, it’s time to adjust something. And after dinner unwinds, we always clear the table—but if it’s late, and we need more time together, perhaps the dishes can wait.
Don’t look for perfection or romance or even happiness right now. I’m not asking for a date night or flowers, though my partner brings me a dark chocolate bar on occasion, which I ration so my daughter and I can share it in small bites during special afternoon “chocolate breaks,” our equivalent of teatime. I’m just excited when my partner comes home from work each day and I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that he passed the hospital’s health monitoring protocols and was allowed to leave. And above all else, I am doing everything I can to keep my most important relationships whole, while everything else descends into catch-as-catch-can. I’m exploring my kooky little microcosm in all of its rugged and chaotic beauty and learning to accept it.
In the past couple of months, it’s also become apparent that this new hybrid way of living is here to stay for a while, with some things changing for good. Work-life balance is no longer a balance but more of a fusion, and if we’re not looking for ways to reinvent ourselves during this critical time—to question the way we normally do things and to help define what the “new normal” should be—I think we’re missing a rare opportunity to transform our lives for the better.