The choice is always ours. We didn’t get to choose the pandemic. We didn’t get to choose lockdowns or homeschooling or job loss or illness. But we always get to choose how we react. We choose how we will move forward. We choose what is best for our own family in the circumstances we have. We choose our attitude. I could have decided to whine and stay angry. I could have chosen to complain about every step of our homeschooling experience. I could have chosen any number of attitudes. I chose to focus on how I wanted to feel at the end of the pandemic. Would I be proud that I did the very best I could with the most positive attitude I could muster? If yes, then it was the right choice.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. With that in mind, I created this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Oberbroeckling.
Lori Whitney Oberbroeckling is a wife, mom of four, corporate executive, and the author of the book “Secrets of Supermom: How Extraordinary Moms Succeed at Work and Home & How You Can Too!” As part of a survey of nearly 200 moms, she found that moms were more overwhelmed and burned out than ever. She wrote “Secrets of Supermom,” her debut book, mid-pandemic while working full-time and homeschooling her children to help moms with the skills, habits, and confidence to happily have it all. The book is available at secretsofsupermom.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Lori! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Phil, thanks so much for having me! My name is Lori Oberbroeckling, and I am the author of the new book “Secrets of Supermom: How Extraordinary Moms Succeed at Work and Home & How You Can Too!” This is my first book, and I wrote it in the midst of the pandemic when I realized that moms were struggling more than ever. I am also a Phoenix native, wife, mom of four, a corporate executive, and I run a photography business on the side.
Growing up in a busy household of four kids, things were constantly active, loud, and fun. As I grew my own family, we kept that pace. We were always on the go, finding adventures, playing sports, and visiting new places. The pandemic certainly was a pin in our balloon, so we have had to work extra hard to make sure we continue to enjoy our lives on different terms.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I have actually worked from home since 2008 if you can believe it. When I am not traveling for business, I work out of a home office. So, for me, the biggest change was the sudden stop of travel instead of the shift from a real office to a home office. My teams were used to meeting online weekly but had to shift our larger planning sessions to a web focus meaning many unanticipated hours spent on video. We have certainly had to get creative so we can stay focused and engaged.
The other huge change was that, despite working from home, my children were always in someone else’s care during work hours. They were in daycare, preschool, regular school, camp…something. In order for me to be an amazing leader and an amazing mom, I couldn’t be doing both at the same time. Suddenly having them all home changed everything. I had to determine what was the most important to me for their well-being, the well-being of my teams, and my own health and sanity.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
Big groups of people and real-life face time with people I love. I am a true extrovert and get so much joy and energy from being in the presence of other people. I love getting together with my big family, face-to-face business meetings, concerts, and really just anything that lets me interact with people I enjoy.
We have all certainly done our best with things like Facetime calls, video happy hours, and other technology options, but nothing beats real life with real handshakes and real hugs.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
I would love to see more flexibility in the workplace. If the pandemic has done nothing else, it has shown us that people can be productive and successful in a multitude of environments. Not everyone needs to be sitting in a cubicle from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to do their job and do it well.
I would love to see flexibility for everyone, but I think that parents, and especially moms, have been the hardest hit. They have had to manage childcare, school, and work at the same time. It has been a challenge that has been both difficult and eye-opening. We cannot in good conscience go back to the status quo when we have seen that so many other arrangements can be successful.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
I think the most positive part is the gift of perspective. We are all looking at our lives through a lens we never had before. And through that lens, we get to look at our old life and our new life to make some important decisions. As the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter, we get to decide what we want to bring back into our lives and what we want to change. If we take advantage of this gift, we get to make our lives better than ever before.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
Over the last year, I told a number of people, “This is another great reason to have four kids!” I think having a large family, especially at the beginning, meant we were in this together. There was no shortage of snuggles and movie nights. There was no shortage of people to talk to, helpers in the kitchen, or board game partners. Even though my kids are still very young–the oldest was only ten when the pandemic hit and the youngest was three–they were able to help each other and help me. I constantly reminded myself how lucky I was to have them.
Another choice I made early on was a focused health decision. I realized very quickly that my ice cream eating and alcohol drinking could get out of control if I let it. When it became clear that COVID was not going to end in a couple of weeks, I hired my coach to create a meal plan for me. I know that I always feel my best when I exercise and eat a certain way. Having skin in the game helped me stay motivated and strict. Plus, I am also far less anxious and stressed when I take care of my eating. If ever there was a time for me to use food to control my mood, this was it. Finally, it allowed me to force myself to experience the pandemic, not try to simply escape from it, and show my children how to do the same.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
Before I answer, I do want to preface that I am incredibly fortunate not to have lost someone close to me to COVID. I know that I am lucky, and this is never lost on me.
That said, the hardest part for me was definitely at the very beginning. Lockdown began right at the start of Spring Break 2020 for my kids, and I had taken the week off so we could go on some local adventures. I was super excited about it and had been looking forward to time off work and a week with the kids. When we found out that everything would be closed, we quickly pivoted and came up with other ideas like playing games, bike rides, and bedroom renovations. “We can do this”, I thought. “This can’t last too long”, I naively thought.
When I went back to work and the kids didn’t go back to school, that’s when things got really hard. Unexpectedly homeschooling four kids while maintaining a leadership role was hard. I had to reassess my goals for my children. What did I want for them in this last quarter of school when it was clear they would never return to the classroom? I realized that my goal was not that they learn the content and get the best grades in the class–although that would certainly be ideal–but more that they learn to be responsible and independent. When we focused on those two concepts, it made everything easier.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I was so thrilled to be asked to be part of this series for exactly this question. So many of us are trying to just “get through it” that I fear we are not sitting down with our collective selves and really thinking about what we have learned. How can we stop for a minute and think about what we can carry forward in our lives? What do we want to change? What do we want to leave behind from our old life, from our old “normal”?
The five things I have learned from the social isolation of the COVID pandemic are:
- We don’t have to do everything. As a mom from a busy family, we are constantly on the go. This is not unlike many families I know and many moms I have talked with in researching my book. When the pandemic put everyone’s lives at a standstill, it was a shock. However, many parents have realized that the slower pace has been better for their family. Maybe they play more games or spend more time outside together. Maybe they simply eat dinner together now instead of in the car between activities. As things begin to open back up, we need to do ourselves a favor and remind ourselves that we don’t have to do everything. We have the chance now to only add back in the things we want to do and actually decide to do as a family.
- Pivot. When in doubt, change directions. Our ability to be flexible when something gets in the way is critical to success. I strongly believe the businesses that have succeeded, and the families that have stayed stronger than ever have done so because they pivoted. For me, one of those pivots was the expectation for homeschooling I mentioned earlier. By changing my focus from grades to simply being independent and responsible with school work, we had a much easier and dare I say even more successful go at homeschooling.
- The choice is always ours. We didn’t get to choose the pandemic. We didn’t get to choose lockdowns or homeschooling or job loss or illness. But we always get to choose how we react. We choose how we will move forward. We choose what is best for our own family in the circumstances we have. We choose our attitude. I could have decided to whine and stay angry. I could have chosen to complain about every step of our homeschooling experience. I could have chosen any number of attitudes. I chose to focus on how I wanted to feel at the end of the pandemic. Would I be proud that I did the very best I could with the most positive attitude I could muster? If yes, then it was the right choice.
- It is critical to talk to your children, even when you don’t have all the answers. We have talked ad nauseam over the last year. We have talked about the virus. We have talked about how we want our lives to be. We have talked about questions that I certainly can’t answer. We have talked about puberty and the birds and the bees and politics and why people do the things they do. I think it is important to talk to your children about everything, to let them ask questions, and to tell them when you don’t know the answer. As we discuss, we teach them to think on their own. We teach them to ask questions, to learn, to investigate. It is critical because they are always listening. I want my kids to be independent, responsible, and nice. I can only teach them to have these characteristics by talking to them and modeling these traits.
- I need hugs. I sure miss good, strong bear hugs. From a scientific perspective, a 20-second hug reduces stress and blood pressure, increases oxytocin, and increases happiness. It’s no wonder I miss them!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
John Maxwell said, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” I have said it over and over again to my family before the pandemic, and now I think it is especially important. We need to be able to work together in our families, our work teams, our friend groups, and our schools. When we are working with each other, instead of against each other, we can find the best solutions and get the most done.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have coffee with Laura Vanderkam, author of the book “168 Hours” among other books on time management. She is a mom of five, writer, and speaker. I think we would have a lot of fun chatting about crazy kid stories, and I would love to talk with her about all things time management and productivity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow along at secretsofsupermom.com or on Instagram or Facebook at Secrets of Supermom. Thanks so much for having me. It was a pleasure!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.