As a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, a work-from-home mompreneur with two young kids that we have chosen to educate from home, as well as married to a spouse who operates his business from home as well, I reassuredly say that I know a thing or two about navigating the day-to-day joys and challenges of trying to effectively balance and integrate a work/home lifestyle, way prior to the situation that many may be newly encountering during this current health crisis.
However, I also must preface this by saying that I am in no way saying that any of these suggestions or tips will work seamlessly for you, or work at all. But, I do know that sometimes it’s just helpful to hear from others who may have “been there, done that,” just to feel some semblance of hope that it can be done. So, be willing to go easy on yourself, as your family may transition into an indefinite timeline of uncertainty, as well as a modified level of productivity.
I also acknowledge that some individuals may not particularly be thrilled about working from home, managing their house, or possibly being at home for an undetermined amount of time. Regardless, we must also make a choice to find peace and positivity in a time that can feel burdensome and crushing.
So how does it all work?
First, recognize that you, your kids, your partners, or whomever else lives with you may need to start off by instilling structure into this new “normal.” Sure, give yourself a break over the weekend to just live life as you normally do. But, when Monday morning rolls around, what’s your game plan? If you have kids, now is the time to include them in the process of that schedule/plan while you’re at. Whether it be a calendar on the refrigerator, a whiteboard with tasks, or a planner, use whatever you can to help you and your household stay on track. And, make it fun, for you and your family. Use stickers, color code it, partner with a neighbor, whatever makes you feel happy.
Thriving may be about maintaining the status quo
If you or your kids are used to a certain flow, and need some semblance of that flow, especially considering this is a major crisis that no one was anticipating, just keeping the status quo may be the best thing for you. This is not only to preserve your loved ones’ positive mental health, and your own as well, but helps break up the day. So, if you usually have a morning routine, do that. And, even though the luxury of lounging around the house in your favorite pajamas all day may sound amazing, after awhile, you may just want to feel like things are “business as usual” to keep yourself stable. So, it’s worth keeping your morning routine, whether it be breakfast at the usual hour, the morning cup of tea or coffee, early morning quiet time, or simply getting up and dressed. Honestly, just feeling as if you or they are doing something that’s a part of the norm is helpful to keeping anyone from going totally stir crazy.
A gentle reminder: appreciate the little things
Again, for those also pulling parent duty, if you have young(er) kids/small kids to care for, and they are used to being in daycare, school, or in the care of someone else, they are going to be EXTREMELY excited to have extra time with you. And believe me, it’s a beautiful thing. So, now is a good time to remind yourself of those previously guilty thoughts you may have struggled with of “being away from my kids all the time.” Believe me, now that I primarily work from home, I have to give myself that reminder ALL the time, especially when I am trying to squeeze in that important call or project during one kid’s nap time, but the other chooses to create his own (very loud) concert at the same time. As an additional pro tip: For those mothers who may still be breastfeeding, and you’re used to pumping to keep up your stock, or just by choice, don’t be surprised if your little one may be more attached. Still keep your routine, but be open to having that extra connection time, even if there are moments that it feels like you just want to get things done. Full disclosure: as I speak, my little one is resting on my lap while I type. I’m reminding you (and myself) to savor the moment, so you (and I) can remember to appreciate it.
Go easy on yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or pull in reinforcements
If you’re one of those parents who doesn’t keep extracurricular ideas lying around, has a back-up education plan, or some activity sheet is not intuitive to you, consider doing a “knowledge” share with other parents, relatives, or even neighbors via FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, or some other virtual platform. Especially if your kids are used to seeing grandparents, caregivers, or others throughout the day, keep that a part of your routine. This is helpful for all parties. Even if that interaction lasts for 15-20 minutes, it may also help ease the pressure of trying to keep them engaged and entertained all by yourself. Maybe it’s having your relative read a story virtually, learning that second language with your neighbor, having a virtual dance party, or helping with a science project. It’s the little things that go a long way, and helps life not feel so closed in. Also, it may help ease the very real possibility of separation anxiety that anyone may start to experience during this time.
And again, if you may not be as activity savvy, there are resources out there. Or, if you’re worried about screen time (whether too much, concerned about inappropriate commercials or ads, or protecting your kid’s vision), there are measures you can take to make sure you don’t default to letting the device entertain your kids for the next 2 weeks straight. For the non-screen or limited screen using families, now is the time to: check out books from the library; stock up on board games; or even consider buying tons of maps to play pretend “road trip” by learning about a new city, area, or country each day. And, if you do end up using a little more screen time than usual, be gentle on yourself, because this is a very unusual time we’re in. A few of my personal tips to navigating healthy use of your screen time:
- Stick to educational activities if the screen is available: Roku has a PBS channel, so you can do Sesame Street non-stop (if you can handle it!).
- Consider watching a show with your kids, and then having a discussion about it together.
- If you’re okay with your kid playing or working independently, give them a method to record audio, and have them document what they’ve learned or how they’re feeling throughout the day, so you can go back to listen and reflect together. You may even want to do the same for yourself.
- Place parental locks on your devices if you let your kid use your phone to look at pictures, watch videos, or play with an app. By disabling their ability to navigate to other areas of your phone, you can avoid unintentional calls and other concerning issues.
- If the TV or a device is on, consider opportunities to just play music that is either fun or educational.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
You would be surprised that when we are around each other more often than not, our communication can actually drop versus improve. On a personal note, even though my husband and I work in the same space together, or are even around each other the majority of the day, unless we have a meeting outside the home, or choose to work remotely or have to travel, it can be very easy to assume that you know everything that is going on in the other’s head. Which is often not true! Yes, it can appear that you’re always in the know, because you have a general understanding of where they are or what they’re doing, but we’re not always in the know. The same can go for our communication with our kids, too. And, on the other side of that spectrum, for those who actually survive on more superficial, social interactions that can come from workplaces or public spaces, being in tough familial situations, or even being alone for too long, may prove to be a struggle.
So, if you have a family with kids, be intentional about holding “house meetings” to check-in throughout the day, whether with each kid individually, or together as a family. This is also an important piece of advice for parents/caregivers with older kids. Your teen may have been struggling with things at school you didn’t know about, and may choose to hideaway in the room, with the device, or just moping around the house. Choose to still engage, even more so now. Even if you’re feeling stressed yourself, this is a crucial area to deal with right now. Even if you have a deadline you feel needs to be completed, make space to listen, be present, and be available. Intentionally engage with one another. Who knows, this time may set the stage for some much needed interventions. And, if you live alone, designate a “check-in buddy” with a family member, neighbor, colleague, or friend. Just to keep accountability.
And whenever that check-in time may be, make sure it’s undivided — without the TV, device, or other distraction at hand.
Build in breaks, for everyone’s peace of mind
At some point, you are going to need a break! Whether it’s a break from kids (or the kids need a break from each other), from your work, maybe even from each other, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you love your family or what you do any less. But, again, we are in a sudden and strange pivot of situations, and stress compounded by not having your usual outlets (park, library, school, work, museums, etc), can take a bigger toll than expected. So, when you’re making that structure or schedule to get you through the day, build in breaks, even if it’s just to go from one side of your living space to another.
If your kids are just too antsy, they may need your full attention for a few minutes, so be willing to pause (the wonder just a few minutes will do). If your partner is having a hard time focusing on their work, or frustrated about how to accomplish something with the restrictions, pretend you’re colleagues and talk it out. Not only will this provide an extra level of communication, but help you feel more interested and engaged in what each other is doing. If you don’t have someone to care for, or even someone to help you care for your kids, try small things like: changing rooms, walking around your living space, anything to get up and move. If you usually go to the gym, be willing to grant yourself or your partner space to workout, or maybe even exercise as a family.
And partners, be willing to give each other undivided time or space, whether to communicate together, or to have time to get something done. Whether it’s in blocks of a few hours, or a full day, regardless of if it’s work or relaxation, you will be surprised how productive you are with the time you do have when you know it may be limited or look different than usual. And, again, for those who may not have a family at home, make an effort to do simple tasks like taking a shower, changing clothing, cooking a meal, calling a friend, or writing a letter. Now, more than ever, you need to keep intentional connection, and definitely avoid the default of using social scrolling as a form of community. And, even more importantly, use those connections to help you avoid completely drowning in the bombarding fear and stress of what you may hear/see in the media.
With that, also know when to completely step away for the day (whether work or school activities). For the family, consider maintaining or creating a family hour where you read, sing, play, or connect together. And, send lots of pictures to grandparents, too, who may (whether unintentionally or intentionally) not be able to see the grandkids for an extended amount of time. This will help everyone. Once the kids go to bed or your “workday” is done, choose to give yourself an hour or two to just relax. Make a candlelit dinner, sit quietly, journal, pray, just de-stress. This moment to decompress is essential for staying resilient, preserving and creating mental well-being, and establishing positive habits that are especially crucial during these moments.
You are valuable. You are important. You can thrive.
Some of you may be saying, I don’t have a job that gives me the liberty to work from home, or maybe even more difficult, I no longer have a job because of this crisis. As a word of encouragement, you can do this. You are important. Your life has value and meaning, even if how you used to define yourself may not be the same. Now is the time to start learning a new skill or trade. Read that book, listen to that podcast, or watch that instructional video you’ve been putting off for so long. Virtually take language courses. Find opportunities to affirm yourself, as well as encourage others, as I personally have found that when I can uplift someone else, it actually helps me stay positive as well.
And most importantly, for all of us, remember to breathe. Some days may go smoother than others, and you’re excited with the flow. Some days may feel like pure chaos. Just know that you’re alive, your family is together, you’re (hopefully) in safe space, and you’re creating new memories and habits that could be the best thing that ever happened to you. And if you need help, please, reach out to someone. Because, we are all going to need support at one point or another, and now is the time, as a society, that we can choose to be a source of hope and inspiration for each other.