As the parents of two school-aged children, my wife and I have joined the legions of parents, guardians and other family members across the country who are adapting to the new job title of “educator.” Like many of you, I am learning how to take on this new role while also working from home.
Our routines and structures have been upended as our children have shifted from a “stay-at-home” model to a “learn at home for the rest of the school year” model. It’s been messy and challenging, and we’ve certainly seen our fair share of outbursts and emotions in recent weeks.
We worry they’re getting too much screen time, we feel guilty we’re not spending enough quality time with them, and we struggle with the possible long-term effects this time might have on their health, learning and well-being. I also acknowledge my privilege during this pandemic—we are a two-mom household, which means there are two of us to share the load. And frankly, my wife carries most of it, as she has paused her small business for the time being.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I think about how different parenting might be for other mothers during this time: mothers who are working on the front lines to save our communities, single mothers who are navigating this without a spouse or partner, mothers who are taking care of their own mothers, mothers who are experiencing job loss in the wake of COVID-19, expecting mothers, and more. As a nurse in Michigan recently shared, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.”
I don’t have a perfect solution for us, but I have found that my leadership and well-being experience, as well as the resources provided by my company, PwC, has helped prepare our family in ways we never expected. But you don’t have to have the same professional background to reap the benefits—it’s about finding the empathy, compassion and resilience to get through this.
Here are a few suggestions from our family to yours:
Embrace emotional literacy.
Emotional literacy is a prerequisite to empathy: we should be able to identify and talk about our own emotions in order to understand what someone else might be feeling and then help suggest strategies to consider. Children often have stronger emotional literacy than adults because they are naturally in touch with their emotions from a young age and have not yet been conditioned to hide or bury their feelings. Our children’s school teaches the RULER program, an evidence-based approach that teaches the skills of emotional intelligence, developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. We apply the RULER’s mood meter at home (recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating emotions) to encourage our children to be aware of and communicate how they feel. (My wife and I even find ourselves using it too.)
Once we start embracing our emotions and learning to communicate them, empathy will often begin to come naturally. Empathy helps allow you and your children to connect with each other on a deeper level, helping them become more aware, helpful and involved. Empathizing with others can also improve your ability to regulate your emotions during times of stress. While these traits are valuable anytime, they’re especially important right now as we find ourselves more connected to and reliant on the world around us to survive.
Approach each day from a place of possibility.
If you say you can’t, you likely won’t. Positive psychology and positive thinking, even—and especially—in the midst of a global crisis, can help promote resilience. In our house, we try to approach things from a place of “what is possible?” I know it’s not possible for me to perform at 100 percent in every aspect of my life at the same moment. To balance working and parenting from home these days, I compartmentalize my workload into focused work sprints. This makes it possible for me to take dedicated breaks to get up, walk around, and spend time with my family. By organizing my time and energy in this way, I find I’m more present and available to my colleagues during the work sprints and more present and available to my children during the breaks. It also helps me feel like I don’t have to do everything at the same time really well. Some days will be better than others—and that’s OK. Approach possibility with a balance of reality, optimism and acceptance, and practice open communication of your current situation with those around you—both at work and at home.
Be compassionate with yourself and each other.
We don’t always get it right and there’s a lot of frustration wrapped up into that. I find myself feeling guilty about the increased amount of screen time my kids are getting and sometimes, the decreased amount of time I’m giving them. On a personal well-being level, there are times I find myself sitting for three hours straight—I know that isn’t ideal, but sometimes it happens anyway. I acknowledge it, remind myself it’s OK, and where possible, I take steps to reduce the chance that it will happen again. I encourage us to try to practice this every day.
For far too long, we have discounted how profoundly our emotions dictate how we show up—in our relationships, at work, at home, in our communities. We haven’t paid attention to how and where we embody those emotions, and now, it’s finally getting some much-needed sunlight.
To my fellow mothers and parents out there, I know things are hard right now. I encourage you to reach out to friends, family and colleagues when you can and know that this is the time for connection and community. We can have meaningful connections without seeing each other in person, and we can still build community while practicing physical distancing. When we remember that everyone is going through their version of this storm and we’re compassionate with ourselves and each other, we unite and we forge a path forward together.