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Parents Working at Home are Experimental Leaders

With kids at home, we are in new territory and we are trying new experiments every day at home. COVID 19 is increasing and this week many people started working at home. At the same time students all over North America got sent home for 2-3 week (although I wonder if it will be much […]

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With kids at home, we are in new territory and we are trying new experiments every day at home.

COVID 19 is increasing and this week many people started working at home. At the same time students all over North America got sent home for 2-3 week (although I wonder if it will be much longer). We are self-isolating, obsessively trolling stores to find food and  maybe toilet paper, we are staying home, cooking food, and binge watching Netflix while we constantly look to see what is happening with the virus. I have been feeling particularly overwhelmed the last couple of days and after a couple of calls today with clients and partners, I started to understand why. One Microsoft executive I was coaching got called by her 5 year old to kill a spider. “Wait a minute honey,” she said, “I have to choose my weapon.”  I watched another frazzled mom move outside for a conference call to avoid her children. “I have to move into the sun,” she explained, “I’m getting cold.” 

Try a new experiment each day.

As we work at home, we are also being asked to meet the social and emotional needs of our children, make decisions about risk assessment as we leave to hunt food, and to deliver interesting curriculum to our children while simultaneously working our full-time job. And it is feeling pretty rough. We have become experimental leaders all over the place. 

First of all, our children are home. I adore my kids and mostly they have interesting lives. One is a chef (she is 27 years old), and I have twin boys who will be 15 next week. They are competitive athletes, one is also part of an international touring choir, and they are usually scheduled most of their waking moments. They are driven kids. They have friends and connect with them at school, sports, and choir many times each week. Last Wednesday, they headed off to swim training camp in Florida for an annual camp that gets them in tip-top shape for the rest of their season. By Friday they were told to book the first flight back home and to self-isolate for 14 days when they got home. School was cancelled, choir was cancelled and the choir trip to New Zealand in July was cancelled. With no notice, all the meaning was ripped out of their very happy lives. My son actually says, “Then, all the joy was ripped out of my heart…” My daughter, who has been working in the same cool French restaurant for over 3 years first had her hours cut and then they were ordered to close. Her income dropped to zero overnight.  I have been trying to help all of them sense-make out of this time. As coach, I have been helping my clients work to find fulfillment for over 20 years, and my husband is a developmental psychologist. Between us, we have some experience in helping people and kids succeed. We have been focusing on keeping a clear and consistent schedule, finding tasks that increase long term skills, and asking our kids to participate in creating lasting work. These are the things I think will make a difference in these uncertain times. 

About an hour after I got home from the airport on Sunday, we called a family meeting to make sure everyone can see “the schedule” We have used this schedule for years to get our kids to activities but they haven’t used it much. We made sure they can both see it. We asked for input about what is important for the next 3 weeks. I personally think it will be much longer than three weeks, but they can’t process that right now. My husband and I have been wanting to do PSAT/SAT prep with them but haven’t been able to find the time in their busy schedules. This appears to be a great time to work on this. Before the meeting, my husband and I agreed to focus on that because it covers multiple subjects, it isn’t busy-work, and it is meaningful and relevant because it could help them get into a good university–it is relevant. We have scheduled 2 hours/ day for this and my husband (a professor) is gathering the curriculum. We have added 45 minutes each day for music. One guy plays piano and usually practice 15-20 minutes, the other is a singer and he is singing 45 minutes a day. I have added in some creative collaboration for an hour a day. We made and recorded some puppet shows this week. They don’t really love it, but it gives them some work they have produced and something to show for their time. I feel like producing good work is part of the fulfillment process. On Tuesday, it hit one of my kids that everything he cared about is gone. We have been working to help him th create meaning for himself again. Learning for its own sake is good, but better to work toward a goal. Creativity is interesting, but producing something to share is helpful for social beings. And following a schedule is something we have all agreed to because it is one thing that can be certain in an uncertain world.

I know people are trying to figure out how to be the be they can be at both work and parenting. These are uncertain times.

Here’s my tips for going forward:

1. Start with a target condition. Know loosely what you want to accomplish. Try making a schedule for each day. You can make changes tomorrow. Makes a plan and stick to it. Collect data. What needs to change tomorrow. A good target condition might be 2 hours of fun learning each day. 

2. Start with a quick prototype. Figure out how to start as simply and quickly as you possibly can. What can you put in place quickly without a lot of planning and preparation. Homeschooling guidelines are usually far less than school hours. Experiment with trying to get your kids to plan their own learning.

3. Do the best you can. Measure. Re-evaluate. Plan a new experiment.

If you experiment with parking your kids in front of the TV to watch hours of the muppets, because that is the best decision you can make, be grateful for the TV.  Be gentle with yourself. If it doesn’t work, collect data, and figure out the next experiment you want to try tomorrow. Nothing is forever. Look to improve your plans and improve execution a little bit at a time.

4. Count your successes and celebrate them. Be proud of what you accomplish. It is the fuel for tomorrow’s experiments.

5. Turn to gratitude. When things feel really dark, the most effective thing you can do it to make a list of 10 things you are grateful for. Feel the gratitude in your soul. It will help you heal.

These are uncertain times. Taking on an experimental mindset will help you approach the next few weeks with intention. You won’t get it perfect–getting it perfect isn’t even the goal. You want to move through this time in the best way you possibly can. It may not be pretty but I believe it will be memorable. 

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