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Creating Successful Leaders

Working from home can be a tricky balancing act for anyone. You have to create a routine to stay focused and motivated, set up an office space, and try to create healthy boundaries between work and home. Add parenting into the mix and your balancing act turns into something more like a flying trapeze show that involves juggling fireballs while singing the national anthem. It’s beyond tricky. Sometimes, it feels downright impossible.

But that’s been the story for millions of parents during this pandemic era. For many, having their children return to school last fall was a godsend. It created some semblance of normalcy, some reprieve from the constant need to guide home schooling, provide snacks, breakup spats between siblings, or offer (sometimes much-needed) attention. But things are dicey again, and school district policies are all over the place. Some schools have closed their doors once more, which means parents have to once again split their time between working and babysitting their kids’ Zoom sessions.

I’m well aware that the unpredictability is maddening for working parents. Though my kids are long grown, I’ve talked to many parents of young kids and have read poignant articles about the difficulty of this time. What’s more, women are disproportionately affected by the WFH/parenting balancing act. A McKinsey study found that moms were three times more likely to perform most of the household labor during the pandemic (and 1.5 times more likely to spend 3+ hours on housework or child care EACH day).

So, what’s a working parent to do? I have three main suggestions. These may not be cure-alls, but hopefully they will provide a small amount of relief and sanity to parents who are juggling WFH with child care.

1. Forgive Yourself

Too many of us are perfectionists. In this uncertain time, it’s a good idea to let those perfectionist tendencies slide a bit. You’re not going to win every day, or even most days. Just keeping your head above water is sometimes enough. Maybe you have to eat frozen pizza three nights in a row because you’ve run out of steam to cook a healthy meal. Maybe you have to bribe your kids with more “screen time” than usual.

That’s okay.

Sometimes you have to simply survive until next week and try again. Maybe you’ll have a little more free time or resources then, and you can do a bit better. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, let it go and forgive yourself. We all make mistakes or have bad weeks. Forgive your flaws, be kind to yourself, and instead of dwelling on mistakes, plan for the future.

2. Partner with Others

Though being a WFH parent can feel awfully lonely at times, it doesn’t have to be. Believe it or not, there are many parents all over the nation in a similar position and, guess what, most of them feel isolated and alone too! So, why not partner up?

Reach out to parent friends or connect with parents who live in your neighborhood/apartment building and form a pod. When doing this, it’s helpful to partner with those who are like-minded about pandemic policies; otherwise, a partnership will be difficult. BUT, if you are able to find another family or two to partner with and support each other, that is worth more than gold. You can begin trading responsibilities such as driving the kids to activities, babysitting, tutoring, or even swapping meals. It may not “take a village to raise a child,” but it certainly does help.

3. Schedule “Me Time”

If you’re working at home with kids in the house, you are well aware that it can be extremely difficult to concentrate. Somebody always needs something, and you’re usually the one that hears about it. To help mitigate some of this, it’s helpful to set aside blocks of “me time” in your schedule. This technique likely won’t work with very young children, but it should work with most.

Explain to your kid(s) that when you declare “me time,” that means you need an undisturbed block of time for an hour (or two, if your kids are older or fairly quiet). They should hold off requests, keep noise to a minimum, and respect your boundaries during this time. If you have a door (and your kids are older), you might want to close it to help with your concentration. Then, get to work! Focus on one or two tasks during this block of time and do whatever you can.

If you and your partner are working from home, you might approach “me time” in a different way. Instead of relying on the kids to stay quiet and unattended, you can trade work/parenting duties with your partner. Let the kids know which parent is “on duty” and which parent is working, so they know who to go to in a crisis (or if they need more apple juice!). Regardless of your approach, communication is crucial when it comes to setting aside “me time.”

Parenting during a pandemic is a challenge we’re still trying to wrap our heads around. Things will eventually get better, but for now, simply do your best, communicate clearly, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE. 

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