How to stay sane while juggling work, kids and home-learning: Tips for working parents
As we continue to adjust to a new way of living, parents are now faced with the added challenge of school closures, which means their children are now learning from home. For working parents, this challenge is further compounded, as there is now an expectation to do a full day’s work as well as oversee their child’s schoolwork. Children of different ages present with different needs; very young children, pre-schoolers or require lots of entertaining and do not understand why parents need to work, younger school kids may be more easily distracted and require a lot more supervision with schoolwork, and older adolescents may be concerned about the impact this may have for their grades, especially if they are in their last year of school. Children with special needs will also need additional support.
Most children who usually attend school will be missing their peers, sporting activities and any extra-curricular classes that they usually participate in. Given that many adults are struggling to adjust, we can expect this to be a difficult time for children, as they may not fully grasp the implications of why they are faced with so many limitations. This is a stressful and emotional time for everyone, and for those of you who are apprehensive about the weeks ahead we have put together a few coping strategies:
Reduce your expectations
Regardless of how productive you usually are, remember that these are NOT normal circumstances. Whether you are working full-time or part-time, it is not humanly possible to work your usual hours and provide your child with the same education they would receive at school. Trying to do everything perfectly will lead to frustration and exhaustion, so give yourself a break and accept that you can only do what you can. Remember that everyone is in the same situation and that teachers are not expecting you to do their job for them. A lot of kids will need to catch up when they return to school.
Children also need reduced expectations at this time. While education is important, their emotional health should take priority at this time. Be gentle with yourself and your child. Recognise that this is a difficult time for the whole family and acknowledge what you are all doing well, recognising that you are trying best to get through this.
Being organised and establishing a routine will give your day more structure and help you feel more in control. But keep things simple! Save time where you can, such as making a healthy lunch and snacks in the morning, just as you would on a normal school day. Keep plenty of snacks on hand as many children develop a healthy appetite without the distraction of their friends in the playground. Plan and cook evening meals that you can prepare quickly and easily, ideally family favourites that everyone will eat. Order takeaway or home delivery once a week if you can afford to; this will not only save you time, but you will also feel good about supporting local restaurants.
If your partner is also working from home try to share the load by negotiating a few hours each day where you can work in a quiet space, free from distractions. One partner might start an hour or two earlier, or finish a bit later, to allow one parent to be fully available to help with schoolwork (or other tasks throughout the home) at set times throughout the day. Be careful not to burn the candle at both ends though. Starting at 4am or finishing at midnight is not practical or sustainable.
Prioritise tasks in order of importance and make a list of the essential things you need to achieve each day. You are likely to be more distracted than usual so a visual reminder can be helpful in keeping you on track. While you can expect interruptions throughout the day, scheduling regular breaks for yourself and your child will give you some time to connect with each other. Ideally move to another room/space and do something fun or relaxing like playing a short game or listening/dancing to music. You will also benefit from a break and distraction from work.
Buy yourself as much time as possible
If you have younger children, think creatively about any forms of support you can access during this time. You need all the help you can get! While most grandparents cannot physically provide any form of childcare, they can still engage with your child over the phone or even better read them a story or sing songs with them during a video call. If you normally impose limits on screen time, you may need to loosen the rules a little during this period. Even if you plan to work in the evenings while the kids are in bed, which may be the case for most single parents, you need to be able to get some work during the day otherwise you will burn out quickly. Most kids are happy to play educational computer games or watch a movie, and if this gives you some uninterrupted time to tick a few tasks off your list then you will feel calmer and more productive, which will benefit everyone.
You probably know other working parents who are in a similar position to yourself. While it can be helpful to reach out and support each other, remember that every family will approach things differently and some days will be easier than others. It may look like others have this juggling act under control, but everyone will face different challenges. Comparing yourself to others is not usually helpful. Instead focus your energy on trying to get through this difficult time, put measures in place that work for you and your child, give yourself credit for what you are doing and remember that things will eventually return to normal.
When you are working hard it is important to put incentives in place to reward your efforts. Try to do something nice for yourself each day and make this something you can look forward to. This could be watching an episode of a TV series, reading a book, taking a bath (even better with candles or essential oils), doing an online yoga class, engaging in a hobby such as art or music or calling a good friend.
Finally, it is important to look after your physical and emotional health by eating well, exercising several times a week and getting enough sleep. By taking care of yourself you will have more energy for all the other demands in your life.