Parent Perspective —or lack thereof— from a full-time working Mom who’s also trying to facilitate distance learning.
As I’ve reflected over the last month of our new normal, I’m realizing more and more that lately I feel like I’m a parent of a newborn again. My work hours are completely messed up, and I can barely see up from down. It’s no longer a 9-5 workday. It’s more like school until 10:30 a.m., trade off with my husband, work, meeting, kid interrupts meeting with a tantrum, break for time with kids, work again, kid bursts into a meeting letting me and everyone else know—since I was not quick enough on the mute “trigger”—that he has to go to the potty. Some days I shower; some days I don’t. I put makeup and a work shirt on, but my pants are definitely comfy and yoga-like in nature and quite possibly have stains on them. Then dinner, some games outside, bedtime for the kids, and back to work until later than I want to admit. Rinse and repeat.
I’ll confess, I have not found balance yet. And every time I feel like I’m close to a new routine or to reaching some type of balance, just like a newborn who is now a month old and showcasing a super-cool new skill like holding his or her head up, this new environment gives me new tricks, schedules, emotions or technologies I have to adjust to.
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Parent Perspective: I Will Admit The Following
- I’m trying to be patient, but I have definitely lost my cool more than once. And sometimes, while on Zoom meetings, I manage to put myself on mute and keep my face in check while telling my kid, “No, it’s not ok to punch your brother in the face,” or, “35 minus 28 is seven.”
- I am trying to find work and home life balance, but I have most definitely not mastered that yet. Just this evening, when it was my turn to count for hide-and-seek, my daughter caught me on the phone and said, “You’re always attached to that device!” Frankly, I thought I was being clever in my multitasking when she was supposed to be hiding! Or there was the other night when I listened to an incredible tele-townhall for parents and educators grappling with COVID-19 stress wearing my sound-reducing headphones while having my kids prep the Tuesday night tacos.
- I am trying to get dressed for work even if I’m in my comfy pants (let’s be honest, we will all miss the comfy pants), but some days it just does not happen. I have mastered the business mullet, which is business up top and comfy pants or shorts on the bottom. Even my son got into the act.
The mom guilt is off-the-charts. I thought the guilt was bad as a BCV (Before Coronavirus) working parent when I would leave work slightly early, then sit in traffic and barely get to my kid’s practice on time. And, as if it couldn’t be any worse, there is this thing called social media—Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest—where families across the country used to share the perfect school lunches or activities. Now social media is filled with everyone’s shared challenges and success stories about what is working or not working, but most posts are making me feel even more inadequate. Then again, there are posts like this one that make me want to jump through my computer, say goodbye to social distancing, and give a great big virtual hug to the author.
But more than anything, I am trying to be ok with not being perfect (because clearly I was perfect before March 13, when the world decided to flip upside down; I’m embracing my cognitive dissonance and hindsight bias here). Just like a new parent, I feel like I’m being pulled in a million different directions. It’s like having “pregnancy brain” all over again.
So when I was asked to share thoughts and ideas on parenting and working, needless to say, I had my own mini panic attack that no one could see (thank you, new teleworking environment), because I barely felt like I was keeping my own family together. Then again, I also realized that sharing my struggles and lessons learned is just as important as sharing my successes. This is hard. It’s ok to say it’s hard. There is nothing normal about what we’re doing right now.
One thing I’ve learned is how critical it is to take some time for yourself. Taking time for yourself is even more challenging when you’re pulled in so many directions with family at home and working remotely. However, I try to go for walks or runs when I can, or sometimes I do a workout at home that my daughter tries to join. There are so many gyms and fitness organizations posting recorded or live workouts. Side note: if you have a favorite, share it in the comment section below.
Parent Perspective: Addresing Mental Health Concerns
I also know that the mental health of my kids is critical right now. Our kids, well past the potty-trained age, have had a series of bed-wetting nights that we haven’t experienced in a long time. While they express the range of normal kid emotions from goofiness to complete meltdowns, I know this new situation is taking a stressful toll on them, and they don’t know how to express it.
The AFT and the National PTA recently did a telephone town hall on dealing with stress related to COVID-19 and had some great perspectives for parents and teachers. Psychologist Arthur Evans shared some signs of child stress, including:
- Disturbances or changes in eating and sleep
- Acting out
- Sudden change in academic reports
I’ll be honest, we checked almost all of these boxes. Our kids are stressed. And while I hate to admit that truth to you, I am also grateful to be able to understand their changed behavior and how I am contributing. It helped me realize that I needed to shift my behavior. We were so focused on surviving, working, getting the job done, making sure learning was happening, that we sometimes forgot the most important thing: having fun. We changed our mornings to begin with yoga, walks around the block or exercise with Moe Jones before transitioning into school time. We also get into fun battles using Alexa’s Trivia Hero, which is a little easier for a younger crowd. At some point during the day, the kids work in the room with me while I’m on calls or doing work. I used to be horrified by the kid interruption, but now I embrace it. It was only weeks ago that it was frowned upon for your kid to join your work meeting. At least for now, it’s accepted. I hope this new nugget of normal never changes.
In the evenings, I love the time I get to sit outside and enjoy the sunset (see above), play Uno or hide-and-seek. We are no longer rushing off to various commitments or sporting events. Our daughter learned to ride her bike—an accomplishment I attribute to the gift of time. We now have dinner together at the dining room table almost every night, rather than one or two nights a week. We cook more together and have made it a family affair. We eat outside together when the weather is nice. We order from our local restaurants, which we can’t wait to patronize again in person. Though our kids are definitely more clingy right now and are missing their friends a ton, I am also enjoying watching their creativity and imagination come to life.
Remember that saying, that women, or anyone really, should lean in? I say, you’re right, but let’s also lean back, lean left or right or in whatever darn direction you want. It’s all ok. Let’s give ourselves permission to fail and try again. No one expects us to be perfect. Let’s stop putting that pressure on ourselves.
Let me also say that I work for an incredibly understanding and compassionate organization, the American Federation of Teachers, which could not be more supportive during this time. In response to the coronavirus, the AFT has led from the beginning, offering resources on COVID-19 since January, and it fights every day for the respect, benefits and safety of our members. That’s what a national union does and can do. I challenge you to watch these two videos without tearing up:
Finally, I know that teachers are doing everything they can to engage kids right now. And more than that, they will be there with open arms when schools reopen. There is no possible way I can ever replace them, nor do I want to. Our kids will be ok if we, as adults, are ok.
Have a story to tell and some lessons learned? Let us know at [email protected]. We would love to feature you in our next blog.
- Check out Kelly's last blog on adjusting to the new normal here.