During the pandemic I have worked very closely with a number of parents who had to work from home while having their children around.
Although the world has started to open up again a lot of us have still not returned to our usual places or routines of work. Maybe we work for an employer who has realised that we can do our work from home just as well as going into the workplace and save on office space and commuting time. Others (like myself) are self-employed and during the lockdown had to move their business online working from home and will perhaps continue that model, on a full or part time basis.
Working from home comes with benefits and challenges. We don’t have to travel, so there is more time to do what really matters, and save money. But it is not always easy to adjust to this new way of working. When I support parents working from home I share some simple but powerful tools with them to make sure the benefits outweigh the downsides. And that means planning and preparing.
Challenges that parents experience:
- They felt they got nothing done properly because they were always multitasking,e. supporting kids with homework while working on a document. Doing laundry in their ‘lunch break’ etc.
- When working from home parents often felt they never got any time off – with household chores, looking after the kids plus their various projects and tasks for work all having to be done at home.
- They often felt that their job was not taken seriously while they were at home. When they didn’t have to put on work clothes and actually GO to work they found that their partner, kids and friends would ask for small favours during the day. Or drop in for a chat. Or when the kids were sick they ended up looking after the kids as well – since they were at home anyway!
- But parents also interrupted themselves. Either physically – doing household chores, watching television, scrolling on social media and getting distracted; or mentally – thinking about everything that needs to be done in the house, with the kids, work and various worries that would pop into their head during the day.
The result of all the above meant that parents felt stressed and less productive in all aspects of their life. They often let their emotions hijack their actions and thoughts and ended up ‘losing it’ more easily, which they would later regret. They felt guilty most of the time because even though they had the kids around them all the time they were not spending the right kind of time with them; they simply didn’t have the time or the energy. And they felt their work was suffering too because they couldn’t give it as much focused attention as it required.
So, what can we do:
- Communicate with family – work with your ‘team’:
- We need our ‘team’ (family) behind us to make working from home work!
- Have weekly family chats where you create a structure of teamwork and co-operation. Talk about your new work/life structure and what working from home looks like. Explain what you have to do and the expectations from work. Talk about how you need them to support you, respect and accept your new working life setup. You can talk about your boundaries and how you plan to manage this: ‘I will be in my office from xx until xx and I would really appreciate it if no one comes in. In return I promise to leave my work in my workspace and not attend to it when we are together’. CLICK here to read about ‘how to set up a family meeting’.
- Set boundaries:
- If you feel that your work time and space is not being respected you can communicate with those around you in a way that sits well with you and your values and still respects the receiver (child, partner, family or friends).
- ‘I thought we agreed that xx and I really hope we can keep to that. I feel that when my work hours and space are respected then I am a better parent (partner, friend) to you.’
- When people ask you for something you can say NO in a respectful way i.e., ‘Thank you for asking me out for a coffee, I would love to, can we do that on Friday afternoon when it’s my time off?’. Or, ‘Of course I will help you, right now I have to finish this work, but I can do it at 4 o’clock when I close the computer’. Learn to say no, successfully and guilt free.
- Set your timer:
- While we can’t make more time in the day, we can choose how we spend it:
- Agree with yourself (and write it down) when you will be working, doing household jobs, with family and attending to your own needs (self-care).
- Be strict with your time: once you have done this try to allow yourself to give each task your full attention, where your mind is full of what you are doing in the here and now. When working, allow yourself to be 100% focused, the rest is scheduled for later. When with your child, give him/her your full focus which sends a signal that he/she is the most important thing in your life, right now.
- If you get distracted: physically or mentally, STOP and BREATHE and have a re-think. Write down what just popped into your mind (call school, laundry, send an email etc.). Add it to your planner for when you will attend to it and go back to what you need to do right now. Try to let it go, knowing that you will come back to it and get it done later.
When you start taking charge of your ‘working from home’ life you will find that you become more productive and feel much more satisfied knowing that you have done a great job with work, not stressed out over household chores, given your kids the time and attention they crave AND even had time to sit and chill with a cup of tea. Which means less guilt.
You will start feeling more measured and less stressed which gives you time to pause and think about how to respond to any challenges in your life. You will be more open to listening, understanding and problem solving instead of resorting to anger, shaming or telling off and you can be proud of raising a family based around co-operation and team. Home becomes a nicer place to be.
Right now, you might feel that your new working life is challenging. But something that the pandemic has taught us all is that we DO have the ability to adapt to new situations, and what was normal before doesn’t have to remain ‘as is’ for life to work well.
Control what you can and accept the rest.
Mette Theilmann from Predictable Parenting