I work from home. I also have four kids, spanning a ten-year range. All of them are home. All of them are in my working space.
I’m sure many of you relate. Almost all of us are working from home in this new (and hopefully temporary) normal. Likely our partners are too. Maybe even an adult child.
And we’re struggling because not only do we have to adapt to doing our jobs virtually, we’re also having to deal with children who are home from daycares, schools and colleges. A friend called me to say she was going crazy with the never-ending needs of her bubbly two-year old, now that grandparents, baby sitters, or other support systems were no longer there.
It’s something few of us were prepared for. And it’s natural we’re finding it hard to cope. In fact, it sometimes feels we’re going through stages of grief when we lose someone dear. In this case, we’ve lost something dear to us, our independence. There’s denial, anger, depression, and bargaining, where we’re doing the same things and expecting different results. None of that is helping either.
I want to share what’s been working for me thus far, hoping it’ll help you too.
Change your Mindset
The catalyst for change is acceptance (the final stage of grief). The longer you try and control how the world works, the longer you’ll stay stuck and frustrated. The reality is that we don’t know how long the current situation will last. We don’t know whether a new way of life will evolve out of this once the virus is over. When things are so uncertain, all we can really control is how we respond. I once read somewhere that it helps to think that you chose this situation. It gives you an incredible feeling of power, and you move into creative thinking and positive action. So decide this moment to not let yourself be a victim of your circumstances. You’ve faced challenges before and you’ve survived them. What helped you? What strengths can you shore up right now? What expectations will you let go of?
Have a Routine
I’m a bit obsessive about routine in general. But in these circumstances, it’s been my greatest savior. In the first few days of being homebound, there was so much we were all dealing with that routine was the last thing anyone thought about. But even once the realization of a new normal settled in, the kids (between complaining and fighting) continued to lounge around in their pajamas, stay up late and sleep in until they were dragged out of bed. I eventually set the ground rules, with some flexibility to do things their way, especially for the older ones. Each one was assigned chores, they had study hours, and they needed to change out of their pjs in the morning. That’s my pet peeve, not a general rule! This was HUGE; I helped me know what to expect (really important when so much else is out of our control). And it made them more responsible and productive, which makes everyone feel good.
Give Them Passion Projects
Until the schools and colleges figure out online learning in a way that actually gets the children studying seriously, you’ll need to bend your rules and take their academic education a little less seriously. I’ve had clients who are driving themselves insane trying to home school their children. My advice: Step back. Believe me, they’ll be fine. And you’ll save yourself a lot of needless headache. Instead, involve them in things they’re passionate about. Help them identify their passions if they (or you) don’t know what they are. What have they always wanted to do and never found time for? Where do their interests generally lie, and what skills can they learn in that field? Not only will they be engaged and motivated, they’ll also stay out of your hair — after all you have enough on your plate as is.
Release that Excess Energy
Being home all the time means that the excess energy children have is going to boil over in needless fighting, blaming and teasing, all of which can be even harder to manage if you’re living in a small space. Last week, I had to take a coaching call in my bathroom because of a yelling match between my two daughters that erupted seconds before my call. That’s when I realized that I needed to tire them out somehow. Now, our daily routine also includes half an hour of exercise at the very minimum. My older ones have their own exercise videos depending on what they like to do, but me and my youngest exercise together. It’s fun, it holds us both accountable, and it’s a wonderful way to spend time together, something we don’t do often enough when we’re rushing around in our busy and individualistic lives.
When schools, colleges and workplaces shut down last week, all I heard in the house were complaints and negativity: “This is so unfair!”, “I can’t do this, I need my friends!”. And this was further perpetuated online with everyone talking about how they were losing their minds. I had to finally intervene and ask them to look at the silver lining. What were the things they were grateful for? What did they have that others didn’t? What opportunities to contribute could they harness in this crisis? It took a couple of days (because mommy is well, mommy), but soon enough, a sense of calm and acceptance dawned over them. They realized that we could be out of certain supplies and were still far more comfortable than billions of others. They called their grandparents without being asked, and took responsibility for social distancing because they realized everything wasn’t about them. They were more forgiving of each other, I heard more laughter, and saw them spend more time playing board games than sulking on their phones.
This one is for all you mothers out there! Because it’s the one most of us struggle with. As women, we can tend to have a strong inner critic, that sets extremely high standards for us, and invariably finds fault in everything we do. If it wasn’t loud enough before COVID-19, mine found renewed energy as chaos descended in the house. I was no longer “perfect”, and so I was “failing”, never mind the fact that perfection is near impossible when getting through the day can be a struggle. Luckily, I remembered that arguing with an inner critic is pretty pointless. What works is having self-compassion. So when you’re beating yourself up for not having it all together, step in and smile at yourself. Give yourself the gentle hug you need, and pat yourself on the back for the literal acrobatics you go through every day to make run as normally as possible. You need yourself more than ever right now.
Be a Leader
We always knew that kids do as we do, not as we say. And this couldn’t be truer than right now given we’re before their eyes all the time, literally. So lead by example. As mothers, sisters, daughters, managers and friends, we’re called to be leaders in this moment of crisis. Much like the women who keep things running smoothly at home when the men go to war. What’s the greatest change you’ll make? Will you be more positive, so you set the tone and mood in the house? Will you talk about your contributions and encourage them to think about theirs? Will you show greater acceptance of negative emotions, and talk through them, so they know they’re allowed to feel the way they do? Will you show gratitude by talking about the challenges many others may be going through — children with special needs, sick parents, job loss.
Here’s the beautiful quote from author and poet Clarissa Estes that I’ve printed and put up on our fridge: “Do not lose heart, we were made for these times.” Maybe you’ll want to do the same!
I invite you to join me and thousands of other women on a 10-day resilience building journey, where I’ll be sending you one resilience building strategy every day, so we grow through this challenge and come our stronger. Its free, please sign up!