Balancing Work and Family During a Pandemic
By Nicole M. Young, MSW
I’ve been working from home for nearly 20 years, so when COVID-19 turned life upside down, I was already familiar with the joys of working in sweatpants all day and rarely having to commute. My kids and husband had (sort-of) learned that if they could see or hear me working in my office but still asked, “What can I have to eat?” then they would probably get a sarcastic (but still loving!) response from me. That doesn’t mean I’d figured out a healthy work-life balance before the pandemic, though, and somehow I’ve managed to blur those lines even more during the pandemic. Sound familiar, anyone?
Dear Nicole, I’m completely worn down. Before COVID, I handled multiple responsibilities – work, helping with homework, housework, grocery shopping, etc. I was exhausted and thought it couldn’t get any harder, but I was wrong! My partner and I both work two jobs – one job away from home and one at home, so one of us is always there with our kids (6, 10, and 14 years old). I’m constantly working or doing things for my family but feel like I’m always falling behind or failing at work and home. I hate feeling this stressed and overwhelmed. Help! Isabel
Dear Isabel, I hear you! And I know many parents and caregivers have had similar feelings and experiences this past year, too. Here are some tips to try: Take care of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Taking care of yourself is one of the five Triple P principles of positive parenting. Think of self-care as a responsibility that helps you be a better parent, partner, friend, and employee instead of viewing it as a luxury that can wait. Take a walk, talk to someone, read, or do another activity you enjoy. If it feels like you don’t have any spare time (or you never get a minute alone), try to build in brief moments of mindfulness throughout the day. For example, before you start working, pause for one minute, close your eyes, slowly take a few deep breaths, then tell yourself something positive, like “I can do this,” or “One step at a time.” Do this again when you transition from one job to the next or when you transition from “work time” to “family time.”
Have realistic expectations. This is another principle of positive parenting. Many parents and caregivers set unrealistically high expectations for themselves – always stay calm under pressure, always make “the right” decisions (i.e. that other people would approve of), always anticipate and resolve every family member’s needs, always be on time or ahead of schedule at work and home, and so on.
These unrealistic expectations are impossible to meet, which causes parents to feel guilty, frustrated, angry, or ashamed that they’re “failing.” While it’s helpful to have goals and aspirations for positive parenting, it’s also important to remember there’s no such thing as a perfect parent (or child). Give yourself and your family permission to aim for “good enough.”
Review how you spend your time when you’re not working one of your jobs. If you spend that time doing chores instead of something you enjoy, ask yourself if anything can be delayed (or done less frequently). Better yet, hold a family meeting about sharing the responsibility for having a clean, safe place to live and then teach your kids to be independent and help with cooking, cleaning, and other chores.
Create a clear separation between “work time” and “family time.” This can be hard for parents and caregivers who work from home, especially when children are doing remote learning. Talk with your family to help them understand when it’s OK to interrupt you and when they need to wait or find another way to get their needs met. You might also find it helpful to set some “rules” or boundaries for yourself – like stopping work at a certain time of day (even if your work is unfinished) or keeping certain areas of your living space “work-free” so that you aren’t reminded of work everywhere you go.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Everyone’s idea of work-family “balance” is different, and I don’t know anyone who has it all figured out. But it’s important to keep trying – pandemic or not – for your own well-being and your family’s.
This monthly article provides tips for families raising children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 17 and 20, who also manages Santa Cruz County’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, the world’s leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, http://www.facebook.com/triplepscc or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or email@example.com.