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3 Questions to Simplify Working Parent Life (Quarantine Edition)

Dear Working Parents,

Let me say it again in case you missed my last post: We are on the fast track to burnout.

In most cities, we’re on week 3 of quarantine and homeschooling with at least another month ahead. In New York, schools have been ordered to cancel Spring Break and continue remote learning. Some have even floated the idea of keeping school open through the summer months.

How are you holding up? Because I’m f*cking exhausted just thinking about it. (#sorryMom)

We have got to come to grips with this new reality and start preparing for the long haul. We cannot continue to function the way we've survived these last three weeks.

Let's admit to each other - and ourselves - that for the foreseeable future, we will have:

1) Less “productive” time

Eight straight hours focused exclusively on work is no longer realistic. A patchwork of 4-5 hours cobbled together between naps, iPad time, switching with partners, etc. is about as good as it’s going to get if you’re in a dual-income household. And that’s on a great day.

2) Less certainty about our days than we’re used to

Variables like our partner’s work schedule, our kids’ school work, the weather, the economy, and everyone’s mood will factor into how well – or poorly – your days play out. You never quite know how the day is going to go anymore or when this will end.

3) Less defined boundaries between work and home

I understand boundaries. My three children do not. As much as I try to help them understand Mommy is working, they have 3,037 questions. One has a butt that still needs wiping – always in the middle of a conference call. I’m not sure I’ve been able to form an uninterrupted thought since March 13th. There is always something to do, someone to help, a meal to make, an email to answer, etc. Finding ways to recharge in this environment has never felt more important.

So how can we SIMPLIFY working parent life in quarantine to reflect these new realities?

Start by answering these three key questions:

1) Where will I choose to spend the time I do have?

You now have less “productive” time than usual. Accept that there just are not enough hours in the day to do all the things - work, teach, cook, clean, etc.

Be intentional. Prioritize. Stop overcommitting yourself. Say no. Cancel nonessentials. Give yourself the gift of an uncluttered calendar. Accept good enough. Make memories instead of misery (I’m looking at you homeschooling). Give up have tos and shoulds. Make tradeoffs and choices. In short, DO LESS and do only what matters to you.

For me, at home this means asking: What do I want my family to remember about this time?

For me, at work this means asking: Where are the 1-2 places I can make the biggest contribution to others?

In practice, this has meant:

  • Taking more breaks from work to play outside with the kids on sunny days

  • Prioritizing time for myself – by exercising and connecting with friends

  • Teaching my kids life skills I’ve been meaning to teach them but have been too busy to do – like cooking and baking – at least once a week

  • Paying more attention to everyone’s mental health with daily check-ins

  • Canceling or shortening work meetings to complete more critical work projects instead

  • Making recommendations to colleagues about what we should prioritize and what we should drop right now

  • Not completing certain homeschool assignments – and alerting teachers why

2) What can I control about this situation?

It's likely that life is going to be wildly uncertain for a while. You can only control you and your actions (and reactions). Full stop.

Let me say it again for my friends in the back. You can only control you. That might mean turning off the news or walking out of the room when the kids (or your partner) drive you b-a-n-a-n-a-s. It could mean taking a jog to clear your head. It could mean slowing your spending.

Accept that you cannot singlehandedly flatten the curve, change the weather, or improve the economy, but you can do something – even if it’s simply reframing your thoughts.

Beyond that, try to let everything else go.

For me, at home and at work this means asking: What can I do today that will make me feel like I am in not in the passenger seat?

In practice, this has meant:

  • Planning out my chargeable work as an independent contractor and pursuing new projects to fill the gaps

  • Turning off the news and social media from time to time

  • Writing down three things I am grateful for each day

  • Recognizing when my inner monologue is especially critical and telling it to quiet down

  • Asking for help from others when I am feeling overwhelmed

  • Reminding myself that “This too shall pass”

3) In this context, how might I conserve and renew my energy for the long term?

Listen, this is straight-up exhausting. No doubt about it. My usual tips and tricks – like delegating and dropping tasks – still feel useful, but also less logistically possible now. There are fewer people to delegate the things I hate to at the moment – like a cleaning service. There are fewer people to share the load with the kids – with school closed and usual sitters quarantined too. My husband and I are the teachers, parents, employees, head chefs, toilet paper procurers, and so much more.

Given all that, what can you do each and every day to refill your cup so you’re not on empty at mile 10 of the marathon? Maybe it’s dancing and singing while you make dinner to your favorite showtunes. Maybe it’s ensuring you get some sort of exercise into your day. Maybe it’s watching an episode of Tiger King. Perhaps it’s starting to meditate. Do whatever it is that fuels you.

For me, this means asking: What am I doing solely for me today? How am I taking care of myself?

In practice, this has meant:

  • Committing to some form of physical exercise every single day

  • Having my husband and kids clean up the kitchen after dinner so I can just sit

  • Getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night

  • Watching an episode or two of mindless TV while I fold the laundry

  • Sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea in mid-afternoon and savoring the taste of it

  • Scheduling 1 or 2 virtual wines with friends per week

  • Hiding in the bathroom for a few minutes, when all else fails

We will get through this together. And one of the best things we can do is start simplifying for the long haul.

What are you doing to simplify your life in this moment?



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