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Dear Working Parents, Now is the Time to Do Less, Not More

Dear Working Parents Everywhere,

We are on the fast track to burnout.

We cannot do all the things being asked of us:

  • Continuing to meet work deadlines set before #coronavirus or pivoting the services of our small businesses.

  • Homeschooling – often multiple kids also adjusting to seismic shifts in their routines and learning.

  • Managing the stress of a global pandemic – like quarantine, social distancing, shelter in place mandates, the inability to find the basics like toilet paper in our grocery stores, and, dear Lord, the shuttering of liquor stores.

In this moment, we must intentionally choose to DO LESS, not more.

Take a moment… because that is a hard pill to swallow. We are not accustomed to valuing less. In our society, more = better. We covet productivity – always desiring to achieve more in less time.

But if we’ve learned anything from the last few days, this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

We each need to come to grips with a harsh truth – we cannot realistically work from home with kids around and function exactly the same way we did in the office or when we had steady childcare (at least not without some massive tradeoffs to our sleep and sanity).

In other words, do not be a freakin’ martyr.

We also do not need society to gaslight us with the latest mutation of the pernicious myth that we can “have it all.” We are not inventing calculus while in quarantine. Stop. The. Madness. (Personally, I *barely* made it through helping my kid with surface area and mixed fractions this morning.)

So how can you do less in this moment?

1. Go back to the basics

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Tend to those foundational practices at the bottom of the pyramid – physiological, safety, and love/belonging – first.

  • Make sure you and your family members are all getting enough sleep, water, healthy food, and movement each day.

  • Create a warm environment with lots of hugs, reassurance, and time to adjust. In our house, this has taken the form of lots of snuggles, outdoor time, and meditation (with the Peloton Meditation app – which is free for 90 days). (It’s also meant, pardon the expletives, I bitch a lot less about stupid little shit like candy wrappers left in the basement. #sorryMom)

  • Keep a pulse on everyone’s mental health. My oldest – who thrives on routine – is taking social distancing particularly hard. Validating all those emotions is important.

  • Bring some loose structure and routine to each day so you and your kids know what to expect. We hold tight to wake up, mealtimes, and bedtime. Everything else is up for grabs depending on how we’re doing.

  • Continue to foster connections with those you love and care about – albeit from a safe distance through technology.

Unless and until these basic needs are met, work and online learning don’t have a shot. Focus on the basics first (some people call this self-care).

2. Lower your expectations

Stop trying to google how to make everything work smoothly in this environment. You cannot. There are no secret hacks for this shit. It’s hard. Accept that and proceed accordingly to:

  • Identify and prioritize the most essential things you need to make happen (see #1).

  • Cancel or postpone everything else. For real.

  • Communicate your intention to do only what is top priority for the foreseeable future to everyone who matters.

  • Learn to accept good enough on the trivial tasks. A C+ effort is just fine when it comes to something like vacuuming.

  • Limit your exposure to people and social media accounts that make you feel like you’re not doing “enough.”

This will undoubtedly mean you must say NO to some things that you might be doing out of habit or simply to please others. For women, saying no is often especially difficult. If your mental health in a global pandemic isn’t a good enough excuse to bow out of something now, what is?

Give yourself some grace. My kids have spent at least 5 hours (and counting) today watching questionable content on electronics and we’re still hours from dinner.

3. Remind yourself that learning comes in many forms

Lord, if coronavirus doesn’t kill me, distance learning will. Seriously. The technology can be clunky. We don’t know if we submitted it correctly. I’m trying to get my own work done at the same time. There’s no need to replicate school at home.


Remember that learning does not equal formal education. Learning also comes from:

  • Reading comic books

  • Playing board games

  • Building with Legos and blocks

  • Drawing and coloring

  • Playing in the dirt

  • Cooking a meal

  • Doing chores

  • Experiencing boredom

  • So many other things

Try to stop worrying if you’re doing homeschooling “right” and why your kid won’t sit still. There is no one right way. As long as they are not bleeding, burning, or barfing, it will be okay.

Finally, as a working parent, you may also be a leader of other people in your organization.

I encourage you to consider how you can bring the mantra of Do Less to your team too. We are all struggling in our own ways with the newness and uncertainty of this situation. Let’s not sugarcoat it.

In practice, this might look like:

  • Trimming your organizational or team priorities to 1-2 maximum or asking for clarity from senior leadership on top priorities. This will reflect the reality of what can feasibly get done in these next few weeks and months.

  • Helping staff prioritize their most essential work tasks.

  • Canceling nonessential meetings, shortening them, or changing their frequency.

  • Using some of your existing meeting time for “nonwork” connecting to check-in on how everyone is doing.

  • Ditching the expectation that employees be available 24/7/365 – a response in 24 hours is reasonable.

  • Putting a moratorium on performance evaluations. No one needs to waste time on preparing evaluations at the moment. Consider in-the-moment coaching instead.

  • Setting organization-wide criteria to filter any new requests or opportunities. If your bandwidth is stretched already, carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of adding even more.

This is a challenging time for all of us, but it’s also an opportunity to simplify and focus our energy on the few people and things that matter most. I know it goes against all our normal tendencies, but what about this situation is normal?

So let’s all make a pact to drop the pretense and be realistic, with each other and ourselves.


Danielle @workingparentsguide

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