7 Tips to Help Working Parents During the Evolving Pandemic
To say the last two years has been a lot is an understatement. And for many of us, we’re (still) learning to adapt, and cope, with this “new normal.” As a parent of three myself, I am also working on adapting to all of this.
It looks like the coronavirus is moving from a worldwide pandemic to hopefully a maintained endemic with possible new variants of different strains, as well as predictable seasonal and occasional spikes.
At the moment, at least in California, we see many restrictions beginning to ease and while that may bring some relief, the lasting impact of the accumulative stress that has built over time has left many, particularly parents, wondering why their usual go-to coping skills are not as effective as they were before.
In addition, there are a number of proposed laws in the state legislature regarding vaccine mandates for children in school and those in the workforce. These proposed laws may be a relief for some parents and a challenge for others.
Some good news
Strange as it may seem, there were some positive impacts for parents during the pandemic. Certainly, there has never been a better time to co-parent since many parents have been working from home. Looking on the bright side and understanding that it can be a double-edged sword for some, being more involved in schoolwork, availability during the day, a lack of a work commute, and having both parents at home has benefitted many families.
In some cases, there have also been shifts in household responsibilities because there have been “more hands-on deck” and time available at home. Many families have had more time to bond since we’ve all been at home together. Hopefully, your family has been able to navigate the upside and have reaped some rewards.
Challenges in the ever-changing new normal
That being said, there are many lingering negative impacts on parents that you may be dealing with. As Covid-19 lingers on and world events are adding another level of stress, it may be time to reassess your family arrangement to better support one another and successfully navigate this next phase. This is another challenging time in our history.
As some people are returning back to traditional workplaces and some continuing to work remotely, undoubtedly, challenges may arise for you and your family. You may have taken on more of the burden at the beginning of the crisis and by now, you’re burned out. You may be struggling with the following (and it’s ok):
- Lack of or inconsistent childcare
- Recent studies have shown approximately 60% of respondents have no outside help in caring for and educating their children during the epidemic.
- Another 10% have less help than before the pandemic.
- Conflicts between parents overall, quite often around role expectations and responsibilities
- While the pandemic has been hard on all parents, studies have shown that things have been particularly difficult for mothers, who have been disproportionately affected in their increased responsibilities, loss of jobs, and childcare.
- Living with ongoing uncertainty regarding safety, new variants, government mandates, wearing masks or not, who at a gathering is vaccinated or not
- Lack of adequate psychosocial support
- Overall fear – a perfect storm for people who may have a predisposition to depression, anxiety, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other related mental health issues
- Normal coping skills compromised – don’t feel like what used to work is working any longer, feeling like everything is harder
- Job security threatened or job loss
- In a recent study, more than half respondents felt like their performance at work has decreased as a result of managing additional household responsibilities.
- Leisure and hospitality – including entertainment, restaurants, recreation, the arts and hotels – were the hardest hit industries. Many people have lost their jobs and/or have yet to return to their original place of employment in this industry.
- Additional stress overall
- Parents now spend an additional 27 hours each week on household chores, childcare, and education – close to the amount of time at a second job – on top of their household responsibilities before the crisis.
- The typical “to do list” is a challenge and our desire to “make up” for what our children have lost during the pandemic – and trying to completely return to normal – can cause us to overcompensate. This often can result in overscheduling our children…and ourselves.
- Secondary losses including friendships, community, routines, vacation/traveling, sense of normalcy, lack of focus or effectiveness at work or in life
- Drinking more alcohol or drug use than pre-pandemic as a coping mechanism in order to cope with life/parenting/work challenges
All of the above is happening in a background of fear and uncertainty given the state of the economy, the invasion of Ukraine, and the now the ever-shifting political environment. We are experiencing multiple stressors – simultaneously.
Does any of this resonate with you?
Does any of the above sound familiar to your situation? There are many lingering negative impacts on parents that you may be dealing with. As Covid-19 lingers, and as mentioned, the impact of national and world events adding another level of stress, and you or your partner may/may not be returning to traditional work environments, it may be time to reassess your family arrangements to better support one another and successfully navigate this next phase.
Simply put, the reality is that we are no longer living in the old normal. This is the new normal and we need to adjust accordingly. This affects our relationships to our partner, with our children, and our relationship with ourselves.
Assume your responses are normal
In the midst of all of this, you can find yourself experiencing an entire range of feelings from sadness, frustration, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty sleeping, withdrawn, persistent thoughts and feelings related to the stress you may be under, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Current events in the nation and the world may also serve to overwhelm your usual coping mechanisms. Kids running around while the world seems to be on fire can be more than a little overwhelming.
Yep. I know. You may not feel like you are “parent of the year” at times. You may also have come to believe that you are going “crazy” and that you might be feeling some stigma – specifically that you may be the only one facing all this and feeling challenged. Let me say this about these beliefs – they are simply not true.
In fact, in all likelihood, no matter how stressed you may be feeling about all of this, no matter how upset you are, please assume that you are a normal person, having normal, but understandably upsetting thoughts and feelings, about a series of upsetting troubling circumstances that you may find yourself in. Well, all I can say is welcome to a very large boat with billions of us in it with you. Welcome to the club!
So, what to do about all of this?
Let’s start with a basic understanding. Every family situation is unique. Families have different circumstances, so try on new approaches, see what fits, and discard what doesn’t work for you and your unit.
Also, roles and responsibilities can’t always be 50/50. Compromise can sometimes be really hard with your parenting partner, but remember there is always a little give and take. Find out where your boundaries are, communicate your needs, and see what you’re willing to do or give up, even if it’s for a period of time to be re-evaluated later.
As a place to start, I would recommend reading 7 Relationship Conversations for the Next Covid Challenges. It sets some really good ground rules for conversations with your partner.
Please know that help is available. Here are seven practical, real world tips that many are finding helpful. I hope that at least some of these will be helpful for you.
7 tips to help working parents
1. Less is more
More isn’t better right now. Overscheduling yourself for work, socially, or after-school activities for kids isn’t going to make things any better or more normal. A full calendar for you and your family during the week and especially on the weekends, may not be what you need right now. It might also help to know that the research is very clear – multi-tasking is not the most efficient way to be productive.
Especially if both parents are working, reducing the number of kids’ extracurricular activities when there isn’t enough childcare could be a winning strategy. Simply the stress of scheduling and sorting out who’s going to drive whom where and when, may just be too much at this point in time. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to take a short break from all the activity. You can always return to more events, kids’ sports, social time after you take a healthy pause.
2. Prioritize, be flexible, and communicate
This is true for work and home life. Sometimes when you’re burned out and overwhelmed, it helps to break things into smaller pieces to make some progress, create small wins, and gain momentum.
Decide (either with work or life projects) what is the highest priority and must get done then prioritize accordingly. Create smaller parts of the whole. Sometimes it’s even helpful to write things down, post in a common space where it will be seen, and communicate (even over-communicate or talk out loud to oneself) to those affected by any changes or re-allotment of resources (time, activity, responsibilities) accordingly.
3. Focus on self-care and the care of your partner
Take good care of yourself. Make sure your partner has time for their self-care. Breathe together. Take a lot of deep breaths. Exercise and eat well. Do things that make you feel good. Find extra ways to be kind to each other.
4. Maintain boundaries with toxic people
Spend time with people that nurture you and your relationships, make you feel good, and do not zap your energy. Avoid (or at the very least set some good boundaries with) toxic people or people that you feel negative about when you leave their presence.
5. Ask for help!
One of the most valuable things we can do in life is to admit when we are overwhelmed and just simply need some help.
This may also include asking for help at work with scheduling your work hours and days. I know that this can be a potential landmine, depending upon the culture of your company. Still, it may very well help to ask. Many companies are re-evaluating what works best for productivity and employee satisfaction – almost always correlated positively.
And yes. This can be uncomfortable. Many feel some degree of guilt about asking for accommodations. If it is any comfort, large numbers of parents are exploring this with their employers.
6. Discover and express your gratitude
Right now, it may be difficult to feel grateful. But here’s what I know to be true. The very happiest people I know also struggle. One thing that they have in common is that they feel and express their gratitude – even and especially — in the darkest of times.
7. Learn from history
I know that it is difficult at times to feel hopeful when the world just feels like the world – your world – is going to hell and in a handbasket. I get it. I’ve been there. Many times.
The problem with how history as it is presented, is very much what we see on the ten o’clock news – “If it bleeds, it leads.” We rarely see reports about all the good in the world whether it is a parent comforting another parent, volunteers helping the needy or the small daily acts of generosity and humanity that truly are being done out there in the world.
But what I have learned from history, is that there are going to be those times when life can be particularly challenging. Clearly, almost all of us are sharing in that experience. It is easy to feel down and discouraged. Sometimes I feel that way myself.
What helps me at times like this is using all of the tips I have outlined above for you. It also helps to know that the arc of history teaches us the following: there have been bad times and good times. You may not feel comforted by that right now, but please know that history teaches us that the good times far outweigh the bad.
As a fellow parent, I hope that you will give yourself some credit – actually, a lot of credit – for what you are doing for your children. You work so hard. You struggle. You have sleepless nights. And yet, despite all of that, you continue to love your children as best you can on any given day, hour, or just a moment. Some days are better than others. Some days, not so much. That’s ok. You’re human.
And please know the following: all of this is going to pass. The pandemic is going to end. We will have an endemic. That will pass. The war in Europe will pass. Yes. Things may get worse before they get better….but they will get better. There will be a time to celebrate!
If you would like support in navigating these conversations with your partner or you can’t quite get to a better place for yourself, feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation. Let’s see if I am a good fit for what you need. I am more than happy to help you in any way I can.