Trying To Parent Kids Who Are At Home While Working From Home During COVID-19 Is Overwhelming For Families
For the families I’ve talked to in my online family therapy sessions, self-isolation due to COVID-19 has meant dealing with the rapid transition to working from home while the kids are at home. This is an enormous change for families–even parents who worked at home before COVID-19 had childcare in place or kids that spent a majority of the day in daycare, school, after-school activities, etc. Parenting and work have typically been treated as separate parts of life. Now, though, they’re competing for attention without the support of having someone else, whether a teacher, tutor, nanny, au pair or grandparents, there to help strike a balance.
And for the families I’m talking to in phone therapy and video chat family therapy sessions, this has been overwhelming not only logistically, but emotionally (not to mention that living in the time of the coronavirus is just emotionally overwhelming all around). Parents are overwhelmed in ways they never thought they would be. Some say they’re barely managing and worried they can’t do it all. There’s pressure to overachieve or “get it right.” I should note that many of the parents in my teletherapy say they feel joy about being able to spend more time with their kids. But they’re also torn striking a balance, and concerned about not giving their kid (or kids) and work 100%.
Being this overwhelmed is normal right now. Never before in our history have we had to revise both how we work and care for our kids so suddenly. Below I’ve highlighted five points for emotional survival (and some fun) that I’ve been emphasizing with the families I’ve spoken to in remote therapy:
1. Be kind to yourself, your partner and your kid(s)
Self-isolation is a new reality for every member of the family, even if they’re a month old. While navigating new approaches to parenting and working from home all at once, it’s important to be kind to yourself and your kids. Yes, your kid may interrupt your work call or Zoom meeting, and that’s okay. Go slow, and plan ways to find and provide some much-needed space and relief for every family member. For example, if one parent is solo with the kids most of the day, think of ways to give that partner a necessary break, whether a run or lunch break. Another way to be kind to yourself and the kids is by making time outside of work hours to get your love cup filled–snuggle, laugh, dance, cry together, sleep in a bit or skip your normal solo workout routine to do it with the whole family.
2. It’s okay that you won’t get everything done: Lead every day day-to-day
Just like in 12-step programs, taking one day at a time helps manage what feels impossible or what may actually be impossible in our overwhelming time. During COVID-19, we are being asked to do a lot and maybe too much–it’s okay to acknowledge that without getting lost in it. By leading each day day-to-day, you can be reasonable with yourself emotionally that you will not get it all done, but there are still things you can achieve on a daily basis in getting the entire family the care it needs. Make one goal a day such as working on kindness, making a game out of creating the masks you are now wearing outside, letting Mom and Dad have 30 minutes of quiet time, or spending time on the floor playing, while letting go of the emails that are piling in for twenty minutes.
3. Celebrate everything–the work wins, the kid wins and the play wins
Both parents and kids right now are attempting to do the impossible: trying to balance working, co-parenting, maintaining a household, and (for the kids) learning. Not to mention just surviving emotionally during scary times. The reality is kids will learn what they can and parents will work as much as they can. Everyone at the end of the day or week needs to celebrate that. Celebration is an important way to team-build. Like management teams, emotional connection works best in families in celebration rather than deprivation. And it also just feels good in this anxiety-producing time to celebrate strengths. Have a family high-five, or hold hands and say, “Go team!” At dinner, acknowledge what everyone did that day–in work, in homeschool or online classes, or at play. Have a family reward system that everyone earns as a team, such as a family balloon party, slime party, art party, pizza-making party or movie.
4. Work on limitations, but in small bites
Families cooped-up in quarantine will see their limitations in glaring ways. Parents will be triggered by their kid or kids acting out, or become flustered at not being able to do it all like their friends project online. The fact is, though, each family member is doing what they can. This isn’t to say you can’t improve. Rather than trying to fix everything at once, however, have a weekly or daily check-in in which kids and parents can pick something they want to work on (just one thing). Maybe Mom wants to work on being more patient with herself and everyone, while a kid suggests he’s going to work on playing with his sister more. These can be the goals of the week and anything else is just icing on the cake. Whether cooling down when getting overwhelmed, remembering to ask for a hug when needed, or trying to make space for some solo time with one parent and a kid, working on the family dynamic in small bites will help everyone grow in a time of emotional survival.
5. Brainstorm how to get the needs met that you can, even in a cramped two-bedroom
Many of us are now crammed in small spaces with our entire family for way more time than we’re used to. This requires some navigation in how to get needs met in both parenting and work. In particular, what each work week brings may need to be shared between parents and even, the family as a whole. Have a needs brainstorm and talk about what each family member’s needs are day-to-day and weekly. In my Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and Google Hangout family therapy sessions, I encourage a couple and family to just throw a ton of ideas at the wall: What do you need in terms of sleep? Working out? Quiet time? Play time? Fun time? Work time? Crying time? Do you need virtual therapy to help your family talk through teamwork or navigate leadership? A run? A family adventure? Lay it all out–parents and kids–and find ways to make it happen as a team.