Submitted by Emily Wilson
“That one green.” She said, pointing to the stick figure I’d drawn on the paper.
“We already have green on this page. Let’s pick a different color.” I replied, picking up the rest of the colored pens, showing her the other options.
“No. That one green.” She repeated, pointing again to the stick figure, this time coming within millimeters of the paper, her tiny fingers smeared with pizza sauce.
“Whoa there, cutie.” I slid the paper out of her reach. “Please don’t touch Mama’s paper. I worked really hard on that and we don’t want dirty fingerprints on it.”
“That one green!” She reiterated, kicking her legs in her highchair. I put the paper under a towel on the counter, hoping she’d forget about it, and distracted her with another small slice of pizza.
For those of you who haven’t already recognized it, this is being a working parent, working at home, with a two year old.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how hard it is to work at home, especially since millions of us have recently found ourselves confined to working from our couches, basements, or, if we’re lucky, the home office we thought would be an amazing feature when we first moved into our houses but have since turned into a storage area for the clothes to be donated, the treadmill no one ever uses, and boxes of old school papers our mom dropped off during spring cleaning ten years ago.
As for me, I’ve been working from home for most of my professional career, first as a tech support lead, and now as an audiobook producer. (I got to produce the audiobook version of the Working Parent Stories book!) Those of us who worked from home before COVID-19 are slightly ahead of the curve. We’ve already figured out how to avoid snacking all day, how to set boundaries to cut down on interruptions, and how to keep from getting cabin fever. Of course, some of us are now juggling online school for our older kids, which adds a whole new level of complexity I can’t even begin to comprehend. And a few parents have to serve as guides for wide-eyed spouses gaining a new appreciation for how hard it is to do the things we’ve been doing for years.
What I’m trying to say to the work-from-home newbies is, “Welcome. To the left, please pick up your pair of logo-emblazoned sweatpants and the complimentary bag of extra patience that you’re not quite sure you have, but you’re definitely going to need.”
When I’m not wrangling a two year old, I’m huddled in my studio (read: closet) recording or hunched over my laptop in my office (read: living room), editing. Recently, though, I got it into my head that I would write a children's book (I Love You Enough) about the big changes we're experiencing due to coronavirus. It's my attempt to help kids feel less overwhelmed by all of the upheaval. I noticed how much my daughter connected with books (my husband and I are basically co-parenting with Jan and Stan Berenstain at this point), and I thought other parents might benefit from having a resource to use as a jumping off point for discussions about current events.
I had the story but needed the illustrations. Because I wanted to get the book out there as soon as possible, I knew I didn’t have time to try to connect with an artist. The book addresses social distancing, mask-wearing, distance learning, and other current issues, and waiting for an illustrator would mean that:
Which is why I ended up with a pile of stick figure drawings and a bundle of colored pens on the kitchen counter during lunchtime with my daughter. I had let her help me pick out colors for each character’s hair (thus the green). When she started to want every character to have green hair, I had to start telling her, “No.” (Not everyone in my imaginary world could have green hair, apparently.) It was then that I realized that she has played an unexpected and immeasurable role in my professional life.
Because she doesn’t yet go to school, we spend almost all day together. As a result, she has a surprising amount of influence on my work, not just in terms of when I can work, but also what I do for work. I wouldn’t be an audiobook producer if it weren’t for her. I would never have learned that I could do character voices if we hadn’t played with the same five stuffed animals all day and they had spontaneously developed their own personas and characters. I also would never have imagined writing and illustrating a children’s book if I hadn’t read the same ten books five thousand times and been asked to draw Grandma and Grandpa forty times every day. But here I am.
She doesn’t always get what she wants, and I don’t give her my full attention all day every day. Seeing me focus on something other than her gives her the space to learn how to entertain herself and also teaches her patience. I am confident that my continuing to work, albeit with a flexible schedule that still allows me to stay home with her, will instill in her an intrinsic understanding of the importance of building one’s own fulfillment.
I love being a parent, and I’m also glad that I’m still working. I’m very blessed to have a great family support system that helps me do that and a mother who showed me how it could be done.
You might be struggling to work from home and do all of the other things you’re suddenly required to do; know that you’re doing your best, keep up the good work, and it will end eventually. And even if your omnipresent family is driving you bonkers right now, they may also be teaching you things of which you don’t yet know the value.
An encouraging story from Claudia Tomaschko
Working Parents everywhere are struggling right now. Whether you call it a shutdown, a lockdown or isolation, the struggle is real. And parents of special needs children are facing extra special challenges.
Last week, the NPR radio show "1A" broadcast a segment called "Caring For Children And Teens With Special Needs During A Global Pandemic". I heard it right after reconnecting with a friend and former colleague, Claudia Tomaschko, who lives in Germany. She's also the parent of a special needs child, so I sent the link to her. She quickly wrote back the following:
Thank you so much for sending the link to the Radio Program! I have listened to it immediately and found it very helpful.
It was good to hear that everybody struggles with this new situation, but also that my husband and I seem to be doing a lot of things right: We have a visual schedule and clear structure. I do reading and writing lessons and he does math.
And I actually really enjoy homeschooling and I have experienced the following:
Our daughter, Lilli, has made HUGE progress with the reading material that I organized for her. We are working in small intense spurts. She has made so much more progress than she has done in all the past year at school.
The expert on the radio program said: you can achieve high quality learning in a very short period of time! And I have exactly experienced that.
Claudia went on to say that it has been lucky that her kids are used to having her work from home on occasion, so the curent situation is not totally foreign to them. And, of course, her work is very busy right now. That's usually a given :)
Submitted by Gabrielle Kato
Over the last month my work group has transitioned from working in an office together to working remotely from our homes. Some of us have children and spouses at home with us, some have roommates, and some are living alone. While everyone is experiencing the same pandemic, we're all experiencing it in our own, often unique, ways. The same can be said about family members; while we're in the same home, socially distancing together, we are all experiencing and processing things differently.
Empathy is more important than ever right now. When talking my son or daughter out of a meltdown, I think about how they must be processing the situation. Maybe they were overstimulated from too much screen time, maybe they heard my husband and I arguing about our work schedules, or maybe they are just upset because we ran out of rainbow sprinkles for their ice cream.
Empathy matters as I manage my work team too. Most interactions with co-workers start off with a conversation about how they are doing, personally, getting through these hard times. When I can, I share how I can relate to their situations. (Working with an 8 year old to do online school work IS hard! The VPN is totally dropping me every few minutes too!) When they just need to vent, I listen. By showing empathy, I hope they understand that I truly care about them as well as the success of our team.
Sometimes these efforts don't feel like much. And other times I hope they're everything.
Our son, who is 24, now refers to time as before "sh** got real" and after. His reference point is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most people I know are struggling right now, at least on some level, and as far as I can tell, few are struggling more than working parents, with the possible exception of teenagers, especially those about to leave home, and young adults who've been forced to move back home. Oh, and their parents. Sh**'s pretty real for all of them right now too.
Most working parents have known for a while what more people have learned over the last month; being a working parent his hard!
But as hard as things are right now, this surreal experience is likely to produce huge benefits for working parents in the future. The world is starting to understand what you do, every day, and they're admiring you. Some even seem determined to help you more in the future.
A recent article about telehealth caught my attention because it included this quote: “We’ve made three years of progress in about three weeks”. A similar comment can probably be made about many of the things that are important to working parents. Now, maybe more than ever, the value of simply staying in the "game" (i.e. working), is high (assuming you have that option).
Eventually this will be over. As most are predicting, there will be a "new normal" at the end, and because of your extreme efforts now, big progress is likely to occur in the future. Here are just some of the outcomes we hope occur (assuming you don't lose your minds in the meantime):
Working parents, when they're not pulling their hair out or in full meltdown mode, are changing perceptions, and in the process changing the world. Right now. Your kids may, or may not, thank you when they enter the workforce and realize the benefits, but because you're doing the hard work now, they're likely to reap the rewards in the future. So just in case they don't say it, let us say it for them: Thank you!
Pointer to an article called "Parents Are Not OK" by Chloe Cooney
Many years ago I remember eating lunch alone at work. Normally I ate with others, but if everyone else was too busy for a break, I ate alone. It was one of my endurance secrets; a mid-day break before I went back at it and gave it my all.
On this particular day I was feeling really stressed, especially needed the break, and because I was all alone, I had the time and space to figure out what was getting to me. My company was going through a merger, and as a result, my husband who had worked for the same company, had recently been laid off. I'd never planned on supporting my family alone, even briefly, but knew that there was more to my stress than that; the work itself was especially stressful.
Our relatively new CEO had warned that this merger was going to be stressful, challenging, and difficult. And then, as I took a bite of lunch, it hit me. She meant it would stressful for everyone ... even ... me! I realized that up until that moment, I had assumed she meant things would be stressful for "everybody else". I surely didn't think I would struggle. Ha!
Fast forward many years and we are all finding ourselves in the midst of a pandemic crisis. (Oxford defines crisis as "a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger".) Many of us are struggling, but not always in the same ways or because of the same things.
Many working parents, and especially those who may have taken pride in the fact that they were able to "do it all" in the past, are in crisis right now. What you're going through is *really* hard and it may not be possible keep up with everything. If are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone! And you may feel at least a small amount of comfort knowing that these feelings have been recognized in the article Parents Are Not OK written by Chloe Cooney.
Submitted by Clare Matysovea
Following the recent government announcement related to social distancing and staying at home, we held a family meeting to talk about how we thought we could arrange things. The agenda was extensive, and everyone seemed eager to talk and plan!
We're a family of five; my partner and me plus three kids ages 17, eight and four. Our home is relatively small, but we do have a big garden, and we’ve made the shed into a temporary "office"; it is actually a really nice and peaceful place to work.
Our "schedule" includes regular break times, and we're doing a pretty good job of sticking with it. This means that we're all stopping and eating together which is great and something we weren't able to do so often before.
Our morning "school run" slot has been replaced by "daily exercise" and so far we have gone to the local park and played football during this time.
In the morning we have three hours of semi-structured activities two more in the afternoon. Some of these activities are for structured numeracy and literacy while others are much more informal and include things like helping to make dinner and gardening.
We’re also lucky because a number of my siblings are teachers; one in particular has been coordinating an online one hour ‘lesson’ every other day for our two younger boys and four other sibling’s children and another friend of the family’s child – so about 8 children in total. That lasts for about an hour, and it’s provided a great opportunity for the children to interact with each other online. In fact, the kids have really enjoyed some assigned tasks that provide an opportunity for them to talk about at the next ‘lesson’ like a show and tell. It has broken up the day a bit.
At the end of the "school day", the children just get back to their normal routines ...
Our new routine has us spending a few hours a day focusing on the children while not working and not focusing on the stress and difficulties. There have, of course, been stressful moments, but I am thankful that our workplaces are allowing us to work flexibly and the boys' schools, while providing set work, have not put lots of pressure on parents. Instead they are emphasising well-being over formal education during this time.
I am really thankful that we have our garden space, and that we are able to share the work with each other. I'm really proud of how the boys are coping. These are very strange and stressful times, and I'm conscious we live most of our days in a bit of a bubble as the Covid-19 pandemic is having huge a social and economic, as well as health, impact. As with other families, we're adapting our lives to a new "normal" in very abnormal times.
Submitted by Kirk Hetherington
I'm one of those career-oriented people who approaches work seriously. Early in my career I did non-profit work, and I think that's at least part of the reason I expect to derive meaning and satisfaction from my work.
After our first two children were born, I only took a few days off from work, because I wanted to save my vacation days for ... vacations. But by the time my wife and I were expecting our third child, and I was working at the director level, expectations were starting to change. In fact, I will never forget an email I received during that time, in 2018, from my company, Danaher. The message announced a new parental leave policy; eight weeks of paid time off for all new parents.
While I was thrilled when the announcement was made, and I was excited about the idea of being able to spend significant time with our new baby, I found that even though I hadn't been shy about sharing the news that my wife was expecting with my management and co-workers, I was concerned that asking to use this new benefit might not be well-received. I wondered if a request to spend time with my new baby might be perceived as a lack of commitment to my career, even though nothing could have been farther from truth.
So I was pleasantly surprised, but also a little apprehensive, when my manager, the VP of marketing, asked if I was planning to take a parental leave. After I danced around the question a bit by telling him that I thought it was a great opportunity, that I was glad the company was offering the benefit, but that I was seriously focused on delivering strong results and progressing in my career, my manager came right out and said, "I hope you take all eight weeks." I immediately responded, "I'll do it." And I did.
When our son Zack was born, I took two full weeks off, and then I came back into the office just to check on things. After concluding that the organization could survive without me (ha), I went back home and took the remaining six weeks off. While I really do like to work hard, being able to step out during this time and focus on family exclusively, was incredibly meaningful and impactful. It alleviated some tension that might have existed otherwise.
I consider myself an "all in" kind of guy who loved my work before the parental leave, and I love my work now. Taking the leave didn't change my commitment to my career, but it did cause me to appreciate my company, Danaher, even more. Of the many wonderful things that Danaher has given me in the last nine years, nothing has been more meaningful.
It's also worth noting that throughout my parental leave the company leadership and my co-workers were super supportive. That time with my family was incredibly impactful, and I cherish that time to this day.
Note: Danaher parental leave policies vary by country.
Submitted by Kelsey Sprowell
I snuck downstairs from my 'office' in the guest room to snap this shot of the family room floor.
At my friend Molly's suggestion, I ordered a roll of rainbow masking tape from Amazon and encouraged the girls to make a city for their toy cars. Olivia went nuts - I've never seen her imagination so engaged. I helped her map out a road, and then she added a hospital, a grocery store, a post office, a house, two parks, a field of cows, a firehouse and police station, and a hotel. Then she added a whole grid of sidewalks & bike paths.
It was so fun to watch! And now I kinda wish I had my own toy cars.
Editors note: Here's another clever idea !
Pointer to podcast
The Breakfast Show, a radio program out of London, interviewed Working Parent Stories editor, Kathy Haselmaier, earlier today. Listen in as they discuss the recent YouGov survey reported in The Independent about parents' varied opinions about their ability to achieve balance between their careers and family life. (The show starts at 1:27:38 and the Working Parent Stories editor arrives at 1:42:15)
Pointer to an encouraging TODAY Show Video
Women from the TODAY swap stories about their increased family time right now in this video.
Working parents adjusting to new routines (not to mention new "co-workers"), may appreciate their stories and insights. Our favorite comment from Jenna Bush Hager: "There was this one day where I raised my voice. I was down on myself for the way that I was acting toward Henry, honestly; the way I was acting toward my kids. And I video'd them, and they were like, 'This is the best! We get Mommy and Daddy at home for dinner every night.'"