The dilemma of parenting in a work-from-home world
With remote working, social distancing, health and wellness issues, and all the uncertainty of the pandemic, everything feels like it's ten times harder than before
Am I doing It right? This is a question that many parents are asking themselves in the new environment of lockdowns and quarantines.
Long before the pandemic, words like 'stress, worry, guilt, fear' have been part of the emotional lexicon as a working parent. With remote working, social distancing, health and wellness issues, and all the uncertainty of the pandemic, everything feels like it's ten times harder than before.
Most parents would agree that while working from home has its pros and cons, a year into it, we all are still struggling with the dilemma of how best to juggle a full-time job, be present as a parent, and find some time for ourselves.
One of the much-touted benefits of remote working is the flexibility it offers in one's work schedule. Work-From-Home (WFH) is perhaps the biggest disruption to the concept of the formal workspace since its advent in the 1800s. The rigours of a 9 to 5 job have been replaced with a work 'where you are, when you can' approach. Most of us save a lot of time and energy in a day, now that we don't have to battle the great urban commute.
Ideally, it is supposed to enable people to live a more stress-free life. For example, take a virtual meeting in the morning, help the kids set up for their online classes, do some more work, take a break to do chores around the house, spend time with the kids, do some more work, have family meals together, etc.
While this sounds quite utopian, the reality is far from it. If you appreciate dark humour, you'll see what I mean when I say that one is always 'dashing' these days -- dashing off because your kids need you in the middle of work and dashing off because your work needs you when you're with your kids. It feels like one is doing more work than ever before -- both as a professional and as a parent. There's a sense of guilt that one is not doing justice to either.
The lines between work and home have become so blurred that we're all used to seeing the insides of our colleagues' houses, and it's almost normal when someone must take a break to deal with a domestic crisis in the middle of work. The routines that you spent most of your adult life setting up, have been thrown out of the window. The new normal doesn't feel normal at all. So, how does one regain one's balance again?
The bad news is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma. The good news also is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution! If there's no right answer, then at least, you're not going to be wrong.
It all feels to come down to finding a 'rhythm' more than a balance. Instead of trying to replace routines and schedules, I think it helps to think of it as finding a fluid rhythm to one's day. Instead of making strict plans, I find that it helps to factor in all the major priorities of the week, and then to move things around that. This would create enough wiggle room to do things when they're needed. For example, it's one of those days where your kids are in a happy place, and they want to spend more time with you. Instead of sticking to your routine and then feeling guilty or sad all day that you couldn't be with them, try moving things around so you have a couple of hours to spend with the kids and then catch up to your schedule later on.
Similarly, suppose you have some work that needs you to be absolutely focused, or its one of those days when you feel inspired and would like some alone time to work distraction-free, it's a good idea to trade 'do not disturb' time with your partner or a family member so that they can be in charge while you work. You could do the same for them as well. Instead of a strict routine that you feel you must live and die by, allow yourself to try a softer, more fluid rhythm where you can make the best of each moment. I find that the best part about this approach is that it allows you to address your needs and wants in the present, taking away that feeling of missing out, or not doing enough. The act of moving things around to suit what best needs to be done in each moment will also give you a sense of control and help you feel less overwhelmed in the long run.
One of the things that has helped me find my daily rhythm is to think of things in terms of the things I 'must' do, and the things I 'can' do, instead of worrying over all the things I 'should' do. Another strategy that I'd espouse is to do multiple tasks, but not multi-task. For example, you could have a variety of different things you need to do in a day, but you do them one at a time. Trying to being mindful and present in every moment really helps to keep the stress away.
Be your own best friend. Be compassionate to yourself and above all, be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can, and that really is enough.
(Neerja Birla is Founder and Chairperson, Mpower)