Working from home with three small children (ages 4, 2, and 6 months) and being suddenly thrust into educating my oldest via virtual school has been one of the most challenging things I have lived through since having kids. With libraries and playgrounds shut down, there’s not much reprieve for parents who depend on these little outings to break up the day, especially if the other parent works outside the home as an essential worker.
A recent NYT article discusses how the coronavirus crisis is uncovering some of the realities of working families. The writer describes one woman’s work as happening during “stolen minutes.” That’s exactly what it feels like right now:
Dr. Purva Gopal, a pathologist in Dallas whose children are 1 and 3, does her remote work early in the morning and late at night, or in stolen minutes “during which one or both girls are hugging my legs or asking to be picked up.”
They say the little ones may not remember many details about this time but they will remember how it felt to be at home. They will remember if mommy tried to make things fun or if she was stressed and frustrated all the time. It’s a real opportunity to learn patience – with yourself, with your kids, and with the world. It’s your impossible puzzle to solve every day, as we wait in uncertainty.
Poynter has some tips for how to try to work at home with babies and toddlers. Extra snacks, walks, sunshine – all these are good, but one tip stands out to me: Accept that this is really hard and you’re not a failure. One mom sums up this sentiment that I think all of us have felt every day since schools and child care centers closed:
Sometimes you will feel like you are failing at parenthood. Sometimes you will feel like you are failing at your job. On really bad days, you will feel like you are failing at both. But we are all doing the best we can right now.
It helps to remember that you are not doing this alone. There are people all over the world working in these same difficult circumstances. I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones but also still operating in survival mode until this virus is contained. I read this quote from Dr. Emily King in my daughter’s school newsletter and thought it might be encouraging to share for others who are in the same boat:
Parents: What we are being asked to do is not humanly possible. There is a reason we are either a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, or a part-time working parent.
Working, parenting, and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time. It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can.
When you have to pick, because at some point you will, choose connection. Pick playing a game over arguing about an academic assignment. Pick teaching your child to do laundry rather that feeling frustrated that they aren’t helping. Pick laughing, and snuggling, and reminding them that they are safe.
If you are stressed, lower your expectations where you can and virtually reach out for social connection. We are in this together to stay well. That means mentally well, too.Emily W. King, Ph.D.