Motherhood and working from home: Thoughts on how to keep your sanity and embracing the new normal
Before tapping into my entrepreneurial skills, I worked as a litigation lawyer and then an academic researcher in the field of International Law, while acting as an immigration consultant in an Asian firm in the evenings. The change from working full time in an office setting to part-remote, part-in an office to full time remote with an active child, was gradual. This allowed me to successfully adapt my working habits and mindset to my current environment. Nonetheless, the adjustment took a while and involved a lot of trial and error. Thus, I will not be surprised by how many mothers are having difficulty adapting to a sudden shift in their work environment brought about by the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Let me share some tricks I learned over time which helped me keep my job and sanity. If you can implement some or all of them, working from home with your kids will be a more pleasant experience:
1. Embrace a new normal. It is important to adjust your mindset.
For a mom, working from home means having to deal with physical, mental and emotional distractions. It is natural to feel that everything is in chaos. Probably, you can’t wait to go back to “normal”. The longing for “normalcy” and the uncertainty when this will happen creates so much mental pressure, anxiety and stress.
A key in coping with this situation is changing your mindset. Accept the reality that there is a crisis that will inevitably bring changes in your family, work environment, your work and your team. The resulting situation is your new normal. Accept that school will be out for a while and that you may need to work remote indefinitely. Embrace it. Adjust your work habits to accommodate distractions. The faster you accept this new normal, the better you will be able to cope with the situation.
2. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others
With all the distractions around you, a lot experience a dip in productivity. There are days when you will only have minimal output – and that is ok. Stop comparing your current productivity with how much you could accomplish outside your home.
Piling laundry and dishes? Go easy on yourself. If, at the end of the day, all you were able to undertake is keeping your family fed and alive, that is already an accomplishment!
As you adjust your mindset, you also need to keep in mind that everyone is handling the pandemic and the work from home scheme differently. Do not judge yourself and your productivity based on how you think others are coping. At the same time, be kind to others as they may not be as successful in coping as you are.
3. Make a schedule for yourself and your children.
Your children may likewise be forced to stay home and this creates so much distraction and tension. Making a written and visible schedule for yourself and your kids will greatly help. Schedule can be in a 30-minute interval taking into account the normal attention span of your child. Introduce a new activity each interval and be ready to spend the first few minutes of the activity with them before slowly retreating to your work. This method is based on the Pomodoro technique which breaks down work in intervals, and states that spending 25 minutes on your work with 5-minute short breaks in between actually aids productivity. You will find that you are able to train your brain to go back to the task at hand faster as you practice the technique.
The schedule should be open to variation. It can happen that the activities you initially planned do not work out. Don’t be afraid to try and vary tasks until you find a combination of activities that will capture your child’s attention. If you are homeschooling older children, patterning the schedule to their school schedule will make the transition at home easier for them. As for you, schedule easier tasks during your child’s active time (early morning and late afternoon) and those that need your undisturbed concentration during your child’s down time (napping or watching TV). Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself when you have to resort to screen time just so you can attend to an emergency or an important task.
4. Prioritize your physical, mental and emotional health
When we are home, it is easy to forget about “me-time”. You may find yourself working longer hours to compensate for lost productivity. Avoid this and make that brief pause for yourself.
When I say me-time, I do not mean elaborate activities like having bubble baths or going to the spa -- the latter being prohibited anyway. Simple tasks like taking deep breaths, short meditations, scheduling a call to a friend, reading affirmations, doodling, journaling, coloring and even playing with scented playdoh will help! The key here is connecting with yourself to understand your needs - physically, mentally and emotionally – and to comprehend why you act, think and feel the way you do.
By understanding your needs, and being more aware and in touch with yourself, you will be able to determine what causes your stress and anxiety. In turn, you will be able to prevent stress from happening or at the very least, you will be able to manage the cause. Your work is important, but your physical, mental and emotional health should take precedence.
5. Communicate your needs. It is ok to ask for help.
Talk to your partner and split the domestic chores. There is nothing to be ashamed with asking your partner and children to step up. If you are alone, seek help. Look at your community. You may find people who are willing to do some chores for you like grocery run.
Our new normal may be challenging, but need not be a mental, physical and emotional burden than necessary. Try these suggestions and you will realize that working remote with kids, just like any other skill, can be managed and perfected with practice and time. You got this, Mama!