Many of us have now spent over a month working from home—while also taking care of our children full-time. Trying to keep up with ongoing projects while simultaneously helping your kids with school or making sure your baby stays on a good schedule is no easy task.
As someone working from home while raising a baby, I find myself constantly feeling guilty. I worry about the lack of energy and attention I’m giving to both my son and my job.
I’m certainly not the only one struggling with this: every parent in my network has described the same feelings and challenges. Our kids need more of our love, attention and energy right now than they ever have, and our work continues on.
I don’t have answers for how to stay sane (or how to reclaim your sanity), but here are eight science-backed tips that have helped me feel a bit better over the past few weeks.
Set realistic expectations. Each morning, set yourself a few, realistic goals for the day—a couple work accomplishments, a handful that are family related, and a personal one. Be honest with yourself about what you can accomplish. If you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed, take a moment to identify one lofty expectation you have for yourself—maybe even one you haven’t explicitly thought about until now. Then, let it go. The last thing anyone needs right now is extra pressure to perform.
Be open with your team. Communication has never been more important. Let your manager and colleagues know that your schedule now involves childcare, homeschooling, naps, etc, and ensure that they’re aware of the blocks of time when you are and are not available. Start meetings by letting colleagues know that you could be interrupted by a child so you won’t feel flustered, frustrated, or embarrassed if it happens. Provide your manager and your team frequent updates on your work and progress.
Make time for empathy. Set up time with colleagues who don’t have children at home and talk with them about the challenges they are facing—and then share your own. Everyone is struggling with something right now, whether it’s an immunocompromised or sick family member they’re worried about, juggling family, or living and working in a cramped apartment. The more you can build understanding with others, the stronger your systems of support and output will be.
Use your calendar to boost transparency—and empathy. Schedule when you’ll accomplish work tasks or take personal time—and make the purpose of each block visible to your co-workers in your calendar settings. You don’t have to share more than you’re comfortable with. ”Personal time”, “family time”, or “wellness time” can all convey to others why you’re protecting those hours, and make your team less likely to schedule over it. Ask colleagues if they can meet during nap times, after the kids have gone to bed or at times when your partner can watch the kids.
Ask for help. If you’re struggling to finish an assignment, reach out and ask for help from your colleagues or manager. Don’t assume your colleagues know that you could use a hand. Be straightforward about what’s challenging for you right now and propose some ideas about what might help (e.g., shifting hours to accommodate personal needs, streamlining your meetings, de-prioritizing certain projects). You might even ask your manager what ideas or suggestions they have. Science suggests that tackling problems together leads to a shared sense of responsibility over the outcome—and to better outcomes in general.
If you have a partner at home, let that person know when you need them to be on duty with the kid(s). If it works with your schedules, consider taking turns being on duty with the kid(s) for several hour blocks, and use your off duty time to tackle your work that requires the most concentration.
Be ruthless about priorities. Work smarter, not harder. Determine the projects or tasks that you must get done and make sure you do those during the time(s) that you are most certain you won’t be interrupted. Share with your manager the projects or tasks that you are not prioritizing to make sure that you are on the same page.
Push for the best meeting format for you. For those of us juggling both work and caregiving responsibilities right now, meetings can be a particular source of stress. This week, take a look at your upcoming meetings (especially the recurring ones) and consider how you can make attending more manageable. If meetings can be over internal company messaging (e.g. Slack) or email instead, do it. It can be so much easier to respond on your own time (naptime/after bedtime) than multi-task during waking hours. Try joining meetings on your phone instead of video, it can be a much easier way to chase a small child around the house.
Forgive yourself. Acknowledge that you’re human and only capable of so much. While trying to juggle both kids and a job full-time, something has to give. If you don’t spend as much time reading to your kids, or you don’t finish an assignment as quickly as you would have liked, forgive yourself. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best.