Culture

Adjusting to a new normal: How to have mercy on yourself while working at home with kids

April 1, 2020

Read time 5 min

The children are sleeping, and the house is quiet. The best part of the day is at hand – the moment when no one demands anything from me. It’s time to gather my thoughts and write an encouraging blog post about my new remote life, although I can’t really say I’m doing a perfect job keeping even myself together.

After fifteen minutes, I have four lines: 

Week 2, all the teachers’ messages and every blog possible in every place overflowing tips about how to get

And the teenager. 

But now, let’s focus on focus. 

What

The first one doesn’t have a clue where it is going. The second one simply indicates the difficulty of the situation with only three words: “And the teenager.” Yep, totally nailed it.

The third sentence hits the sweet spot with “let’s focus on focus.” And finally, my output reaches its punchline: “What.”

Losing focus

What feels especially frustrating is losing focus. After long hours by the laptop, it still feels like I’ve gained nothing.

The struggle derives from continuous content switching, not only between work projects but also between my roles as a mother and a professional. I’m facing too many demands at the same time, with no breaks. For example, the message overflow from my kids’ school is overwhelming. At the same time, the teenager won’t quite understand why he’s been taken hostage in a house he so badly wants to leave.

Additionally, my daily actions seem to reveal new dimensions of my priorities, and I’m confused about the things I see. I constantly feel I must choose between work and family. Am I putting my children’s needs aside too often? Is it because work is more important to me, or because I can’t manage the chaos and keep escaping to my haven? At work, I can survive anything; at home, right now – not so much.

“So if there ever was a time for compassion and self-forgiveness, it’s now.”

The truth is, work is my passion. It’s something I’m not comfortable making compromises with. And now it’s competing with my family on a more concrete level than ever before.

All this is topped with a heavy dose of self-blame. I’m continuously making myself feel bad. Why is it so hard to be as kind to myself as I am to others? 

A friend of mine, a therapist, gives me perspective. Stress affects our cognitive functions, she says. Abnormal reactions in abnormal situations are normal, but they are not permanent. I can’t force my feelings away. By accepting them instead of fighting them, they will slowly fade away. So if there ever was a time for compassion and self-forgiveness, it’s now.

Forget the cathedral

In the current situation, there seems to be nothing but distracting thoughts, demands, and an amazing variety of limits. Things and people I’ve taken for granted aren’t suddenly available. In fact, my whole infra just got ripped down – all the structures that usually so nicely support my concentration.

What makes this a circus is a demand for creating totally new routines for both myself and to the whole family. It wouldn’t be a trick with only me: I’d just go through the options, make the decisions, and commit to them. With children, it’s another story. They are not willing to commit to anything that well, which leaves the holding system up entirely to me, and that is exhausting.

A colleague reminds me of James Clear’s famous habit-forming strategy. Once again, it makes sense. I shouldn’t try to build a cathedral in a day but start with incredibly small habits and have patience in increasing them. Instead of getting exhausted when I even think about the following remote months, I should concentrate on cutting the days into little, more controllable chunks. 

Do your routines

Even though it’s demanding to build new routines in survival mode, they are worth striving for. Good news: I’ve found some things that seem to work.

First, I commute in the morning and in the afternoon, meaning a little walk. I’ve also heard of a colleague, who kisses his kids and leaves the house – just to walk to the backdoor to enter the so-called workplace. Another wears a red cap to demonstrate when he’s working and when not. In conclusion, separating work from free time will get you far.

“We have been given a brutal opportunity to consider our values and ways of living and working with other people.”

Second, visualizing work and committing to the team’s rules help to deal with the daily tasks. (Yes, this might mean you’ll end up setting some kanban boards to your kitchen.) I set time limits by the Pomodoro technique and focus on one thing at a time.

Third, breathing. After two hours of video calls, I must take a break and meditate for a bit, just to clear my head. The stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, but the reaction can be calmed down, at least mainly, by breathing. Calm breathing sends a signal for the body, not to worry. (Before corona times, I didn’t have a single meditation app on my phone. Now I have three of them. I’m also getting to know my new best friend in Spotify, Tibetan Singing Bowls.)

Whatever your routines are like, stick with them. Things that help us keep the balance are now worth a million. 

Have some mercy

We all are dealing with a more significant amount of stress as usual, even though the source varies. When I’m losing my nerves with the teenager, someone else can’t sleep at night while worrying for relatives well-being.

The ongoing situation forces us to face our fears and to focus on things that matter the most. There is no room for trivial complaints. This being the case, we have been given a brutal opportunity to consider our values and ways of living and working with other people. For example, I’ve come to realize how vital my colleagues are to me. It’s nearly touching to see their faces in video calls, doggos, and kids running around in the background. People’s messy homes and the constant mayhem prove to me that it’s not the moment for becoming the best version of yourself. 

So let’s be kind to ourselves and take shortcuts if needed. Forcing things is, by all means, unnecessary. Be compassionate, because most likely, you did get things done, and you did them just fine! 

After all, how simple must life be when the chaos is over, right?

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