Real talk: COVID-19 has changed the way most of us live our lives. For my family, it has meant a lot of lifestyle changes.
Working from home during the pandemic has been a great opportunity, but also at times a real challenge. It has been a blessing in the sense that I’ve gotten to be home with my school aged children. I get to spend more time with them, watching them grow and learn. I've been able to do more fun things with them, like go on nature walks.
On the other hand, attempting to be productive at work with two young kids at home got really interesting, really fast.
My son, Fox, in his 2020 school photo. Photo: Carrie Yuan, Yi Li Photography.
Wayyyy back in the early days of the pandemic, I spent the first few weeks designing elaborate daily schedules and arts and craft tables. Screen time was limited, and I even continued to make lunches. It was a great system!
...Except for the fact that it wasn’t 100% sustainable. Keeping up with the ambitious goals I set for myself became hard to manage on top of a busy work schedule. I was either struggling to keep up at work, or struggling to keep up at home. And with both spheres now in the same space, balancing between the two became much tougher.
Fast forward six months: In August, summer ended, and we found ourselves gearing up for remote learning for a preschooler and a first grader. We did what we could to prepare, but even so, I was nervous. Learning from home would change our definition of normal once again, and I was not fully sure what to expect.
Now, we’ve almost made it to the end of 2020. Looking back over the semester, there have been some wonderful silver linings. I’ve enjoyed the extra time with my kids, getting to observe how they’re growing each and every day. We've had some great time together as a family.
That’s not to say it has been without challenges. My kids miss their friends, and distance learning in isolation isn’t always the easiest. They’ve also been learning to navigate Mom and Dad’s working-from-home schedules, as we struggle to both be productive at work and pay attention to them.
Our family has adopted a few new practices to try to help us handle the “new normal.” It’s not easy and we struggle, but we’ve been doing our best to learn to embrace the struggle!
We have learned that the challenges are many, but the opportunities are endless. During breaks and when school is out, we’ve taken up activities such as skateboarding and running. Shockingly, no one has broken a bone… (yet). iPad usage grew exponentially, but we added the fun of FaceTime with friends and family in between episodes of Garfield. I still set up arts and crafts daily, but lunches became self-serve.
My husband and I have tried to be attentive to our kids’ mental and emotional health. We check in with each of them regularly to ask how they’re feeling. After all, the pandemic has changed quite a bit about their lives, too. We do a family huddle first thing every morning: a family systems check to help us gear up for the day, see where everyone is at, and make sure we're all on the same page. We give both kids a chance to say how they’re doing, and let them know they can request time with mom and dad when they need it.
We also try to be intentional about giving each of our kids some one-on-one time. Taking time to go for a walk, hang out, or play together gives me the opportunity to really see how each of my kids are doing—really doing. I have the chance to check in, ask questions, and offer ideas that might help, such as offering to set up a Zoom playdate when they're struggling with missing their friends.
With my 6-year-old, we’ve been using an app called Mood Meter to help him express his emotions visually, as well as verbally. The app lets him choose from different colors to illustrate his mood and level of energy, allowing him to communicate to us how he’s feeling when he might not yet have the words to explain it.
At the end of every day, before bed, we ask our kids to share the best part of their day, and the worst part of their day. They both enjoyed that so much, they added two new categories: things they kinda liked, and kinda didn’t like. And, my husband and I do it with them. I share with my kids how my day went, too. If I had a hard time or failed to get everything done that I wanted to, I’m honest with my kids about it. I share with them how it made me feel, letting them know that it’s okay for them to have struggle days, too.
And some days, things are really hard. I don’t always achieve that perfect balance I want to. Sometimes that means I’m working really late or getting up really early to catch up and accomplish all the things on my to-do list.
On the days that don’t go as planned, when I’m falling behind, the balance falls out of whack, and I’m frustrated with myself and my situation, I’m learning to give myself grace. We’re all living through a pandemic, which means that we’re learning to handle an imperfect situation that often doesn’t look like the ideal. It’s important to remember that things won’t always turn out perfectly. Bad days happen. We might get behind, fall short, and fail to meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves.
It might be a cliché, but through this pandemic, it’s becoming a phrase I live by: Don’t sweat the small stuff. The house might be a little messier than I want, or my kids might sneak an opportunity to run around in the background of one of my Zoom meetings. Not every hill is worth dying on, and sometimes, in order to keep moving forward, we have to let go of the smaller things that don’t fit with our picture of perfection.
Instead, try to focus on the bigger picture. Tomorrow is a new day. Give yourself grace, and don’t forget to take breaks! I’ve found that scheduling breaks into my workday has been really helpful for trying to maintain balance. My recommendation? Put them on your calendar and stick to it.
Things may not look perfect, but they don’t have to. We’re learning. We’re growing. And sometimes, it’s okay to not be okay. Once we accept that, we’re one step closer to finding our balance.
So wherever you are in your struggle to balance between work life and home life, you’ve got this. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and embrace the imperfections. Good luck and #MaskUp!
For more ideas on how to find a healthy balance between work life and home life, check out Take Care of Your Star Player: Health and Wellness in EMS.