We’re over two weeks into this now, and things are getting weird. We’re long past the hurricane/snowstorm frenetic energy phase and headed directly towards the horror movie zone. We all know that this is hard, that normal is a distant memory, and that we’re figuring things out as we go. We’re resetting our realities as we speak, and things keep shifting under us all the time.
In my house, we’re deep in the hands-on toddler zone and spending some serious quality time together. Our son is practically walking, so he’s clearly going to be an Olympic athlete. He rocks out on every noise making toy he has like a young Mozart, which is both relaxing and great for calls. And yesterday he vomited, looked at it, and immediately started licking it – so he’s either going to be a chef or he’s spending too much time with our dog.
Our dog is struggling without her park visits, but my husband seems to barely register that we haven’t left the house in 2 weeks. Frankly, I’ve never seen him put as much effort into anything as he’s currently putting into becoming the favorite parent. He actually pulled a muscle in his leg doing elaborate jumps to get a laugh earlier this week, and he’s taken to counting dirty diapers as a marker of how much our son liked his cooking that day. I wish those were exaggerations. If this doesn’t end soon, I’m going to get seriously worried for both of them.
Like us, parents everywhere are spending more time with their kids than we’re used to. One thing is universal, we’re all gaining new respect and appreciation for the tireless, hard work that teachers, nannies, and other caregivers do every day. They’ve been underappreciated and undervalued for too long, and I hope the palpable hole their absence has left in our lives is filled with gratitude and better childcare systems (for both parents and caregivers) when this is over. Everyone can now plainly see what happens to society without them, and it’s not sustainable.
However, for the time being, we are indeed without them. I’m one of 4 siblings, and now that we’re all home with our kids, we cannot stop talking about what it must have been like for our parents when we were growing up, especially our mom. Chaos. But I’ll tell you one thing: she set the parenting bar at the right level. We played outside without adults, we made messes, we did things that I now look back on with horror as a mom. There were definitely screens, and it wasn’t all educational (I was unquestionably too young to be watching 902101 and ER). There was also homework, books, games, cooking experiments, family meals and a lot of time together. It worked. I’ve read many articles telling parents how to create schedules during this time (color code it! schedule time for fun!). I understand the need for some routine and structure, but I also think we need to give ourselves and each other a lot of flex and leeway.
It’s clear that we’re not going back to ‘normal’ in the next few weeks. Whatever your current situation is, we’re going to have to make that work for a while. I know we all have work to do; I hadn’t seen the hours past midnight so consistently in years. But we also have to stop acting like this is a short period of time that we can muscle our way through with a few quick fixes until we’re back to where we used to be.
Some people argue that having younger kids is harder when working from home, others say that having older kids is more difficult right now. The reality is that all age groups come with their own challenges and no one has it easy. That makes now the perfect time to let go of control. It’s never been clearer that we will truly never know the impact of the million choices we make on behalf of our kids every hour. We can only control so much, and the rest? We just have to let it go.
I’ve seen countless articles advise managers to “encourage your team to have their kids on the video call!” – it’s a nice sentiment, but you know what the reality is? If you can see my kid on the video, at best I am absorbing 30% of what you’re saying. Empathy towards working parents is crucial, but it needs to go beyond empathy to an understanding and acknowledgement that we’re working as hard as we can, but we can’t get everything done the way we can when we are at work and someone else is watching our kids. That’s the deal that working parents have made, and that deal was just broken with zero warning and no one to blame.
There’s a reason that most people do not work from home without childcare – it’s not functional. But here we are. And so I say to you, let it go, lower your standards, settle into the fact that what used to take you 1 day to complete might take 3 right now. Let kids play on their own, make a mess, watch tv, and live without a perfect schedule; they will still make it out the other side ok. Now is the time to be radically realistic with yourself, your family and your work. Do what you can, and say goodbye (for now) to the rest.