Rather than feeling renewed and excited as the 2020-21 school year kicks off, plenty of working parents are recovering from a taxing summer. Having nixed summer camp and vacation plans, many parents have refrained from taking time off, retaining PTO in case their health or job situation changes. Whether your kids are returning for face-to-face instruction or remote learning, each can feel challenging after a difficult summer. How can you reclaim your balance?
Claim your space
If your kids work remotely, they are probably directing tech, logistical, and dietary issues your way. This pulls you out of your concentration zone to problem-solve in another sphere of your life, which can be frustrating and stressful.
If you’re working remotely, identify those golden hours where your house is quiet-in the evening or the early morning. Do the work that requires your deepest concentration then. Maximize the flexibility that a remote arrangement offers.
If you’re working outside your home, consider having a set check-in time. Call the kids then. This way, you don’t have to break your concentration and field scattered calls and texts throughout the day.
Set boundaries that serve you, ensuring that the kids understand how to contact their teachers, administrators, and tech support. While you want to be available for your kids, you also have to take good care of yourself. This means claiming your space and getting your work done.
Get what you need
The work you do underwrites your family’s entire operation. Secure what you need to make this arrangement work. If that means requesting more flexibility at work, discuss it. If it involves hiring help with the housekeeping, do it. If it means tagging in a family member to keep the kids on track, call for that support. If it requires approving more screen time for your kids, than you’ve allowed in the past, wave it through. Make this work. However, you need to; desperate times call for an inventive approach. There’s no room for guilt when you’re doing what needs to be done.
Talk yourself down
Whether you’re taking temperatures every morning and trying to keep a clean supply of masks for the kids to take to school or you’re badgering them to keep their room/workspace organized, working parents’ daily routines are complicated. If you feel overwhelmed, that doesn’t mean you’re failing. Various aspects of your life are competing in the same space; it’s physically and emotionally taxing.
“Overwhelm happens when we try to think ourselves out of conflicting priorities and/or too many demands on our time and energy,” shares Wendy Shinyo Haylett, career coach, author of Everyday Buddhism: Real-Life Teachings & Practices for Real Change and podcast host of Everyday Buddhism: Making Everyday Better. “We act as if we can figure it all out if we keep focusing on it, thinking about it...Overwhelm creates circular thinking and storytelling: ‘I just can’t handle this’ or ‘this is impossible,’ we tell ourselves. And this kind of obsessive narrative triggers strong emotions in our minds and bodies.”
It’s understandable to feel alarmed in those moments where everything seems loud and urgent. Haylett recommends: “notice the stressful emotions and thoughts arising, give them expression, and let them be what they are: sadness, anger, frustration, self-judgment, or fear. Acknowledge them and tell yourself that it is OK that you feel them, remaining open to them as they pass through your mind and body.”
Rather than letting those feelings of being overwhelmed derail you, treat yourself with kindness. “Remaining open to the jumble of emotions and thoughts is an offering of compassion to yourself as if comforting a small child, saying it is OK to feel scared. This is the trick to letting worries, fears, and doubts pass through your mind like a few dark clouds temporarily blocking the sun.” Haylett explains.
Haylett shares a re-centering exercise that can be calming and helpful in difficult moments: “When I’m looking for certainty and, instead, find myself tangled in thoughts and feelings that circle round and round, I pause for two minutes, close my eyes, feel my breath rising and falling, listen to the birds and squirrels, then say to myself, ‘just this.’ That single moment of allowing life to be as it is, at the moment, stops obsessive thinking, centers me in my body, and sends overwhelming packing.”
Doing your best in hard times.
It’s hard to achieve balance in uncertain times. Do your best, and be kind to yourself. “We live in confusing times. Don’t expect clarity. There is nothing about these times that can be figured out absolutely. Our individual worlds are dancing with the uncertainty of the whole world to the pandemic's beat. We can’t hear the beat, and we can’t anticipate the next move. No step you take, no decision you make is sure to be the ‘right’ one because the foundation of almost everything is uncertain. It’s good to remember that any action you take is the right one because you took action.” Haylett assures.
You’re doing difficult work in difficult times. Do your best every day. Be proud of yourself every day. Forgive yourself every day. You’ve got this.