Like many parents, weeks ago, I received the text. Then the voicemail. Then the official email. Then the parents on the WhatsApp strings, exchanging a flurry of texts. My kids’ schools in Jersey City would be closed for a “minimum of two weeks.” And my husband and I simultaneously were told we would both be working from home now. Indefinitely.
I began stress eating (cold leftover mac and cheese) and staring at CNN, which created more panic in my head.
Leading and working during the COVID-19 era is still a new situation for all of us. This outbreak is impacting each of us differently. And working parents are facing a unique set of challenges during these turbulent times.
As a working mother, I have fought hard against the judgements I think that others might have about me. I try not to ask: Am I working hard enough? Am I pulling my weight? If I talk about my kids too much, will they think I don’t care about work? If I don’t talk about my kids, will they think I am a workaholic and don’t care about my children? Does being a good mother mean that I can’t be a good leader? Does being a good leader mean that I can’t be a good mother?
For me, and so many other working mothers (and working parents more generally), working during the COVD19 era resurfaces old insecurities and new fears. At the end of the day, we each want to make impact and feel valued. And in these uncertain times, we are all anxious about how we may be judged, misunderstood or misrepresented.
As a working mother and a leader, I am thinking about how I can support those families who are working from home during the COVD-19 era. Where suddenly it seems that there’s no physical ability to separate work from home, and home from work. Here are 5 things I am focusing on:
How can I join our leadership team meeting if I don’t have someone to watch my toddler and she might babble in the background? How can I help support my 4-year-old and 7-year-old who now have to both do virtual schooling from home? How can I take care of my father during the day if the home health aide can’t come in?
The reality is that many of us will have varying degrees, or in many cases, no childcare coverage options on our collective work-from-home journey. Schools have closed, daycares and after-school programs have closed and caregivers may no longer able to come to homes. Many will have no coverage for eldercare, or support for family members with disabilities. We have to encourage and foster open dialogue as a team on what we are each facing. And we have to be there to listen, be compassionate and help support each other.
Remember that those without children should not be made to be felt or expected to be “the work warriors” who take on more and more responsibilities. Please be mindful of everyone’s well-being and create an inclusive environment for all.
For each working parent, core working hours may be different now. Some have very young children who need more hands-on attention and care. Some have older children, some have elderly parents. Some are dual-career households. Remember that not every working family is the same.
For my husband and I, we are taking it a day at a time. Getting up very early to do some work before the kids get up. Doing work after the kids are in bed. Alternating our work shifts during the day to split childcare coverage and allowing for well-being breaks and remembering to eat lunch.
Align on what schedules will look like and how work will get done as a team. This might change on a daily or weekly basis. Be open to alternate work patterns; think outside the box to help balance both personal and professional responsibilities.
Be clear on priorities. Focus on what needs to be delivered and by when and by who. Encourage individuals to think about what they need to work on and deliver on a day-to-day basis. Help individuals prioritize and give them permission to stop working on projects that are not a priority now.
Things are changing on a daily, and sometimes, hourly basis. Be in constant communication on what changes are occurring so you can prioritize and support the work needed to be complete as one team. Be supportive and flexible as things change.
If you are on a conference call and you hear a baby crying in the background, if you hear a child asking for apple juice or a child saying “Daddy, why isn’t Netflix working?” and showing up in the room on camera, be kind and supportive.
Refrain from laughing, cracking a joke or asking the person why their baby is crying and won’t stop crying. Please don’t say to the child: “You know your Daddy is working right?” Please also do not place judgement on parenting styles: “You let your kids watch Netflix all day long?”
A simple wave and "hi" to the child will suffice as you allow the parent to communicate with their child and continue the meeting.
Additional ways to show support:
Privately contact an individual who's struggling with a noisy background and say it’s okay to be on mute and just listen. You know that we are all handling a lot right now and that you here for whatever they may need.
Offer to reschedule the meeting to a more convenient time.
If the person wants to continue on with the meeting, support them in doing so and please be patient with any minor interruptions that might occur. Most employees will reschedule if there’s a major tantrum about to happen versus the occasional minor interruption!
If the person apologizes, please vocalize your support: “Please don’t apologize. This is a tough time for all of us and I know you are doing the best you can. We will get through this as a team.”
We are all in this together. Please remember that a little kindness can go a long way.