It’s been nearly one month since the coronavirus pandemic led to school closures and teleworking. With most schools closed for the remainder of the academic year, parents are left with the dual responsibility of teacher and employee.
“Times have greatly changed and now everyone is trying to adjust to a new reality,” said Bethesda therapist Carol Barnaby, MSW, LCSW. “I have heard from many patients who feel that they are currently a bad parent, worker, and spouse.”
“Couples are fighting daily about whose career is more important in regards to who will watch the children during conflicting conference calls,” continued Barnaby. “Others feel bad that their children are on their own all day while they are locked in a room working.”
For those who are struggling with this balancing act, reality testing your self-expectations can offer relief, suggests Barnaby.
“Is it realistic to expect that you are going to be able to conduct business as usual while you have toddlers needing constant entertainment, school children who need school help or are fighting over devices or teens who want to sleep all day and stay up all night?” Barnaby asks. “The answer is no, it is not realistic. In normal times we would not expect someone to watch their toddler while trying to conduct business meetings. We would think that it was an absurd expectation.”
Distance learning with children while simultaneously working from home is a new experience for most. Parents cannot work, teach and parent all at once. “Parents and children should develop a flexible schedule and specify locations for each to do their work,” said Jerome Short, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology, George Mason University. “Parents should discuss with their work colleagues the specific times each day they can do work-related communications.”
Since the usual boundaries that separate settings and activities throughout the day are absent, it’s important to create them, advises psychologist Stacie B. Isenberg, Psy.D. “Set hours for school or work and hours for leisure and family time,” she said. “This allows for quality time and experiences in each camp. Of course the ability to do this will depend upon the age of your children and the type of work you do.”
“Communicate about times when quiet and lack of interruption is essential, and clearly distinguish from times when you are available for questions and helping your child,” continued Isenberg. “Identify specific activities that your kids can do on their own [such as] drawing, reading and throwing a tennis ball against outdoor steps.”
Once a routine or schedule is established, writing and posting can create organization, says Barnaby. “This will allow children to interrupt parents less and to know when it is a good time to seek help,” she said. “It will also give them a plan for their days.”
If possible, designate a workspace for each family member, suggests Isenberg. “In order to stay organized and feel in control of your work, it is important to have your own work area in which to keep your belongings,” she said.
Scheduling time for physical activity can help minimize the impact of not having access to playgrounds, movie theaters and museums. “Have exercise time every day,” said Isenberg. “Not only is it good for your overall health, but it helps with mood and we all need a little extra moving and stretching from all of the sitting in front of computer screens.
“Even if you don't have much space, getting outside every day is therapeutic. The sunshine, fresh air, and change of scenery will help everyone decompress and improve their moods.”