Tricks and treats for working parents in the COVID era

Chris Parke, Co-Founder & CEO at Talking Talent

working dad and child, fatherhood penalttyBeing a working parent in a pandemic is tricky. Parents are feeling stressed and stranded with few, if any, good options for alleviating the daily pressures they’re under.

Here, we review some of the biggest challenges and offer a few self-care suggestions to treat yourself and make it through these unprecedented times.

Trick: Going back to virtual school

Around the world, parents are either managing virtual learning or worrying that schools may close again, and virtual school is ahead for their kids. There are just no words to describe how hard it is… or will be. There are not enough hours in the day to supervise and support children learning at home while staying fully productive at work. At the end of the day, a working parent has a long list of fears: they worry about their kids’ health, social skills, academic progress, and screen time. At the same time, they’re afraid of letting down colleagues or getting zinged on a performance review if they seem less committed.

How to ‘treat’ it: Forget trying to show up as the perfect parent or the perfect employee. Show up as the human one instead. As much as you can, be transparent about your struggles at work. Encourage your colleagues to share theirs too, so you can work out an action plan together. Lower your expectations all around. Now is not the time for perfection. Accept that there’s only so much you can do, and give yourself permission to be okay with that. Your kids may gain just as much from learning about self-care and resilience than by ticking off all the boxes on this week’s homework assignment.

Trick: Mental health issues for parents and children

The stress is relentless right now, for kids and parents. Children may be fearing for their own health or that of their loved ones. They might be picking up on family tension over financial issues. Or they may be struggling with any number of ongoing disappointments, like cancelled parties and milestone events. Parents too are facing their own mental health crisis. Social distancing requirements mean many have lost their support networks. Parents with young kids and no safe babysitting options find themselves with no alone time — there’s no relief from the ever-constant demands of their children. So many of the routine things we do for our wellbeing are no longer available. No group exercise classes or brunch with friends. For some, even in-person therapy sessions have gone by the wayside.

How to ‘treat’ it: When it comes to your kids’ mental health, take their concerns seriously. But don’t beat yourself up if your child is stressed right now. You’re not a bad parent. They’re exhibiting a natural response to these unprecedented times. If you’re worried that your child is depressed or showing a concerning level of anxiety, reach out to your GP. They can be a good starting point for getting connected with the right resources. For you and your kids, pay attention to simple stress relievers like exercise, sleep, and good nutrition. Don’t take these care tips for granted — they can go a long way toward keeping you well in both body and in mind.

Trick: Anxiety of the Unknown

Never has life been filled with such uncertainty. We don’t know how long this will last, whether we’ll face another lockdown, how our health will be affected, and how the economic impact will affect our family. We’re all comfortable with different levels of uncertainty. Some of us thrive when confronted with the unexpected while others find unpredictability extremely distressing.

How to ‘treat’ it: Recognise that this is temporary. It may be ‘long-term temporary,’ but eventually these conditions will pass. When you can look ahead to the future with confidence and optimism, you’re better able to take steps to protect your wellbeing in the here and now. Focus on the things that are under your control. You can control washing your hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing. You can set up social time over Zoom. You can take walks outside. You can reach out and help others in need of connection. Don’t underestimate the power of small things in terms of managing your health and anxiety.

Trick: Facing a different kind of Halloween

It could be that many of your family’s favorite Halloween activities, like haunted houses and parties, have already been cancelled in your area. Trick or treating may also be banned in certain communities, as many health experts recommend people avoid this door-to-door tradition. Cancelling trick-or-treating can seem particularly harsh to parents, particularly after months of disappointments and potentially many more ahead.

How to ‘treat’ it: Think outside the box and go big on other ways of celebrating this year. Amp up your holiday decorations, plan a chocolate hide-and-seek in your own yard, organise a treasure hunt with sweet treats at every stop, or arrange a movie scare-a-thon. If you’re committed to letting your kids trick or treat, please do it safely. Ask residents to toss treats your way, instead of allowing children to go right to the door. You might even make some fun signs that say ‘toss-n-treat’ to carry along the way. Or, organise a Halloween parade with your neighbors. Participating households can provide treats that kids can pick up as they walk along the parade route, while you monitor and restock the table from a safe distance.

Modeling self-care

Kids learn from how you handle the tricks and treats in life. Hopefully, this is the last pandemic they’ll face, but it’s possible they’ll see other global stressors in their lifetime. What they learn from you now about self-care, optimism, and problem-solving will serve them their entire lives, helping them develop an enduring sense of fortitude and capability.

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