Monday, January 24, 2022

How to Keep Your Cool As You Work From Home AND Be a Parent During Lockdown

Barely keeping it together as we clock over 40 days in Lockdown in Auckland? You’re not alone. Balancing being a parent, with being an employee/human being right now is no easy task. So, we turned to the good folks at The Parenting Place for some advice, where Holly Brooker works and has put together these amazing tips to help restore sanity and harmony in your home!

Lockdown fatigue is real for many whānau in Aotearoa at the moment, particularly for those in Auckland facing our sixth week of lockdown.

I could list all the reasons why lockdown is especially tough on parents who are also juggling work responsibilities, but I’m pretty sure those of us in that situation know the list all too well… Okay, I can’t help myself: the emotions, tears and tantrums (ours and our kids), the long Zoom calls, work and school pressure, walking past a child’s class Zoom in your undies (whoops), the mindless boredom, the arguments, the ‘family fun time’ fails, the endless walks around the block for a ‘change in scene’… We’re all going through it, and some days are hard.

It’s hard on adults but it’s also really hard on our kids. While Google Classroom is a great technology, it can’t be easy for our kids to be working online all day, without the normality of school routines and the companionship of friends to buoy them along.

The end is nigh, and we all know we are doing this with an important purpose in mind. Some marathon runners run with extra energy through the finish lines, and others crawl or are carried through. Let’s aim to finish lockdown as best we can, focusing on self-care and the care of our tamariki so our whānau come out of this stronger than before.

I asked some of our presenters and psychologists at Parenting Place for their best advice to get through the last days (please!) of lockdown.

Piripi Baker, Presenter and Building Awesome Whānau Kaitiaki

“Of course, it can be really difficult to maintain focus and productivity amidst the constant barrage of noise, demands and requests for attention. You may indeed feel that the tenuously locked door to your office will not be able to hold back the onslaught, and just like Aragorn after the breach of Helm’s Deep, you will be praying for the timely arrival of your partner – AKA your Gandalf – to rescue you from inevitable destruction.

This analogy may seem overly dramatic to those with lighter workloads and fewer kids at home to distract during a lockdown, but the feeling of frustration at being repeatedly interrupted is near universal.

In these moments, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what is underneath our children’s behaviour. We might not be able to drop everything, put on a silly hat and sing “Rock-A-Bye Your Bear” by the Wiggles every single time we are asked, but we do need to keep reminding ourselves that our children aren’t out to sabotage our workday – they’re just looking to connect with us.

An important phrase to remember is this: every interruption is another opportunity for connection. And even if we can’t connect right in that exact moment we’re asked, reminding ourselves of this should help us to respond as kindly and fairly as possible.”  

Linde-Marie Amersfoort, PHD, Psychologist and Director of Development

“Working at home with kids is a challenge and we won’t always get it right. We may not have the brain space or emotional capacity to see the interruption as anything other than an interruption. Which means that we might get frustrated, annoyed or even angry at our children. We are human after all and these are hard times. So, instead of facilitating connection, we cause a rupture. If we find ourselves doing this, rather than wallow in guilt and self-pity, telling ourselves what bad parents we are, we can instead pull ourselves together and focus on repair.

We parent to repair by showing humility, admitting that we were wrong, acknowledging and empathising with the hurt and pain we might have caused, saying sorry and asking our kids to forgive us. We also parent to repair by listening to their experience of being parented by us – which, for many parents, can be the most difficult thing to do. It’s not easy listening to our children telling us that we’ve hurt their feelings!

But when we can repair the connection with our children, we help them to rediscover the fun and joy of the relationship they have with us, and they learn that they can trust us and feel safe and secure with us. They also learn that uncomfortable and difficult feelings (like anger and disappointment ) are part of relationships can actually be overcome and be replaced with feelings of warmth, fun and a sense of belonging.

We want our children to trust that their relationship with us will survive no matter what. So, if I may add to Piripi’s great point: Every interruption is another opportunity for connection… and every rupture in connection is an opportunity for repair and reconnection.”

Christian Gallen, Presenter and National Attitude Trainer

“I haven’t been to jail before *takes a long drag from a Spaceman lollie stick* but as a parent I can confidently say I’ve done hard time. It’s amazing how quickly being in lockdown can feel like being locked up. I have been thrown into the shared confines with some of the world’s most volatile and unhinged inmates… toddlers. They’re not allowed sharp items, there is a strictly enforced headcount routine and there’s even a hierarchy which directly relates to who gets what bunk. I’ve taken this analogy too far and you get the point. The last lag of the COVID sentence doesn’t have to be purely about survival, it can be about rehabilitation and lowering your chances of reoffending. Okay, I’ll stop.

Something I have been reminding myself is that you can’t always control what happens in life but you can control how you respond to it. You don’t actually have to feel stuck at home with your kids. You can make them feel stuck with you! Actually, that’s probably not going to improve family life either but choosing a different perspective on this ‘special’ chapter of family life can change everything. When I tell myself that I’m locked up with my kids and it’s really hard, then guess what? I approach parenting like I’m taking on a really hard task. Like it’s some kind of giant, annoying chore. You don’t need to be a parenting expert to realise that that attitude is never going to get the best out of you as a parent

Great parenting doesn’t usually happen by accident, you need to do it on purpose. I’ve found that my best parenting moments always start with choosing the attitude of wanting to hang out with my kids. It doesn’t depend on their mood, or if they’ve been good or even what alert level we are at. So next time you feel locked up with menacing cellmates, remind yourself that you have been gifted this rare opportunity to connect with your whānau and one day you will look back on this chapter with fond memories. Just like jail. Okay, I’ll stop with the jail references.”

Ellie Gwilliam, Presenter and Editor

“Our relationship with our ‘significant other’ can feel a bit strained in lockdown, which is no surprise. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and a trip to the supermarket is about as much absence as couples can get in a lockdown! I’ve found it helps to notice and appreciate the little things – saying thank you for the cup of tea, for taking the kids outside for a walk, for tutoring the maths home-learning… even if I don’t feel especially grateful about it – because it’s something one’s partner should do anyway, right!? It’s easy to take each other for granted in frustrating and stressful situations, but feeling noticed and appreciated can make a huge difference to our closest relationships.

And a tip for getting through the daily grind: plan something fun to look forward to each afternoon/evening, when school and work is done for the day –  a fun snack, a game, a movie, a scooter race around the block, a daily challenge… something that marks the end of ‘work’ and helps everyone relax. When it comes to getting work done, write a list of the tasks you’re realistically hoping to achieve that day, tick them off as you complete them and when work time is finished, sign off and ‘come home’.”

Holly Jean Brooker, Presenter and PR Specialist

“As a fellow Aucklander, working from home with young kids for the past six weeks, I can’t sugarcoat it. The juggle and the struggle are real! Meeting work expectations and taking on the role of teaching our kids is really challenging, and I’m saying that as an ex-high school teacher! As parents, our bandwidth is stretched and there are constant demands for our attention.

My husband and I have worked out a system where we take turns in the office depending on our meetings and work schedules, and catch up on work in the evenings and weekends and this is allowing us some work success. More than that, it better suits our family dynamic when one parent is ‘on duty’ most of the time, especially to help support schoolwork. We have our daily plan/structure written out so everyone knows what’s happening and we can juggle those endless Zoom sessions.

But structures and good intentions aside, it’s not a picture-perfect postcard here. Whether its sickness, anxiety, fatigue, work pressure, sibling rivalry, relationship tensions, financial stress or family bereavement, we’ve all got stuff we are juggling which adds layers to the pressure.

We need to go easy on ourselves and our kids and accept the reality of what is a really tricky time in our lives, while keeping our focus on what we can control. We can prioritise connection with our tamariki, self-care and kindness for ourselves, trying to have a few LOLs whenever we can, and when a day goes badly – remind ourselves that tomorrow is another chance to try again.

And there are the perks to lockdown I’m appreciating. The sneaky sleep-ins, no work commute or after-school hustle, and a slower pace to family life. And having both my kids snuggled up next to me in bed doing schoolwork on those days I’m stuck in bed sick has made it all feel pretty okay.” 

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