COMMENTARY: What I learned from working at home with kids during coronavirus self-isolation
As I type this, my husband is baking a cake with my four- and seven-year-olds. It’s my hour to work and then we will switch.
The mythological term “work-life balance” has been the name of the game during self-isolation. It hasn’t been easy but it has taught me that we have more strength in us than we realize.
As our flight was landing from Mexico on Saturday, our country was changing. From the tarmac, the first email I read was from my employer, Corus, requiring anyone arriving in Canada to self-isolate. Within two hours, the same messaging from federal, then our local public health department.
It was a tough pill to swallow in arrivals but I also knew this wasn’t about me. Even then I knew this was about everyone’s grandparents, my mom who has a compromised immune system, my friend whose cancer keeps coming back and all the front-line health care heroes and essential service workers who have to keep going.
Before I go on, let me outline my privilege. I have a thoughtful workplace, a supportive spouse, generally healthy kids and an immense support system of people who have been checking in and dropping off groceries. I honestly cannot imagine what people are going through without even one of those things.
Surprisingly, the toughest part for my husband and I hasn’t been being locked in the house. It has been taking care of our small kids while working.
Here are some of the unexpected things I’ve learned in the past few days.
1. Your kids will teach you
Young kids are generally more optimistic than adults. If I’m being honest, I am losing sleep over my elderly parents and loved ones and the economic fallout from all of this, but during the day, I’m getting more cuddles, laughs and thank-yous than ever.
My children probably won’t remember much about this actual virus but they are watching me as I watch the world change before our eyes. I am modelling how to handle stress and uncertainty and that’s forcing me not to spiral or go to a dark place.
My kids are also showing me how to make the best of this situation and that despite reality, it is OK to have fun. My son actually said to me, “This is not forever,” and he’s right. This, too, shall pass.
2. You will change
During maternity leave, people always tell you to ask for help. I didn’t do that then but am being forced to lean on family and friends now. There is really no choice while in self-isolation. I’m learning at this age that it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart.
The other life lesson that I hope sticks is it’s all right to let go. My house is a mess. Laundry is piled up. I’m not the most patient home school teacher. This very article was due yesterday. It’s OK. These are uncertain, unprecedented and unusual times and we are all wearing more hats than usual.
3. The impossible is possible
When you have no choice, the creative juices flow. I have set up an obstacle course, a scavenger hunt and played ‘octopus’ while on conference calls. Bubble wrap from Amazon packages has bought me 15 minutes every time a package arrives. I’ve learned to type with an overtired four-year-old in my lap (current status, FYI).
Working from home is not something I ever imagined possible as a broadcast journalist, but look at us now. I’ve been anchoring the newscast from my backyard daily while my kids flip the channel between mom and Pokemon inside. The daily arrival of my cameraman Max has become one of the highlights of their day, excitedly watching him set up from a few metres away while I fix my makeup and read scripts.
Multi-tasking has been taken to a whole new level and only works because I stopped expecting perfection from myself and others.
4. Communication is even more key
The burden is high on working parents right now. That’s why, in our house, it’s a relay. The night before, we go over each other’s schedules and tap each other in while the other is in a meeting or on a conference call.
For me, it helps knowing the ‘why.’ For instance: “This call is a one-on-one with my boss and I really need to focus.”
There is regular overlap, which can naturally lead to tension. Sometimes the colour-coded schedule we made becomes more of a vision board. We really try to save disagreements for post-bedtime because we know the kids are watching our every move.
Interestingly, we are learning more about each other’s day-to-day functions by osmosis. I’ve also had to communicate to the kids that though we limit their screen time, both our jobs rely heavily on screens. I’ve also made it clear that even though we are paying attention to our work, they are not less important.
At the same time, I’ve communicated with my co-workers that I will be splitting my focus and that my output might not be the same as usual. Setting expectations is key.
I just took a bite of the cake my three favourite people made and it is moist and delicious. Ten years of marriage and I had no idea my husband could bake so well. Self-isolation makes you see things in each other you would not normally have time to see, reflect on and be grateful for in everyday life.
This is family bonding none of us will likely ever get again. There are many silver linings to self-isolation. I just hope I can continue to see that — after all, it’s only Day 5.
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