The Christmas tree was barely down before the announcement was made that we were going into a national lockdown. As we yet again face a battering from this storm, we know by now we are all experiencing different challenges. Some of us though may find solace in sharing common experiences, so I’m sharing my reality as a working mum in the first year of a new job, and what I think will help me get through this time.
If like me you’re on parent whatsapp groups then you’ll undoubtedly have received a deluge of memes citing the need for more wine and chocolate to get us through home schooling again. The expectation is that this will be the shortest sugar free/dry January in history. However, the black humour (though needed) was only brief respite from what I knew as the reality last time around and which I do not want to experience again. The feeling that because I’m at home 24/7 I need to be a good housekeeper, mother and teacher and yet still give my best at work.
Whilst I love my kids and spending time with them I really struggled teaching them. Last lockdown I saw my kids suffer from not being at primary school and being with their friends. Their anxiety flared up, emotions were high and they regressed in their school work. I felt endlessly exhausted and like I was letting everyone down. Inevitably relationships were strained as a result.
At the micro and macro level there has been so much to deal with and the ongoing uncertainty and disruption is causing pandemic fatigue. For many working parents the recent announcement of schools closing also creates an initial sense of panic. How will we deal with this again? It’s easy to go into freefall thinking about the things we cannot control, so instead I’m focusing on three things that I can:
My internal dialogue: I can control how I respond to this situation. I am trying to tell myself that this time it is different and I will do things differently: I won’t expect too much of myself; I will take one day at a time; and I won’t compare with the wonderful home schooling efforts of others. This time I can also remind myself that things improved, my kids did go back to school and see their friends again and fortunately they blossomed. I can have hope that they will again in the Spring and, thanks to science, there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Genuine connection: I can be grateful for and benefit from the support networks I already have in place. Sharing the highs and lows with friends on whatsapp groups and zoom calls has really helped and those deep friendships have really lifted me during this time and they will again. However, I also know that endless social media and connectivity can be exhausting and overwhelming at times and I will know to limit it and step away to give myself headspace too. Getting outside for a run or walking and talking with friends and colleagues in the fresh air has also been a real help.
Openness in the workplace: I joined byrne·dean a year ago (what a year to start a new job!) because I was attracted to and passionate about its mission to create kinder, fairer, more productive workplace. Luckily for me, byrne·dean practices what it preaches. There has always been open communication and at the darkest moments in last lockdown, I felt psychologically safe to say I needed help, that I needed some time and I was listened to. This time around, I did not even need to ask for help. My CEO messaged me straight after the announcement to ask what support I needed and she reassured me that we would make it work.
During this year I have facilitated many sessions on leadership, engagement and managing through covid and I have heard and experienced first-hand how it feels to have a good leader and supportive team in these times. It gets you through. Being listened to and shown empathy and kindness by managers and colleagues can make such a difference.
Organisations can and should help their people deal with this initial panic and practicalities for the weeks ahead. If you’re a working parent not knowing how you will get through it again, ask for help, reach out for support. Don’t feel you have to suffer in silence or put on a brave face. This is a marathon not a sprint and there are practical options out there (flexibility in hours and expectations, annual leave, parental leave and furlough for child care– see Working Families | Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Furlough - Working Families) and those organisations that value their people should be open to them. For managers and leaders who need support with this while dealing with their own personal battles, feel free to get in touch and talk things through.