Strategies to balance home, work life during pandemic and beyond
Editor’s note: Transform Through Therapy specializes in online group therapy, with a special focus on grief and caregiving. In this series, they are talking about how COVID-19 and the impact it is having on mental health.
As business around the country begins to open up, summer is still likely to look different than summers past. Traditional summer activities for kids and families — community pools, classes, camps and lessons — may not be available. So what does that mean for working parents, particularly working mothers, as we head into a summer affected by COVID-19?
We talked to Amy Osmond Cook, founder of Osmond Marketing, chief marketing officer of Simplus, as well as a wife and mother, about what her strategies are for managing her work and home life with COVID-19.
In her professional life, she’s working with clients who are transitioning their in-person business to a remote one, trying to maintain her own business while being sensitive to those they do business with, as well as working through the added stresses and hardships on her own employees and co-workers.
“We’re just trying to make it all work,” she said.
“It’s been an increase in work, but it’s also been important to me to make sure our children are taken care of.”
Cook offers three strategies that have helped her and others to transition work and home life.
Shift your schedule
Summer typically comes with looser schedules anyway, but Cook recommends shifting work hours if possible. She lets her kids stay up later than usual, and while they sleep in, she’s up early getting work done.
Homework gets done in the afternoon — and now that school is out, afternoons can be for chores, walking the dog, or other responsibilities — and by the time 5 o’clock rolls around, she’s gotten a full day’s work in and they’re ready to enjoy each other and be together.
Some of her employees and co-workers have found that tag-teaming parental duties has worked well. Mom takes the kids in the morning, and dad takes the kids in the afternoon. If you’re able to move around when the work gets done, this can be a successful strategy.
“There’s a lot of understanding in the business world right now with everyone’s kids and being at home,” Cook said.
“Flexibility is one of the biggest success factors for being able to navigate well,” Cook said.
Flexibility here means letting go of anything that’s not important and retaining the things that are the most important. There are going to be certain things that are a normal part of your routine that are going to be a lot harder right now. It could be an annual vacation, certain milestones for your kids, or little things even. Being able to put those things on pause will allow you to focus on what’s really important and vital for your family and your job, without distractions.
“It’s actually a really good lesson for me in life for what I actually care about and what is actually important for me,” Cook said.
And even when you’ve done all these things and found what’s working for you, life isn’t going to be perfect and smooth all the time — is life ever perfect and smooth, anyway? So when you’re under pressure at work, it’s hot outside, your kids are complaining that they’re bored, and you’re at your wit’s end, Cook has three tips to help diffuse that stress and improve communication with co-workers and family alike — or at the very least not make it worse.
The ‘Sandwich Model'
Cook has found that when people are stressed, communication can suffer. Negative feedback can come across as DEFCON 1. So Cook employs what she calls “The Sandwich Model.”
“If I have feedback, I sandwich it between positive statements.”
By starting with something positive and following up with something positive, it helps with the delivery of any negative feedback, but Cook says it also helps reframe her own perspective and recognize all the contributions that person is making and how much progress has already been made.
And even if people on the receiving end recognize what’s happening — her employees refer to it as “getting sandwiched” — it’s always better.
This strategy can be effective within a family dynamic as well. Moms, ever feel like you’re always yelling? And any kid feels “picked on” at some point. By including positives with things that need changing or adjustment with our kids or spouse, it doesn’t feel like a personal attack.
If you’re stressed, grumpy, hungry, be able to say that to those around you.
“Being transparent really diffuses a lot of stress,” Cook said. Some days just aren’t going to be your day, and if you’re upfront with your kids or co-workers, they may not take things so personally.
There’s lots of reasons why being transparent is beneficial, both at home and in the workplace, but being transparent also shows authenticity to who you are as a person, the ups and downs, good and bad.
“Nobody is here to be perfect, we’re all just here to grow,” Cook said.
Cook reflects every day on who she needs to thank.
“There are so many people in our lives that are doing great things,” she said.
By taking time to focus or recognize the contributions other people are making at home, at work, as a friend, whatever it may be, it helps to put you in a great state of mind.
Kenneth Burke, an American literary theorist who wrote on 20th century philosophy, says that your perception of reality is a reflection of one reality and a deflection of another reality.
Cook explains that because there is so much information coming at us all the time, we can’t filter through all of it, we have to select certain pieces.
“When you have an attitude of gratitude, a growth mindset, what you’re doing is selecting the portions of reality that are positive and deflecting negative portions of reality. So you are actually experiencing reality in a different way,” Cook said.
Perhaps learning to be grateful for what we have can be a silver lining to a world pandemic — selecting a positive aspect of reality right there.