Juggling Roles When You're an Employee, Parent, and Teacher All at Once

There is no playbook for this. Even veteran telecommuters are thrown by the new corona virus normal. It’s like summer vacation, except you can’t send your kids up the street to play. And school’s thrown into the mix.

If you’re struggling to adapt, you’re not alone. Here are eight tips for coping when you’re suddenly an employee, parent, and teacher all at once.

Avoid Burnout

1. Merge your workspaces

Conventional wisdom and IRS regulations frown on a home office used for any other function. But children need set study areas. Adults need set workspaces. It could be more efficient to combine the two rather than run from room to room. Grade-schoolers might even get a kick out of “going to work” with mom and dad.

Remember to square yourself with the IRS on next year’s tax return by subtracting the schoolhouse space from your home office square footage if you take that deduction.

2. Set up a work-homeschooling schedule

It’s important to create at least a skeleton schedule. It’s frustrating to work into the wee hours because everything’s been too loosey-goosey.

First consider the firm schedules—what time do parents absolutely have to be online and when do children have to attend live-streamed classes or chats?

Second, consider each person’s “peak” productivity period. Schedule early risers to work in the morning and night owls in the evening.

If there are two parents in the household and their jobs permit, rotate work and child-care. It buys each a chunk of time to focus on work.

If you’re a single parent, invest in a wireless headset for conference calls. That way you can tend to kids as you listen. Just remember to mute the mic.

3. Do what works

Whatever your plan, it will fail at times. The kids will find you and disrupt, whether due to boredom, lack of understanding, or a sense of insecurity in these uncertain times.

4. Don’t fight it. Go with it.

One office worker-turned-telecommuter takes her preschooler to the drive-through at a donut shop every afternoon. The mom pulls out a laptop while her daughter munches happily and, finally, naps. The mom works in the car until the nap is over.

It’s a win for both. The child gets what she needs, which, in turn, gives the mom quiet time to work. Look for ways to turn your workday disasters into “wins.”

5. Lower your standards

No one wants to admit it: We can’t do all three things at once. Take a hard look at what can fall off.

Has the school district gone to pass/fail instead of letter grades? Ease up on cracking the academic whip. Can you ask a boss for extensions on projects? Do it.

These concessions are difficult for hard-charging professionals. Making them, though, will make life a lot easier.

6. Tune out social media

Your humble-bragging neighbor who exhausted her teen with a day of SAT prep was a stay-at-home mom before this started. Your cousin who’s enjoying relaxing with family over home-cooked meals doesn’t have a report due tomorrow.

You know this, but it stings a little. Block it out. Either avoid social media entirely, filter your feeds to include people in the same leaky boat as you or unfollow people for a while.

7. Keep meals simple

One more reason to avoid social media: The endless stream of posts from friends stress-cooking their way through the pandemic.

Save it for the weekend. Toddlers who love their chicken nuggets and teens who could live on pizza won’t appreciate it anyway.

If you’ve always packed lunches for the kids, keep doing it. It will be a salvation when lunchtime falls in the middle of a conference call.

Keep dinners simple, too. Hot dogs, burgers, pizza, a picnic in the living room. It might not be your nutritional ideal, but there’s something to be said for bringing comfort food down to their level.

8. Carve out your own time

Take a long walk. Start journaling. Crank up the tunes and dance. Jump in the shower and have a good cry that the kids won’t even know about.

Whatever you do, don’t let the concept of “me” time disappear. Even if it’s for just a few minutes, you need to recharge. Don’t give up on the idea of a weekend either. So, what if you’re not going anywhere. You still need the break.

These are stressful times for everyone, and the only thing we can control is how we respond. None of these tips is ideal solutions, but they can help make a difficult situation a little more tolerable.

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