For Parents Working From Home…

I recently had the opportunity to co-host an Ask Me Anything conversation For Parents: When the Whole Family is Working from Home with Mikaela Kiner, Founder, and CEO of Reverb here in Seattle.  We discussed such topics as:

  • What you’re learning and how to stay productive
  • Tensions and challenges, and how to manage them
  • Finding the silver lining: Empathy, flexibility, and more

You can find the recording here.  Below are some of the highlights and my reflections.

I have found it helpful to try to keep things as normal as possible and to have a loose schedule to guide the day.  We have morning meetings and include the kids in planning for the day and discussing what we each hope to accomplish and each need.

  • Create and communicate realistic expectations with your family and your employer/manager

There is a quote by Richard Rohr, “Suffering comes from unmet expectations.”  I think it is important to accept in this situation that none of us is at our most efficient. We are all juggling other priorities and emotions, navigating uncharted territory, and no one is operating at full capacity.  We need to adjust our expectations so that we aren’t adding to the disappointment, stress, and anxiety, and we can try as best we can to maintain emotional balance.

We also have an opportunity to create new definitions for balance between work and home, and to create communication and empathy as we are all working to figure out this new mandate for all of us to Work From Home (WFH). Communication is key. This is a big experiment and we have to continue to make adjustments and to communicate what is working, what is not working, and how we’d like to adjust the experiment.

During our first week with all of us at home, me, my husband, and our two boys (1st grader and Pre-K student), there were definitely adjustments that had to be made.  One day I looked at my husband just before dinner and told him, “today did not work for me.” He responded, “I know. What should we do differently?”  Since then we continue to discuss each day what is feasible as we continue to experiment and gather more data.

I work for myself.  My husband who works for a company and is fortunate enough to work from home has similar conversations with his boss.  His boss was very upfront in telling him, “I know you aren’t going to be as productive during this time. None of us are.”  This was a very valid statement and set the tone for having these conversations and setting realistic expectations. If you are a manager, this is a great example of empathy and authenticity. If you are an employee, make sure you are letting your manager know what you need and don’t over-promise.

  • Make space for each of you to have your own experience, feelings and to ask for what you need

We are all processing the current situation differently and at different speeds, working through the emotions differently.  In a recent HBR article, what we are experiencing is grief.  I have also seen our experience termed trauma.  If we look at grief, which follows a trauma, we see there are stages and every person walks through these stages differently and at a different pace.  The Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

This most basically means we are all processing differently, in different stages and experiencing different emotions, and are all in need of grace, space, and understanding. These discrepancies can cause tension, so it is important to create space for misunderstanding, to have empathy, and to communicate through these emotions and experiences.  Rather than allowing this jumble of emotions and stages of grief to further divide us, be aware of where you are, communicate this information and ask for what you need.

  • Take care of yourself and make self-care a priority – this is good modeling for your kids, too

It is important to stick to the things that you know you need, and if you haven’t been doing this already, start paying attention and asking for what you need (see above).  For me, I need exercise, I need my morning run or dose of yoga to fill my cup and set my day on the right path.  I have also added some meditation and writing to help keep me centered and present, to keep my emotions in check and my mind steady.

Find what you need, what helps make your day better, and advocate for that time.  Teach your kids to do the same, and work to stay in tune with what others in your household need.  If you aren’t sure what others need, particularly your kids, and they are acting out, get curious before getting frustrated or angry.  My oldest son needs one-on-one time and if he doesn’t get it, things go south quickly.  We see it, and he is beginning to see it and beginning to be able to also verbalize this need and ask for time.  Teach your kids how to advocate for themselves and fill their cups by modeling this behavior for them.

We need to fill our cups in order to refrain from trying to run on empty.  To have a fighting chance of operating at our best in a tough situation, we need to take care of ourselves.

  • Communicate more than usual with your family and your team

We are all in uncharted territory.  Make sure you are bringing your family or team along with you, rather than leaving them to fill in the blanks and wonder. Ask questions, get curious, process out loud, work through things together, be curious, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to re-formulate the plan.  I go back to my science days and am thinking of this as an experiment.  Hypothesize a solution, test the hypothesis, discuss the outcome, return to the problem and adapt your hypothesis – REPEAT!

As noted above, there is a lot going on, far more than just a virus.  There are emotions, there are more complications, there are more people at home, this is messy!  Communicate to try to avoid more mess than necessary.

  • Talk about feelings – name them in order to move through and past them

This is a great time to teach our children about emotions, and for those of us who didn’t grow up talking about feelings, this is a great time to learn with the kids. Emotions are a great way to connect and get a sense of where everyone is and how their emotions may be impacting their behavior.  This is also a great way to build self-awareness and self-management skills and to help our kids on this journey to becoming emotionally healthy adults.  Feelings only get in the way if we suppress them and they unknowingly stage an attack.  If we acknowledge them and choose our actions carefully, we can better navigate and understand the information they are providing.

We made a magnetic feelings chart we use to help us talk about and acknowledge where we are each at.  Inspired by Marc Brackett’s book, Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive and his Mood Meter.  This again allows for increased communication and problem-solving, and problem-solving seems to be a pretty important skill in our current situation and a valuable skill to have for the future.

Mood MeterFamily Mood Meter

To make your own Feelings and Emotions/Mood Meter (and maybe a few for others):

What you will need:

– White Magnetic Board

– Transparent Adhesive Film – Multicolor pack

– Black Sharpie Marker

Make your own individual magnets for each person in your family. Put all the words from the Mood Meter on your board, or choose the ones that fit for your family and for where your kids are in their development and vocabulary. Be creative and make this chart your own!

Additional resources to discuss and manage emotions with your family:

My Moods, My Choices Flipbook

Feelings and Dealings: An Emotions and Empathy Card Game

Feelings in a Flash Cards – Empathy Activities, Coping and Social Skills

The ABCs of Emotions

Emotional Bingo for Children (In English and Spanish!)

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang

The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang

The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow

For additional thoughts and information, stay tuned for my posts on Repair Conversations, Redefining and Rebalancing, and Hope and Resilience!