Dr. Kim Grant, PhD
Ideas for juggling work and life
Balancing work and/or school and parenting is challenging at the best of times. It is even more of a challenge now! There are no easy answers, but these tips are offered as some starting points:
Go easy on yourself! It is just not possible to do everything to the same level as you did before. As one expert put it, “The first thing we’re talking to parents about is undermining their own sense of perfectionism and being exceedingly and radically realistic with themselves.” Celebrate the small wins and do your best to let go of comparisons to your previous levels of productivity. These are exceptional circumstances, and it is okay to lower your personal expectations (whether it’s for productivity, level of engagement, or being a ‘super parent’) for a time.
Connect with other students or colleagues with families. It’s difficult for peers without children to understand what you are balancing right now. Reach out to others in your courses or network who are juggling similar priorities right now. Your peers may be able to share their challenges, along with some of the hacks they’ve found in navigating parenting, remote teaching and learning and other priorities.
- Normalize the juggling act. You are not in this alone. When you speak up about the challenges you’re facing, it becomes easier for someone else to do the same.
- Reach out to formal and informal mentors. Sometimes it just helps to be heard. While a mentor won’t solve problems for you, they can offer a sounding board to help you determine a course of action.
- Tip: Consider creating or joining a Facebook group or other social network for parents who are also juggling school and/or work with caregiving.
Find out what your options are. Communicate regularly with those you work with: your colleagues, students, instructors, supervisors, an academic advisor, etc. Be proactive and find out what flexible options and supports are available. Let them know that you are juggling studying or work with childcare and possibly homeschooling. Many of them are as well!
- Tip for students: Ask for deadline extensions if you need it. These are exceptional circumstances!
- Tip for instructors: Recording lectures, Zoom classes, or responses to questions commonly asked during office hours can help students whose schedules have changed and save you from answering repetitive emails.
Carve out a study space where you can leave all your work or school materials. The internet is full of pictures of the closets, hallways and bedroom corners people are using for home offices these days. Squeezing in studying or work around your parenting activities will be easier if you don’t have to pack and unpack your computer and books every time you have a few minutes.
If you are parenting with a partner, discuss how to share home and childcare responsibilities so that you have time to dedicate to your work and studies. If your children are older, discuss how they can help around the house as well. Kids may be more committed to a plan that they help make. This will look different for every family, but having those conversations sooner than later can be helpful.
- Tip: Posting a schedule or duty list, even a flexible one, can help keep everyone in the loop.
Create some new routines. Under these new and challenging circumstances, you may not have the same types of uninterrupted time for working as you’re used to. Consistency may be hard to come by, but you and your children will feel more settled once you are able to establish some (flexible) routines. This could include early morning writing time, working during nap times, or reviewing lessons after children have gone to bed. If your children are older, maybe everyone can have a regular afternoon quiet time for reading, listening to music, watching a movie, etc.
- Tip: Consider taking some time on the weekend to plan routines, activities or crafts for small kids that will keep them busy for 30 minutes at a time during the week.
Do your best to create and assert healthy boundaries. While this may not always be possible with children who are younger or have complex needs, do what you can to create boundaries in areas you have control. Explore creative solutions to help carve out times for you to focus. This includes more than just work time. It is important to make time to go outside and get a breath of fresh air or take a shower instead of just working or studying.
- Tip: Try posting a ‘Stop’ sign on a door or even on the back of your chair when you are studying/working or on a call.
Know that you are not alone. There are many students, staff and faculty who are experiencing the same challenges. If you are feeling distressed or overwhelmed, remember that online mental health support is available 24/7.