How to Switch Gears From Work Mode to Parent Mode

Parent working from home with child behind them


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Parents and their children have experienced a profound shift in their daily lives since the coronavirus pandemic began. The once clear separation between employee and parent has disappeared for those working remotely with their children at home.

Meanwhile, parents with jobs outside the home have scrambled to find childcare, making it difficult for them to satisfy their families' and employers' needs.

Juggling work meetings and deadlines with your children's needs is undoubtedly challenging, leaving parents feeling like they're being pulled in two different directions throughout the day.

Fortunately, there are ways to maximize your time that will allow you to shift more seamlessly from work mode to parenting mode.

Create a Schedule

Whether your children are younger or school-aged, it's important to adhere to their schedules throughout the day.

Older children who are learning remotely can log into their virtual classrooms and complete tasks independently, but younger students often require more individualized attention.

Commit a block of time each morning to set your child up for success for the day while encouraging them to stay on-task during times you are unavailable.

Establishing a consistent routine will reinforce when you'll be free to assist your child and when they will need to focus on working on their own.

Routines also help children feel in control of their environments by making their days more predictable.

If you have younger children, do your best to plan your work schedule around their daily routine. For example, waking up early may seem daunting, but being the first to rise can mean checking a few tasks off your to-do list before you must dive into parenting mode.

You may decide it's time to break when your child wakes up for the day, resuming your work-related tasks at naptime.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries can feel intimidating, but it's imperative when working from home. So, aim to set boundaries with your employer and your children.

If your children are incessantly asking for snacks while you're trying to complete a spreadsheet, or your boss's emails continue to come through after hours, it's time to put some rules into effect.

It's fine to tell older children you're not to be disturbed unless it's urgent or to make the home more accessible for younger children who are capable of completing certain tasks on their own.

Likewise, letting your boss know you're only available during working hours can alleviate the feeling of needing to respond to requests well into the evening.

It's natural to feel overwhelmed when trying to fill two different roles simultaneously. However, allocating dedicated times for your children and employer will prevent them from feeling like they are competing for your attention throughout the day.

Take Breaks

Remember the lunch hour you used to get at work and the recess your children took at school? These scheduled breaks provided much-needed downtime during a busy day and should be implemented at home, too.

Don't feel guilty about logging off to fix lunch and catch up with your kids or about making a trip outside to get some fresh air. Spending too much time indoors and in front of a screen can negatively impact your mood, so take a breather to recenter yourself throughout the day.

This quality time will also allow you to reconnect with your children. Take the time to address any concerns they may have or to enjoy each other's company. This small break will help everyone return to their day feeling revitalized.

Keep Expectations Realistic

There's a learning curve to working from home with your children in tow, and some days are bound to go more smoothly than others. So if you're having a day full of work-related mistakes or tantrums from your children, remember, you're not alone.

Perhaps you have an important work deadline looming, meaning you must focus more of your attention on your laptop than your child's worksheets. Conversely, your child may have a project that requires your assistance, causing you to lag on your email responses.

Try to remind yourself you are only one person and that certain tasks may occasionally need to be set aside.

Fortunately, most companies are cognizant of the juggling acts their employees with children are currently performing. However, striving for perfection during challenging times means inadvertently setting yourself up for failure, so try to learn from the difficult days instead of dwelling on them.

Leave Work at Work

It can be more challenging to leave the stress of your job behind at the end of the day when your office and your home have become the same. While having a virtual office means it's tempting to jump on your computer to quickly answer an after-hours email, it's important to resist that urge if it's a matter that can wait until morning.

Use the evenings to spend quality time with your family, whether that means sitting down to dinner or playing a game together. Taking the time to be present with one another will help you and your child decompress, which will allow you to end each day on a positive note.

Remember that you are working from home and not living at work. So, at the end of the workday, shut down the virtual workspace and embrace family time.

A Word From Verywell

The coronavirus pandemic has left parents juggling work and childcare responsibilities with greater intensity than ever before. The seemingly endless list of tasks can be quite taxing, leaving many parents to grapple with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. This is normal.

However, if you feel the onslaught of stress has profoundly impacted your mental health, you don't have to suffer alone. Instead, you may benefit from reaching out to other parents in the same situation or behavioral health professionals who can help you navigate your feelings.

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  1. Early Child Learning and Knowledge Center. The importance of schedules and routines. Updated July 13, 2020.