As parents trickle back to their places of work, families will have to re-adjust to busier routines. It won’t be easy on anyone
What will Friday bring? As the case numbers and hospitalisations from Covid rise, there appears to be greater jeopardy about the further easing of restrictions. Despite that, many companies and employers are encouraging staff to get back on site and resume working from the office.
This will be great news for many staff who have felt isolated and who are itching to get back to co-working in person and the social opportunities it will bring. Younger workers may have had enough of working from home, but the cohort of workers with young families may be dreading the return to the office.
Throughout the pandemic I have been supporting families who have struggled with balancing working and caring for their children. Despite the challenges of juggling childcare and the demands of their jobs, many families adapted and found a system that works well. Being present for your children in a flexible way is a gift. Even if your working day was inflexible, you could have been saving hours of commuting daily. All that time that parents have had with their children has been valuable and will be missed by parents and children alike.
The increased time apart from parents will be hard-felt by some children. Early morning drop-offs or late-evening collection from after-school care will chafe. As with many situations that children face, there may be no solution to the dilemma. Parents do have to work to support the family and, as we return to the office, that work will separate children from their parents.
When faced with an insoluble problem, all we can do, as parents, is be understanding and emotionally supportive. We need to let our children know that we may have some understanding of the distress they feel if they are missing us. It may be tempting to be gruff and dismissive, since it is just the way of the world (and you may be upset at being back at work yourself) but being warm and understanding is one of the pillars of the most effective, authoritative, parenting style. You might need to acknowledge their anxiety about being apart from you again, or their disappointment at spending less time with you, or their frustration at the additional complexity of their lives.
At the same time, however, you also need to regulate your own feelings about being back at work. There is no way to predict how you will feel, but one could imagine that if being at home so much more has felt good, then being away from your children more might feel bad. You may miss them, you may resent the longer hours with the addition of a commute, you may be frustrated by the return to long evenings dashing from work to all the myriad extra-curricular activities, with the corresponding loss of your downtime. There may be upsides with less distraction during working hours. Whatever the experience, the key is take some time to reflect on it, such that you can then regulate the feelings that it brings up.
I deliberately mentioned loss of downtime in the previous paragraph. There is a real danger for many parents that the return to work will recreate that sense of a rat-race, where we are on the go all the time. While some elements of that charging around may be unavoidable, you might also want to build in some time for self-care.
Self-care comes in many guises. Your notion of what counts as minding yourself could be as varied as luxuriating in a bath, or time for hobbies, or getting out for a walk, or reading a book. Taking time to mind yourself needs to be intentional. Random opportunities for some “me-time” are welcome, but if you don’t plan for some “me-time” those opportunities may be few and far between.
Whatever you might plan to mind yourself, it needs to be simple, achievable and sustainable. The more complicated an activity is the more likely it will be disrupted. For example, going on a spa weekend might be extraordinarily good for you, but may be so stressful to organise (with travel and childcare and so on) that its benefit is matched by its cost. A weekend like that will be a rare treat, rather than a daily feel-good habit.
Similarly, getting out to the gym may be the gold-standard form of exercise for you, but the additional travel time to the gym may mean that you go less frequently than you may be able to get out for a walk. Five minutes a day spent writing a gratitude journal could be way more effective than grabbing two hours to watch your current favourite TV series. Yoga, meditation or any healthy pastime, that you can’t integrate into your day is less helpful than something that feels good for you that you can do every day.
Being back working away from home is an adjustment for everyone. Patience, understanding, and some self-care may make the adjustment more manageable.