I'm not going to beat around the bush—working from home is hard when you’re a parent. Not hard. Exhausting. Anxiety inducing.
Especially when your kid (or kids, or a herd of children) finds your hiding spot and barges in on your 15th(!) Zoom meeting of the day. Parents! In the midst of this crisis, we’re making things harder on ourselves.
I didn’t realize it until one of my colleagues gave me some much-needed feedback — a true gift of perspective that I’d like to share with you.
My organization, Softway, focuses on building a safe and healthy work-life culture—even going so far as offering those services to other companies. We are also very fortunate to have an infrastructure in place to instantly become a remote company at a moment’s notice.
Remote work has always been part of our DNA, but working in this COVID-19 crisis has been different.
There is no “work-life and “home-life” anymore
Nowadays, work and home are smooshed together like an overstuffed PB&J. As a result? I’m feeling more nervous than ever. And somehow more exhausted? I’m also easily triggered and frustrated by my kids when they interrupt my workflow and virtual meetings.
I’m finding myself getting embarrassed when my kids want to “co-host” my video calls. Sometimes I run from room to room to avoid them — but weeks into isolation means I’m running…out of hiding spots.
Even the bathroom — once the crown jewel of parental sanctuaries— has lost its luster.
If I hear their little feet pouncing towards my makeshift office, I mute my audio and brace for impact.
An introspective journey
Maybe it’s because everything we’re doing at work is focused on rebuilding our company in this strange new landscape, and it feels dangerous and unknown. Is there any room for childlike wonder in perilous times like these? Maybe I’m worried about other people's perceptions of me? Am I the dad who can’t “contain” his kids? The guy who isn’t taking all this seriously enough? Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to keep work and life separate. To keep things business-as-usual.
But that’s not our new working reality. Work-life and home-life are no longer separate. Everything has changed. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in how we live and work and parent—and no one knows what’s next.
Original artwork by Brian Jacob
Julia, one of my colleagues, shared a simple, mindset shifting piece of wisdom with me and it’s totally shifted my approach to how I work at home as a parent. Here’s what she said:
Stop apologizing when your kids want to be part of your virtual workday.
In a way, she gave me permission to stop saying “I’m sorry” for my kids being kids. To not be embarrassed by them when they join in and say “hello” on a video chat (or are screaming about something in the background). That simple statement helped me realize that I should embrace — not shun — my status of ‘parent’ — especially during this pandemic. When she gave me that feedback, it was like a literal weight being lifted off my shoulders. So parents, here’s what you need to stop doing immediately: apologizing to co-workers for being a parent.
A paradigm shift
My team members (with and without kids) understand how hard this moment is because they’re experiencing it too. I thought for sure they’d be annoyed, frustrated or angry by parenting getting in the way of work. But I was wrong. They’re actually empathetic, understanding and full of grace for my situation.
When I dug a little deeper and gathered more feedback from other colleagues, I learned that my teammates actually LOVE IT when my kids wander into the video frame. For them, it’s a chance for a little bit of unstructured happiness. An “escape into cuteness”. They look forward to it. According to some folks, “it gives them life”.
Putting Julia’s feedback into practice has totally changed how I parent while I work. When my kids jump onto calls that I’m having with my CEO, for example, he smiles and calls them by name. Now I’m not embarrassed by it — and I’ve realized that he was never bothered by them in the first place. My kids have become part of the way I work.
No longer ‘bracing’ for impact, I’m here embracing the connection. Original artwork by Brian Jacob
A brave new world
Folks with kids: you do not have to apologize for your work life and your home life becoming one. Your kids are part of the new normal. You are not alone, and your colleagues understand.
Folks without kids: take time to encourage people with young children that may be struggling a bit. Let them know that it’s okay for them to step away to take care of family, that you’re not mad when their kids bust into the video chat, and that they don’t have to say they’re sorry if their kids act like kids.
Folks in general: it is a strange new world, and I’m happy that Softway has embraced this new way of working. If your team is slow to adopt a family-first approach in this virtual work environment — bring it up in your next meeting. Take the first step to change the way you handle family and life interruptions and make things “at work” a little less stressful for all of us.