This post was supposed to go live back in April-May but none of my usual tips seemed to apply once the world stopped. Now we are back at the start of another school year without the usual soul-restoring breaks for the adults and the five months allowed me to reswizzle my go-to’s in ways that are more applicable in our new normal.
As most working mothers can relate, I have a complicated relationship with summer vacation. At the end of every normal school year, my mom guilt is usually at an all-time high while my energy and creativity are at an all-time low. Skidding into the last weeks of school, with projects, rehearsals, recitals, parties, parades, commemorations, gifts, and more knowing the ever-present question of “what are you doing for the summer?” is right around the corner (For the record, I am working. Just like I do in the fall, winter, and spring seasons). Until I win the lotto or marry Daddy Warbucks – both highly unlikely – the word summer for me remains a noun, not a verb. Since quarantine began, little changed in my work-from-home-mom-life. The only difference was having my son home. And while I would love to welcome summer with open arms, this season usually means more working from home and less relief from the structure of a schedule.
During the school year, we do not have the luxury of lounging around. Nobody looks cozy in their beds; we are in a rush against the clock trying to get everyone dressed, fed, and “out the door” as it were, pre-COVID. The after school/work hours are much the same. But as hectic as it can be, we are bonded by a team mentality of we are all in this together. Thankfully, I was blessed with a son who, like his Type A mom, loves a schedule and come the average school morning, our attitude is that “we are going to slay this week together.” But summer hits and my 11-year-old-partner-in-crime has left the building. Instead of, “let’s do this mom,” I get to hear, “but mommmmmmm, it’s summer. Why do you have to go to worrrrrrrk?” even though work is downstairs at the kitchen table.
Let’s just say that COVID turned all my best laid Type A plans awry and leave it at that. But the new school year has started/is starting in various forms for children – And more importantly, their parents who are back at the double grind without ever feeling like they had a break from. Many of us canceled true vacation plans, while many were not lucky enough to have enough financial stability to plan on one in the first place. Either way, if you feel like you are facing this school year with your batteries already drained, please read on.
If you read my post on Momming During Quarantine, you’ll see how I took work lessons and applied them to homeschooling. Well, they work for homeworking as well:
Set boundaries for your workday. This includes your physical space as well. Remember when every advice column in the spring semester recommended setting aside a specific area of your home for school with set learning hours? This same principle holds true for work. Find a space for professional life to happen and create “office hours” to hold yourself accountable. DO NOT be available 24/7. Unless you are a doctor, the odds are you are not curing cancer. In my house, this means that after the family’s dinner hour, whatever it is can wait until tomorrow morning. I view every evening as a mini-vacation from my real life, where my real life consists of, “constantly being busy.” The increase in work from home allows everyone to see just how different everyone’s work from needs are, yet in some ways, we are all in the same boat. I have seen an increase in companies that are willing to accommodate whatever schedule works for their employees (mainly because even the big bosses are in the same boat). This means you probably have a lot more freedom than usual to find what works for you. Then you just have to stick with it.
Ditch the mom guilt. Shonda Rhimes has a whole chapter in her book The Year of Yes about the Mom Wars and how we judge ourselves and each other on how poorly we are momming. Stop it. Stop. It. Adopt the Brene Brown perspective that we are all doing the best we can and move on.org. Nobody is perfect and you know what? That is one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids. Because they think we are (until they are teens….) and it is important to show them that we are not. Nobody is.
Find a support system. Whether that is family, friends, paid help if possible, an online chatroom, or another support group. Get help now. We may be separated physically, but people are using technology more and more to connect with new and familiar faces. Plus, see my previous comment. Along the same lines of we are not perfect, moms it is also time we admit that we cannot do it all. Ellen has a dyslexic child and the amount of time she and her husband spent trying to convince him that it is ok to ask for help seemed significant until I realized that most adults suffer from this problem too. Her son finally started to relax when he saw her ask her husband for help on a work project that was out of her comfort zone. All the times you tell a child, “but moms and dads need help all the time,” is not as impactful as a child seeing their mom or dad actually ask for it. And like perfection, the only person who expects us to do it all is ourselves.
Create sacred family time. In our house, family dinner is sacrosanct. So are Sunday afternoons. No playdates, no work meetings, and no solo projects. Life is busy and childhood is fleeting. I have been on my back 9 of the 18 years of active child-rearing for the last 2 now, and nothing – and I mean not one thing – will interfere with the few short years I have left with him under my roof.
Same for me time. I know not to call Ellen on Sunday evenings starting around 8 pm. Well, I can call her, but I know it will go straight to voicemail. Why? Sundays are hers and her me time. She has yet to trust me with the official ritual, but I know it involves facemasks and other beauty products, an Epsom salt bath, plus some written intention setting, and accountability check-ins. Since lockdown hit, she has protected this time even more. One thing she did tell me, is that she treats the whole experience like a spa with fruit infused water, dim lighting and candles, aromatherapy, freshly cleaned towels (benefit to overseeing the laundry?), and soothing music. Why do I have to convince anyone, including myself to start this same kind of ritual? Sounds delightful, actually.
Set realistic expectations. My favorite mom movie is I Don’t Know How She Does It, with Sarah Jessica Parker. While not a blockbuster hit, it was the truest depiction of the life of a working mom I have ever watched. Being a huge SJP fan, obvs, as well as heartthrob Pierce Brosnan in a starring role does not hurt….but back to the point. If you know you’ are not Betty Crocker, don’t volunteer to make homemade baked goods for a play date/work meeting/social gathering/insert whatever here. Be realistic about your skills, time, and talent, and adjust accordingly. Do you know what unrealistic expectations brings? Disappointment. And we do it to ourselves every time. One of my favorite questions in my home is, “what are your expectations today/this weekend/this week?” It is intended to be conflict mitigation, but it also gives everyone a chance for their voices to be heard. We all wake up with an idea in our head of what we hope to accomplish or do that day and very rarely are they all the same thing. As none of us are mind readers, these expectations must be vocalized so that we can assemble a plan that meets as many expectations as possible. It brings back that spirit of “we are all in this together” that I mentioned at the beginning of the post.
Loosen the reigns on what should be. We may not have been able to have a real vacation this past summer, but the hot weather is still going strong as is my hot spot. Poolside is a great alternative to sitting at a desk and can make a Tuesday afternoon feel like a vacation. Setting meetings for 10 or ever 10:30 am a few days a week, so you can have a more leisurely start to your day. Even if the kids are back in school, knowing that a grace period between getting my son in his Zoom classroom and focused before I need to enter my own Zoom life feels luxurious as opposed to trying to do both at 8 am. Plus taking an afternoon off on a random Wednesday or creating your own 3-day holiday with a Monday out of office notice never brought the world to its knees either. So, lighten up, figure out your schedule, set realistic expectations and goals, savor family time, and be kind to everyone, especially yourself!
To our fellow parents, schooling in the time of COVID – may the odds be ever in your favor. We hope these help you recharge. Please share what works for you as well!
Images by Breezy Ritter