Work, Life, and Family Balance During COVID
By Elizabeth McBride
Read Time: 8 Minutes
Juggling working from home, school, children, your relationship with your partner, and the general stress of living in a global pandemic is a lot. Nothing may feel certain. Things you may have always counted on, like your job and school or child care, may have changed drastically. While living through this pandemic, finding a healthy work/life balance and connection with your family is more important than ever before.
Here are a few tips for creating harmony at home during these uncertain times:
Think of your family as a community.
Everyone needs to chip in and help.
The old set of assigned chores does not necessarily apply when everyone is teleworking and learning from home. This is a great time to redistribute the workload and restore some work/life balance. As you work from home, kids can help with making meals and cleaning up. You or your partner may need to teach them how and watch them do it by themselves a few times, but don't assume they aren't capable of doing a task just because they've never done it before.
Children ages 2–3
- Put away toys.
- Put laundry in a basket or hamper.
- Help dust surfaces in their room.
Children ages 4–5
- Make the bed.
- Empty small trashcans.
- Take dishes and silverware to the sink.
- Use a handheld vacuum.
- Water plants and pull weeds.
- Give food and water to pet.
Children ages 6–7
- Sort laundry.
- Set the table.
- Help make meals and snacks.
- Rake leaves.
Children ages 8–9
- Load the dishwasher.
- Put away groceries.
- Put away clean laundry.
- Peel vegetables.
- Cook simple meals (with supervision).
Children ages 10 and older
- Clean the kitchen and bathroom.
- Change the sheets on the bed.
- Do laundry and put away clean clothes.
- Vacuum, sweep, dust, mop.
- Wash the dishes and load/unload the dishwasher.
- Take care of pets.
- Cook meals.
- Mow the grass.
- Wash the car.
- Teenagers who can drive can run errands.
Post chores on sticky notes or write them on notecards and have everyone in the family choose which ones they want to do. If you have more than one child, use different colors for each child.
Have weekly family meetings.
Find time each week to talk about everyone's schedules, make plans for handling chores and house projects, and brainstorm fun activities you can do. To be successful, these meetings need to be short and focus on the positive - no lecturing allowed!
Tips for successful family meetings:
- Make the meetings fun by serving a treat or doing a craft together.
- Set a few ground rules such as no interrupting and no criticizing others' ideas.
- Keep track of the decisions you make and goals you set together.
- Focus on what your family did well that week and spend time being thankful for those moments.
- Talk about future goals and how you'll achieve them together.
- Plan something fun to look forward to.
- Keep it positive. Don't let this become a time for lecturing or scolding. Instead let it focus on things to be grateful for. If you need to discuss a specific concern with a family member, handle that later.
- Keep the meetings short and sweet - 20 to 30 minutes is ideal.
- Close the meeting with gratitude. Have everyone go around and say something about each family member that they are thankful or grateful for.
Self-care is important.
Self-care is more than manicures, bubble baths, playing video games, or watching sports or Netflix - it's critical to your ability to function well under these difficult circumstances. Here are self-care ideas to consider and help with the work life balance:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water.
- Get 7–8 hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise is a form of self-care. Find ways to move your body. Ideas include:
- A living room dance party.
- Online exercise videos.
- Taking a daily walk.
- Take a few minutes each day to breathe deeply. Exhaling triggers your nervous system to help you relax and calm down. Try this simple breathing exercise:
- Exhale for as long as you can.
- Then inhale naturally, letting your lungs fill with air again.
- Repeat this long exhale and natural inhale for 2–5 minutes.
- Go outside. As long as you are practicing social distancing, being outside is safe and good for your mental health.
- If you like being alone, find some quiet time to be by yourself. Taking time to read books or listen to music can restore your energy.
- If you love being around people, schedule safe ways to get out of the house and connect with friends or find ways to connect online.
- Limit how much time you watch the news and spend on social media. Find trusted sources that give you the news you need to stay informed. Consider having set times when you check the news.
- Focus on what you can control. Stressing about things you can't do anything about will leave you feeling frustrated and drained of energy.
- Think about all the things to be grateful for.
During times of stress, it can be tempting to numb the pain with self-destructive behaviors like abusing alcohol. If you're struggling with alcohol, drugs, or other destructive behaviors, there is help at the Texas Substance Abuse Hotline.
Keep boundaries around work (telecommuting) and school.
It's easy to let your job duties seep into evenings or weekends when you work from home. Sometimes a long workday is unavoidable, especially working remotely. Do your best to maintain a work/life balance by keeping work and school from taking over every waking moment. Below are some helpful work from home ideas.
- Set a schedule for when you'll work from home and when you won't and stick to it.
- Talk to your boss about revising your work from home schedule so that you can care for your kids. It can be hard to ask for what you need when working remotely, but it's not sustainable to try to parent and do your job at the same time. Find a work from home solution that works for your boss, your family, and you!
- Build in some transition time between teleworking/virtual learning and nonwork time at home. As you are working remotely, make sure to spend 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time. You can take a quick walk to the mailbox, or do some other low impact activity before you move directly into making dinner or household chores.
- Set up dedicated spaces for work and school as you are working remotely. If you don't have space for a home office, consider keeping school and work materials in bins and put away during non-work/school hours. This will help keep your house feeling like a place to relax and unwind, instead of an office or school.
Let grandparents, aunts, and uncles give you a break with virtual babysitting.
Get creative with video chats! You may have to ask or give them ideas for activities, but chances are you have loved ones who would love to spend some time with your kids.
Suggested activities to do on video chat include:
- Reading books. This is a perfect activity for young children and an easy one for even low-tech relatives to manage.
- Playing a game. Many video games are becoming “social” these days, meaning you can play with friends. Younger children will love playing simple card games like Go Fish or War. It just takes a little creativity and a deck of cards to play over video chat.
- Cooking together. Missing grandma's cooking? This is a great activity for an older child or teen to do with a grandparent.
- Watch a movie together. Who says you have to be in the same room to watch a movie together? Pop some popcorn and schedule a movie date for your child and their favorite (or just willing) relative.
Find things you can look forward to.
With vacations and camps canceled and swimming pools and parks closed, kids have had a lot of disappointment in recent months. Create some fun with family surprises.
You can give your kids something to look forward to by planning simple activities. The key to building anticipation is to tell your child when the activity will happen while keeping the actual activity a surprise, for example, “I'm planning a surprise for us this Saturday!”
Some ideas for activities include:
- Planning a campout in your backyard.
- Creating a scavenger hunt.
- Going to a “pick-your-own” farm to pick some fruits and veggies.
- Searching for geocaches near you.
- Playing online games with friends and family.
- Planning a movie night with popcorn and candy.
Having a hard day? Name your emotions.
Feeling overwhelmed, scared, and stressed are normal responses given the circumstances.
Feel your feelings and learn to identify your emotions. It's okay to cry or express frustration about things that are upsetting you. Your kids can benefit from seeing an example of healthy ways to cope when those feelings come up. Identify your emotions by saying: “When _____ happened, I felt _____.” Five core feelings are: scared, mad, sad, glad, and hurt.
Naming your emotions may seem silly, but it can be a great stress relief. Saying “I'm mad/sad/angry/overwhelmed” helps you react accordingly. Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers) famously said, “Anything that's human is mentionable. Anything that's mentionable is manageable.”
Have an attitude of gratitude.
Gratitude trains your brain to notice what's right instead of what's wrong or missing. Our brains are hardwired to look for problems. This comes from our hunter/gatherer ancestors needing to be on the constant lookout for threats to their survival. Our brains still have the instinct to look for threats first. However, an intentional focus on being grateful for all that's working in our lives - all that we have, instead of what we don't have - helps us to be happier and more content.
Not only does gratitude help make us happier, research has shown that gratitude improves our ability to fight off disease. This is likely because grateful people tend to take better care of their health by exercising more, getting better sleep, and getting regular checkups.
How to practice gratitude
- Ask yourself, “If I were going to find something to enjoy about this situation, what would it be?”
- Keep a gratitude journal. In the morning and at night before you go to bed, write three things you're grateful for.
- At dinner or when you're tucking your kids in at night, ask them what they're grateful for.
- Look for ways to help others who are in need. As you give to others of your time and resources, you naturally become more grateful of what you have. You can donate food to a food bank, give blood, check on your neighbors, donate diapers to a diaper bank, or help tutor kids who need help with online learning.
- Write a gratitude letter to first responders like hospital workers, firefighters, and EMS providers.
It's natural and normal to feel stressed right now. Nothing about this time is easy. Remember to treat yourself with the same kindness you would give to a friend. It's okay to have hard days and to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Don't be hard on yourself. Focus on what you have control over and find the silver linings where you can. You'll be happier for it, and your family will be too.