It will be familiar rhetoric for many working parents, post pandemic in Australia, particularly in 2022, where we are all ‘learning’ to live with COVID-19. About a month ago, my partner bought home COVID (unbeknown to us) and sequentially our household was infected, one by one. Like many professional working families in Australia today, our life is usually fairly busy, however if we have learnt many things from multiple lockdowns and a pandemic, it’s important to slow down, smell the roses every now and then and maintain a check on the health and wellbeing of your family unit. While this is good in theory, a lot of the time theory doesn’t match reality, which was a perfect case in point when our ‘busy’ life needed to be ‘balanced’ while unwell with COVID and in isolation.
In discussion with esteemed colleagues in similar situations, it appears not to be an alien experience for many of us, so how do you balance your family, manage work commitments, some level of productivity, maintain your household, oversight of any online learning for children, have everyone functioning while unwell yourself (including a dog who refuses to socially distance) and survive?
Here are some tips, lessons learnt and suggestions for getting through it and ‘surviving’
Edited Picture from 6 Work-life Balance Tips, Katie Roberts
For the health of your household and family
Having a schedule
A schedule provides day to day stability in the maintenance of the household amongst a bit of uncertainty and change. Involving your children in development of the daily schedule, can help in providing a level of visibility for them on your work commitments, whether it be meetings, concentrated work time or time assisting them with school activities. It also prompts conversations on topics such as interruptions, for example the need for you to make work calls or providing clarity on when interruptions are acceptable such as in an emergency situation.
Strategies for minimising interruptions can also be discussed for example, getting your children to write a list of questions to ask you when you have a ‘designated break’ in the schedule or identifying times they may need support completing a particular school activity.
Engaging your children and asking them to have input into their own schedule can be an empowering way for them to be involved in family decision making, identify what they need to achieve and provide visibility on the impacts to the broader family planning. Additionally, including normal daily tasks in their schedule, such as getting dressed, having meals, assisting with family meal preparation or household tasks such as feeding family pets, can assist you in the maintenance of the household and provide stability and regularity for your children.
Preparing for the week/s ahead
Every family unit in Australia can identify with the dreaded ‘witching hour’. Typically, defined as the hour (or two) in the evening, when all the ‘wheels’ have the potential to fall off if evening family routines are interrupted, children are tired, there’s stress or uncertainty, or the dog looks the wrong way. The more prepared you are, the impacts of ‘witching hour’ can be minimized. Meal planning can help you stay on track and organised. Organising an online food delivery through your local supermarket or grocer is a quick and painless way to get groceries to your door to keep the family functioning and fed.
Keeping your family unit routines as close to ‘normal’ including ensuring everyone is getting enough sleep will help in keeping the household running and provide some certainty and comfort for your loved ones.
Keeping in touch
If you have school age children, informing the teachers and gaining access to online learning platforms early in isolation can minimize the pressure of balancing learning and other commitments such as the completion of your own work. Similar to the approach of keeping your leader informed at work, open dialogue with your child’s teachers and the school will ensure the expectations of everyone including your children can be managed easily. Be upfront on the current challenges in your household, communicate early and be realistic on what can be achieved in the circumstances.
Tapping into your support network
Whether it’s a friend bringing chemist supplies, your children’s teacher kindly dropping off school activities or your sister-in-law delivering fresh coffee beans and a packet of hot cross buns at your door, tap into your support network. Let the people who surround you know what’s going on, so they can provide support to you as needed. The old age adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, could be similarly applied, instead being ‘it takes a village to survive’ (ISO/lockdowns).
If you are not as fortunate to have the support of family and friends near and it does become overwhelming, pick up the phone to your friends or family afar, reach out to your GP and/or seek some support of your organisation’s Employee Assistance Program. Many organisations allow employees access to the support of an Employee Assistance Program that provides invaluable counselling services and support. Alternatively, free support is also available through Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14 – Crisis Support. The bottom line is that you are not alone.
For the health of your work and employment
Pause, plan and be realistic
When the realisation that your week isn’t going to happen as originally planned, the first step is to pause, take a breath and have a think about and plan for the period you will be at home. If your job is unable to be done from home, consider the leave options you have available, so that you can be absent from the workplace and be at home during this time.
If you have the ability to work from home, think through what is realistic for you to manage the situation successfully at home. Caring for family members who are unwell, can be a full-time job in itself. If it is unrealistic for you to manage work as well as care for family members, consider taking some leave from work to ease the pressure. If you are able to still work from home during this time, (like me), have a think and be realistic about what you are able to achieve, alongside other competing priorities for example, managing kids and/or unwell partners.
Developing a high-level plan or structure for the working week, factoring in the constraints of isolation, including children’s activities, will help you to know what’s coming up, what you can achieve and manage the expectations of delivery (including your leader and children). Having a high-level structure in place, will assist in preventing the working week becoming overwhelming, stressful, or pressured because you will have an idea of your required meeting schedule or the need for concentrated work time and so on.
Open communication and dialogue with your leader
Letting your leader know what’s happening for you and the potential impacts for your work productivity is a key step to raise a level of awareness and understanding for work commitments and looming weekly deadlines. Being upfront about what you can achieve will be key and ensure that you have the necessary support and resources to assist early in the piece.
Understanding when you are at your most productive during the day, will help in managing all the competing urgent demands whether they are related to work or family. An interesting theory to establish your most productive time of the day is through a chronotype classification system, measured through your body’s biological clock. Experts believe that your chronotype is a genetic predisposition for productivity at varying times of the day “based on your natural activity, alertness and rest rhythms”**.
Taking a ‘Brain Break’
A brain break is a short, simple mental (or physical) break for your brain. Equally effective for your children, the technique is used in classrooms to boost engagement, productivity and the cognitive function of students. Brain breaks allow you to reenergise and refocus.
A cup of tea outside in your garden or on your veranda is also an effective way to provide a cognitive brain break. As is standing outside and taking five deep breaths in and out, decreasing stress, anxiety and tension, allowing for refocus.
For your own health and wellbeing, particularly if you are feeling unwell, listen to your body and rest when you need to. Trying to ‘do it all’ while unwell yourself, not only increases your own stress and anxiety levels, it also puts you in the risk category (if you have Covid 19) of developing Long Covid. Long Covid is the “persistence or development of symptoms attributed to Covid 19, more than 12 weeks after the initial infection” *.
It is reported that people who develop Long Covid, are unlikely to return back to work for a substantial period of time and could develop long term illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Be kind to yourself and pause if you need to.
In researching for this insight article, a consistent response in all of this, is that everyone just tries their best to ‘manage it all’ and come out the other side. Even if it’s by the skin of your teeth, a bit dishevelled and in desperate need of the first coffee, out of the house with humans other than your family.
At the end of what may seem like a lifetime, but realistically is a week or three, if all is not achieved as first anticipated, whether it be with your work or your family, be lenient and kind to yourself. Remind yourself that the priority above all is that everyone is alive, well (or on the way) and still breathing (including yourself).
You’ve done it and survived, you ‘balancing superstar’.
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More information on understanding this theory can be found here: How To Find Your Chronotype To Improve Your Sleep and Productivity | Casper Blog