Parents, if there’s ever a time to sympathize with your children, now is it. If there’s one thing kids look forward to, it’s summertime. Think about it: summer camps, trips, vacations, jobs, and enrichment opportunities. 

Every couple of days, my teenage daughter comes to me with a realization of something she won’t get to do this summer because of COVID-19. She’s already missed one summer camp, the family reunion is not going to happen, and a summer program she was hoping to take part in is off the table. Oh, and she wanted to start her babysitting business this summer.

She’s bummed about it. Kids all over are bummed about it. About 20 million children, adolescents, and adults in the U.S. attend camps each year. Not this year. When your children are coming to the realization that COVID-19 is about to “ruin” their summer, that’s where you as a parent must step in and help your kids process what they may be feeling. Here are some ways you can help your disappointed kids. 

Deal with yourself first.

This is a blow to parents as well. A) We may hate that they might be home all day. B) We hate what they are missing out on, too. You may experience your own anger, frustration, sadness, or some other emotion. Identify and own it. Then do what you must to address it and move forward

Provide space for your child to express their emotions.

Your child may be experiencing disappointment, sadness, grief, anger, or any other emotions. You may see it on their face, in their actions, or in their responses. Asking them if they are disappointed because of summer cancellations with a soft, caring tone, or simply telling them it’s okay to be sad, gives them permission to experience their emotions

Empathize with and validate their feelings.

Regarding the cancellation of summer plans, child development and parenting expert, Dr. Deborah Gilboa says in TODAY that parents should tend to their child’s feelings but not put boundaries on their feelings. You don’t have to fix their emotions. Sometimes an “I understand” or “It’s okay that you feel that way” is all that’s in order. Your own stories of dealing with disappointments can provide your children with some comfort and help your kids process what’s going on.

Discuss what they are really missing.

It’s not just that they’re missing the activity of the summer. Kids look forward to reconnecting with family and friends they only see in the summer. The summer is a chance to explore their own personal interests. For teens, it might be the freedom that comes with having a job and, more specifically, having money. Students use the summer to do things to boost their resumé. Asking them, “What do you miss about not being able to do a particular activity?” can help your child think through what they enjoy about the summer and what it is they are really missing.

Look for alternatives.

Dr. Gilboa says that there are four elements to having a fun summer: independence, connection, purpose, and fun. What are some alternative ways to help your children experience those four elements that they often get from summer camps, jobs, and trips? S’mores, water fun, camping in the backyard, movie marathons, unstructured play, Zoom game nights with friends, gardening, building something, learning something new? Be realistic, but also be open to new challenges. It can make your summer memorable. This 30 Day Challenge can provide you some great alternatives. 

Keep Loving ‘Em Through.

This isn’t all one conversation for one setting. Having one conversation doesn’t mean the emotions are gone and won’t come back. And it doesn’t mean that your efforts to make it a meaningful summer are futile if they still experience sadness or grief at other times throughout the summer. Ongoing conversations can help your kids process ongoing emotions.

Your kids may be experiencing loss and uncertainty. They may be worried about how this affects their chances at college admissions and scholarships or feel like they are losing their childhood. Your consistent presence and willingness to both sit with and help them adjust to a different kind of summer can provide a positive memory of how to deal with disappointment that will serve them well for years to come.

Summer is here! Normally, everybody would be cheering loudly saying, “Bring it on!” This year, however, plenty of folks feel like summer has been here for the last two months. Now that summer is really here, all of the plans parents thought they had for their kids have likely been thrown out the window because of COVID-19.

With few or no summer camp options, social distancing at pools, many attractions not opening until mid-summer and limited access to child care options, parents definitely have a challenge on their hands if they’re trying to make summer plans. You may be wondering what in the world your family can do in the middle of all that. If so, here are some helpful hints for creating a summer to remember forever for your kids!

Hold a family meeting. Straight out of the gates, hold a family meeting to brainstorm what’s possible within the framework parents have established. Have a little fun with this. No idea is too crazy when you are brainstorming. And who knows? A crazy idea might lead to something that is totally doable.

Come up with a schedule. Sheer exhaustion from shifting to online-everything may tempt you to let summer be a free-for-all with no schedule. However, while having no structure may sound like a blessing to you and your kids, ultimately it can be a real curse. Making a schedule helps keep everybody grounded and in the know about what’s coming next.

Be intentional about creating opportunities for connection. Hanging out in the same house or even the same room isn’t the same as actually doing something to connect with your children. If that sounds like just one more thing to put on your already overwhelming “to-do list,” one easy option is to use First Things First’s 30-Day Family Challenge. Each day has a different fun, quick and easy activity for you and your children to do together.

Get active. Since everybody has probably had their fill of screen time, try going old school! Do some some of these things for fun: puzzles, Nerf gun battles, water gun fight, riding bikes, let your kids create a scavenger hunt for the entire family to do, investigate how to make your own Slip ‘N Slide, play board games, Spoons, Charades, make a house of cards, go fishing, learn how to play chess or checkers, camp in the backyard and make s’mores, build a fort or treehouse, play marbles or jacks.

Encourage learning. During your family brainstorm meeting, ask your kids what they would like to learn over the summer. They may want to learn how to cook, change the oil in a car, repair a bike, make a piñata, or find out more about your family history. They may want to take a virtual vacation to an exotic location and learn about the culture, geography and things that are unique to it. Take it a step further and plan your meals, clothing or other activities around that location for the week. Study photography. Read a book together like “Cheaper by the Dozen.” You may even want to invest in some grade-level activity books just to keep your kids sharp.

Plant a garden outside or play around with growing food indoors. There are plenty of free tutorials available if you are new to gardening. Another option is to ask an experienced neighbor for a hand. You can also experiment with different things such as rooting the bottom of a celery stalk and then planting it. You could also cut a pepper in half, then scrape and plant the seeds to see if they will sprout. (Spoiler alert, they should!)

Not all of these activities would require hands-on supervision from parents at all times. In fact, some of them could be child-led or done independently. That would not only give parents a break, but it would help to build self-confidence and independence in your child.

One thing is for sure, one way or the other, this summer will be one for the books. It will either go down in history as the most boring summer on record or the summer our plans got turned upside down so we decided to make lemonade out of the lemons tossed our way. It may not be the easiest summer you’ve ever had, but it could become one of your best summers yet.

I grew up in a time when disagreements with friends were a harmless and fun part of the landscape:

McDonald’s vs. Burger King

Classic Coke vs. New Coke

Grunge vs. 80s Hair Bands

Backstreet Boys vs. NSYNC

Britney vs. Christina

Alabama vs. Auburn

Even now, the boisterous disagreement between the Chick-Fil-A sandwich vs. Popeye’s spicy sandwich was fodder for social media. It was funny seeing videos by fans of both sides extolling the virtues of their favorite sandwich. I, too, became a part of the conversation as I was incredulous that a co-worker had never eaten Popeye’s Chicken. “Never eaten’ Popeye’s?!” 

For many of us, we have been able to have these fun yet inconsequential disagreements or debates with our friends. Now, our disagreements have more weight and can result in a change in our relationship with our friends. We are no longer disagreeing about boy bands and colas, but about politics, climate change, parenting styles, and how we deal with COVID-19.

As a result, those relationships that have sustained and supported us throughout our lives are being tested due to our differences of opinion and differences in actions & reactions.

How do we keep disagreements from derailing our friendships?

1. Take a step back to reassess the relationship.

I take my role as a “friend” seriously. Consequently, I often see my friends as extensions of my family. In this phase of my life and in the midst of COVID-19, I have chosen to reevaluate, realign, and prioritize the friendships that mean the most to me.  

In order to do that, I asked myself the following questions:

  • Can we as friends agree to disagree without being disagreeable?
  • Is this a mutual relationship or is it one-sided?
  • Is this friendship feeding me or draining me?
  • What is the depth of this friendship?
  • What kind of friend am I?
  • Was I overbearing? Did I overshare?

2. Accept that they have different experiences and opinions.

In order to maintain friendships, I realized that I can’t control the actions, thoughts, and opinions of my friends. I can only control my actions, thoughts, and reactions. As a result, I take pride in the fact that I have many friends who are different from me.  They are older and younger than I am. Some have children; others do not. We are from different cultures and different ethnicities. The differences that we have make me a more well-rounded person because I learn from my friends’ diverse experiences and backgrounds.

For many of us, our friends are our backbones and support systems.  It can be painful to recognize that you are not on the same page regarding an important issue, but it doesn’t have to end a friendship. I love the way St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Seek to Understand rather than to be Understood.” On the other hand, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”

Amber questioned how she would balance everything and if her business, something she loves that also feeds her soul, would end up taking a backseat to everything else. Would she end up losing her identity as a mom in the midst of quarantine?

“When the shelter-in-place orders first came out, I was really scared,” says Amber. “My husband works on total commission and I run my business out of our home. Trying to fulfill orders, help with school work and keep up with the household, everything felt overwhelming, especially at a time of year when my business picks up dramatically.”

Amber Brown is an entrepreneur, wife and mom of three children who are 11, 8 and 4. Before COVID-19 hit, she described her life as busy, full and satisfying.

“I can tell that the balance is off quite a bit,” Amber says. “I don’t really feel like I am doing anything well at the moment and that can really mess with your outlook on life for sure. Sometimes, I feel like I am failing at everything.” 

Routines are Important

Fortunately, Amber and her husband were able to have a conversation about their work situations. They also discussed what their girls needed from them and what they both needed in order to stay sane during this crazy period of time. It helped them figure out some semblance of a routine that was reasonable.

One thing Amber noticed about her girls is they were quick to pick up on and react to her emotional state, even if she thought she hid it well.

“I recognized that if I was filled with anxiety about this situation, my kids would be too,” Amber says. “I’m trying to be cool and relaxed so they will feed off of that. I am trying to keep all the balls up in the air and hold on to who I am at the same time.”

The Browns decided it was important to still have routines to help them get through the day.

“I can tell you that just about every day, if it’s past 8:30 and they are not winding down, I tell them, ‘Mommy is done. I love you, but I need time for me.’ In fact, last night at the dinner table, when we had finished eating, I told everyone, ‘This has been fun, but I have a necklace I have to make today. I love you, and I am heading to my office.’”

Amber says it has been helpful that she and her husband came up with a plan. That plan allowed both of them to still get in some exercise and some “time out” moments in order to stay sane.

“I think the biggest thing I have realized is so much of who I am involves activities outside our home. I love my husband and children and I also love being part of the praise and worship team at our church, immersing myself in my work and being around other people. Right now, I just feel disconnected from a lot of what I love that makes me who I am. I have worked hard not to be resentful in the midst of the quarantine. There are definitely moments of sadness, but honestly, this slower time has been lovely for us as a family.”

The Browns have worked hard to keep things fresh while living on a tighter budget. They have spent a lot of time outside. Plus, they have learned new games together and enjoyed just hanging out.

“Our oldest has learned to cook, which I guarantee you is something that would not have happened previously. We would have been running around to dance class, Scouts and everything else she had on her plate.”

Comparisons Aren’t Always Helpful

Amber has tried to guard against comparing herself to other moms and what they are doing right now.

“When I feel comparison creeping in, I realize I have to let it go,” Amber says. “We have figured out what is working for our family right now and that is what really matters. I do have moments of mommy guilt when I think about all the things I should be doing or that I want to be doing that I’m not doing because I just don’t have the energy to do it. At that moment, I try to remind myself that I have been a mom long enough to know it’s going to be okay. We will catch up. Beating myself up is not helpful.

“Our oldest seems to be handling this pretty well. Our second grader needs my attention most right now with school. My goal is to help her stay confident. School is not fun with me, it’s fun with her friends. Normally, right now I would be focused on helping our 4-year-old learn her ABCs, but at the moment, my goal is to focus on her social and emotional well-being.”

What You Can Do When You Feel Like You’ve Lost Your Identity as a Mom

Maybe you’re reading this and realize that you’ve lost your identity as a mom during this crisis. If so, here are four things you can do:

  • Acknowledge when you have reached your limit and need a time out. Create space for that to happen. It’s good for everybody to be apart for a period of time to hit the reset button.
  • Give yourself some grace if you feel like you are not measuring up. Nobody is at their best at this moment. More than likely, however, we are all trying and that for sure counts for something!
  • Do what works for you. Consider what is best for you and your family at this moment. Don’t worry about not looking like everybody else. As Amber said, comparisons aren’t helpful.
  • Be willing to adapt and adjust on the fly. Walking in unknown territory requires some agility to bend and flex depending on the situation. Sometimes it doesn’t look very pretty, but who cares if it’s what works for your family.

Things are starting to open up and many are no longer sheltering in place. When asked about getting back to normal, Amber says she really believes life will look different for them.

“Even though I was a bit panicked when this whole thing started, wondering what we were going to do, we have really enjoyed being together as a family and the slower pace,” she says. “We will all enjoy having the freedom to go and do things and I will appreciate getting back to the things that fulfill me and help me to be a better mom, but I think we will work to keep the slower pace. It just feels good.”

It feels like we’re in a weird transition in the pandemic right now. It’s like the world wants to go back to normal again. Officials are lifting some of the quarantine regulations, but we are definitely not out of the woods yet with the COVID-19 virus. 

I see people out in public and it seems like they are acting on two ends of a spectrum. Some people are continuing to be very cautious, donning masks everywhere they go. They’re following the arrows, standing on X’s in the store aisles and maintaining a hard “no” to people coming over for a visit. At the opposite end of the spectrum, folks are throwing caution completely to the wind, acting as if things are back to normal and ignoring any kind of preventative guidelines. 

Mix all this with what we’ve been going through the last two months, and what comes out is a lot of people on edge. It’s an emotionally-charged environment. Social media is fraught with all kinds of opinions and conspiracy theories and hostile exchanges about who’s-behind-what with the pandemic. It’s enough to make a person question their sanity.  

My kids see all of this. They take notice when other families are doing something different than us. They talk to their friends who are inviting others over for sleepovers and those whose parents are saying absolutely not. And they can sense the tension in each store line between those who wear masks and those who aren’t. 

So, how do we use this time to teach our children about emotional boundaries? 

What is an emotional boundary? 

When you see the lion exhibit at the zoo, there’s a boundary between you and the lions. And for good reason! The boundary is there to guard and protect you from the lions. It’s also there to protect the lions from you and all the other spectators. The boundary puts a healthy space between you and the danger. It defines which space belongs to you and which space belongs to the lions. Both lions and spectators benefit from this boundary. But if the lion makes its way to the spectator’s space (or, if a spectator shimmies his way into the lion’s space), well, bad things can happen. 

Emotional boundaries do the same thing. They serve to guard and protect us from threats to our emotional well-being. They also put a healthy space between you and other people. Sometimes people can cross the boundary. This happens in lots of different ways: bullying, shaming, name-calling, manipulation. If boundaries aren’t held, our emotional health and sense of self suffers. This can cause anxiety, depression or a sense of depleted self-worth. 

As we think about all that’s happening with the pandemic and the emotionally-charged opinions flying around like crossfire, emotional boundaries are compromised.

As parents, this is the opportunity to teach our children how to build and maintain appropriate emotional boundaries during this pandemic

How We Teach Our Kids Emotional Boundaries 

1. Model. Our kids watch us. Children take cues from their parents, especially when they aren’t sure how to respond to a situation. 

I was talking with a neighbor one day with my daughter present, and they began to explain to me their conspiracy theory on where the virus came from and what certain leaders were or were not doing about it. I completely disagreed, and normally would have made it known. But out of respect for my neighbor and because my daughter was watching, I kept calm and l listened. I validated his opinion without giving in to his hype and politely ended our conversation. Shortly after, of course, I got the chance to explain to my daughter that I didn’t agree with him and why, but that we must also be careful to respect other people’s opinions. 

How do you react in front of your kids when you see someone practicing a different habit of mask-wearing than you? Do you ridicule them? 

If you learn that another parent is allowing (or not allowing) their kids’ friends to come over and that’s not what you would do, do you allow your emotions to get the best of you and put labels on that parent? 

These negative reactions add fuel to the breakdown of emotional boundaries, and our kids sense this. Modeling appropriate emotional boundaries is essential to helping our children have appropriate emotional boundaries

2. Explain the importance of respecting others even when they do things differently. Modeling is one thing. But it’s so important to follow this up with a good conversation with your children about why you still show respect to others, despite the differences in the way they do things. 

After being in a store where some are wearing masks and others aren’t, take the opportunity to say something like, “Did you notice that some people were/were not wearing masks? Our family doesn’t do that, and this is why… However, that doesn’t give us permission to speak mean or disrespect people who don’t do what we do. They have their reasons for doing that, just like we have our reasons for doing this.

3. Be confident in who you are, even when others are disrespectful. Your kids are in situations where they see the glares between mask-wearers and non-mask-wearers in the stores. Or, one kid in the neighborhood might make fun of another for not being allowed to play outside with others. I’ve even heard some rather rude comments between strangers when it comes to social distancing. 

Help your children understand that people don’t always understand that it’s okay for others to do things differently and that they may react in ways that are disrespectful and make you feel bad. These kinds of reactions from others encroach on their emotional well-being. 

Say something like, we can’t help what other people say or think about us. But we have to be okay with who we are. We wear masks/don’t wear masks… play/don’t play outside with others… go to/don’t go to other people’s houses, because this is what our family thinks is best. It won’t always be like this, but right now we are making the best decisions for our family that we know how to. 

Lessons That Go Beyond the Pandemic

Resilience, self-confidence, security, respect of others and self-respect—these are all characteristics that come out of teaching our children about emotional boundaries. And there is no doubt we all need these to keep ourselves from going bonkers during this time in the pandemic. 

However, what you need to remember is that these lessons go way beyond the here and now. And perhaps there is no greater opportunity than during this crazy, emotional situation. You have the chance to instill in your children how to have strong emotional boundaries in the face of adversity. Your kids will need these skills for the rest of their lives. Don’t waste this opportunity to teach them.

Routines and consistency are vital to the growth of our children. Research tells us this and experience confirms it. But you know what? A global pandemic tends to be a routine-buster! Nothing rocks our daily flow more than the sudden closing of schools and businesses. 

So what did we do? Families had to make adjustments to meet a new temporary normal. Bedtimes shifted. Morning routines looked radically different. Navigating a “normal” day became a balance of school, work, video conferencing, and the ever-continuing struggle of screen time. 

For us, our kids’ bedtime shifted later in hopes that they might sleep a little later in the morning (that was a fail). The morning rush and commute was gone. Screen times increased for our kids, partially due to school, but mostly to help us get work done. Spring baseball was just a memory. Our biggest adjustments really were figuring out how to both work remotely and help our second grader with school. 

But here we are, eight weeks in and businesses and restaurants are reopening, childcare centers that may have been closed or limited to essential personnel are taking steps to welcome all of their kids back. Not only that, but the school year has ended, and for many of us, summer camps are now nonexistent. Virtual learning at least provided some sort of structure for our kids. My son knew he had assignments to do daily and when his video calls were… and he reminded us often. 

Now it’s time to shift routines again and get back on track. In just a few short weeks, my wife returns to work at a childcare center. My 4-year-old will also return to her childcare center sometime in the month of June. My son needs some structure for the summer as I still work remotely. So, what do we change? How do we return to some sense of the routines that we had before? 

Questions to Ask to Help You Get Back on Track

As we discussed this as a family, we asked ourselves some questions.

  • What do we begin to shift now to prepare our kids to return to a new schedule?  Bedtimes, for instance, need to adjust. Take gradual steps to resume a pre-quarantine bedtime. The same could be said for morning routines. We can make small steps to reclaim some of our routines in this area starting with what time we all get up. Abrupt changes are difficult for everyone—but especially for kids.
  • What have we started doing during this quarantine that we want to keep? Our kids have had tremendously more free, creative play. We have spent more evenings around the fire pit. More time has been spent in the hammock. How do we protect these things that have brought so much joy? 
  • What do we want to learn over the summer? As I look for ways to fill my son’s days, I’ll start by asking him what he wants to learn more about. What can we explore as a family that will continue their learning? Just because summer is over doesn’t mean learning has to end, but it can be fun learning experiences.

Prepare for Transition to Get Back on Track

As your family begins to discuss this next transition, here are 3 recommendations I have:

  1. Get your mindset right. Mentally prepare for transitions in your routines. Get ready for the battles that you may have to fight.
  2. Get your plan together. Have a family meeting to discuss this time of transition. (Check out this blog for some great ideas.) What does your specific situation require? This is a great opportunity to reinforce with kids why routines are important and why we have to also be flexible and make changes sometimes. 
  3. Get tough skin. (If you don’t already have it.) Let’s face it—kids don’t like change. Many of us adults don’t either. You may have had weeks with much less structure, but now we have to make more changes. Not everyone will be happy, but that’s okay. 

★ Nothing says that we have to return to the same routine as we had before the quarantine. Take this opportunity to evaluate what you as a family really want to do and what you value. You don’t have to make life as busy as it was before. ★

I’ve always been quite nostalgic about my traditions. For example, I’ve kept school work that I made good grades on from kindergarten through college. I’ve also left my Christmas decorations up just a little too long each year and turned birthday cards into decorations. While dating my husband, I kept every love letter he gave me (and still do). 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve continued some of the traditions I grew up with. And As COVID-19 and quarantine have taken us all by surprise, I’ve found my husband, Tyler, and I challenged to create some new traditions

Since we heard time and time again from couples married for a few months to 30+ years to never stop dating your spouse, we try to have a date night every week—if not every other week. My husband and I loved this advice because I’m a sentimental sap and he is definitely a charming romantic (the kind of guy who sets out a hundred candles, bakes brownies and pours a glass of wine because he knows you’re having a bad day).

I’ll be honest, COVID-19 put a wrench in our date night traditions at first. We were busy navigating a new normal and because we were spending non-stop time together, setting aside date night time didn’t cross our minds. It took us about two weeks to figure out something felt a little off. We realized we had pushed aside something we always looked forward to—dating! Since going out to dinner and some activities were off the table, we had to get creative with our date night traditions.

We didn’t want to sacrifice something that kept the spark in our relationship glowing. No matter the circumstances, for better or for worse, we needed to show each other how much we love each other. We signed up for that when we committed our lives to each other. 

Just because we are spending 24/7 together, doesn’t mean we are spending it intentionally. Especially if we weren’t differentiating quality time together (date night) from the every-day-in-house hustle. 

We have been way more creative with our date night traditions out of necessity to keep the spark in our relationship. We’ve felt closer because of that. A big change that’s happened is going from, “What kind of food are you craving?” to “What does our relationship need this week?”

Is it some carefreeness because it’s been a stressful week? Okay, turn the living room into a dance floor, move the coffee table, pull up YouTube, and learn some new moves.

Maybe we haven’t had a meaningful heart-to-heart and date night looks like turning off all electronics, lighting some candles, and having intentional conversations. Here are some conversation starters:

  1. What has been on your mind?
  2. When did you make each other laugh this week?
  3. What have you been thinking about beyond work? 
  4. Have I done anything this week to make you feel loved and is there something I can do more of?
  5. What are your dreams right now?  
  6. What can make our sex life better? How can we make each other feel confident and vulnerable?

It could be simple as we miss dressing up and getting a nice meal at our favorite place so we get takeout, use the nice plates and glasses, light some candles, and change into a nice outfit. Our new favorite spot is our patio with a speaker, candles and card-playing games. 

We have also done some really sweet virtual date nights you can do, too!

I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in expectations. “We normally do this and it works so we should do it like this again.” In these “should” moments, we don’t leave room for something new and creative to happen. Look what happened when we stepped outside of just going through the motions! 

We have had a blast being challenged to change up how we pursue each other. It’s even been good for our relationship. I hope you and yours take the time to find what works best for you. If you do, I hope you have lots of fun along the way! 

Keep dating—even while in quarantine!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

During this pandemic, we have been inundated with guilt overload and messages about how our families should take advantage of this concentrated time together. The internet has become the panacea of all work and productivity-related, education-related and family engagement information. It has provided activities for families to do together from going to virtual museum tours to home improvement projects that include the kids, to all types of digital familial interactions.

There’s lots of good information out there, but it can make you feel guilty if you aren’t careful.

Some of us feel encouraged and empowered by this time. That’s awesome! Some of us are overwhelmed, or, dare I say, feel a lot of guilt. We are trying to keep up the multiple roles of worker, teacher, spouse and parent. It has been difficult to manage these roles with any sense of balance. 

The Problem of Guilt Overload

If I focus on work, and my children need me, I feel like I failed as a worker.  

If I spend time with my family, and I take a work call or email, I feel like I failed as a parent. 

Guilt is the name of the game. To be honest, if I see another article about how to work productively at home, I might scream. If I see another picture-perfect moment of family togetherness on social media, I may hurt somebody (metaphorically, of course).

I am weary of feeling unproductive as a worker and guilty as a parent. I’m supposed to meet deadlines AND spend quality time with my family since we are together at home. Somehow. This is the first time we have ever dealt with a situation such as COVID-19 and its impact on our lives (at work and at home). Many of us have sought to keep those two parts of our lives separated. Now, they are crashing into one another. 

How Can We Get Out Of This Rut Of Guilt Overload and Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda? 

1. Realize that there is no ONE right way to deal with parenting and working during a PANDEMIC.

As parents, we pressure ourselves so much to be the PERFECT PARENT when we spend time with our children. We want “magic moments” all the time. Now that we are home together during this time, we often have the same expectations. Be realistic and intentional about the family activities you choose. Most times the “magic” happens as we give ourselves permission to do things DIFFERENTLY, not PERFECTLY. 

We are also tasked with being productive while we work at home as well. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. This is new for everyone. Productivity will look different. We may work after the kids go to bed or get up early before “home school.” Work will get done, but maybe not in the same way as before COVID-19.

2. Choose the voices that you listen to.

We are BOMBARDED with messages from friends, family, news, social media and even our own voice on how we “should” be dealing with social distancing, homeschooling and working from home. You have an opportunity to make a conscious decision on how to handle homeschooling, upcoming summer plans and continued work from home. Now is the time to make your own way—not to be or feel judged by another “picture-perfect” Facebook or Instagram moment. 

3. Our kids are listening to and watching us.

Kids feed off our emotions. If you feel anxious or stressed, your child’s behavior or mood may mirror yours. If teaching history to your youngster is frustrating, ask yourself, “How can I do this differently?” Friends of mine watched the movie National Treasure to get their daughter curious about history. Remember, beating up yourself does no one ANY GOOD—especially your KIDS. 

I have recognized that GUILT, “the gift that keeps on giving,” benefits no one. I have to be okay doing the best I can with what I have and what I know. In the midst of my upside-down crazy life, I am choosing to remember the words of John Lennon:

Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

I’m with you on this, but approaching your boss about continuing to work from home can be a tricky conversation to navigate! Let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with a way to pitch our idea to the boss!

Many people are probably excited about the prospect of getting back to the office. Maybe they have little ones at home that make it hard to get work done during the quarantine. Maybe being put into the teacher-parent-employee role has been a struggle. Some people just like the office and the camaraderie or the hard distinction between work and home. COVID-19 and quarantine have been extra hard for them.

Then there are people like us. We’ve got our routines down. Our “maximum productivity zones” don’t necessarily match up with a 9-5 schedule. We’ve seen the benefits of integrating work life and family life, being able to take a walk around the block to think through a work assignment, and still be around the house and available to connect with family, too. We’re comfortable working with the team and having meetings via Zoom or the phone. And let’s be real—we are probably working more than eight hours a day and/or definitely getting more than eight hours of work done. Continuing to work from home seems like a Win/Win for everybody!

How To Have This Conversation With Your Boss

  • Remember that your boss is the boss. Have a humble demeanor. See my blog post here.
  • After seeing working remotely in action, your boss might be more open to you working from home, but there are times the boss might want the team to be in the same room. Acknowledge that and show that you are flexible.
  • Emphasize the specific ways that working from home has helped you be more productive, focused and creative, BUT…
  • Don’t be afraid to express how this has also benefited your family and your overall health and happiness. (Your boss knows that family problems and things like stress, anxiety and depression affect your work performance.)
  • Try suggesting a “trial period” so your boss can gauge how it is working out.
  • Understand and be prepared for the possibility that the answer might be, “No.”

How To Prepare For The Transition Back To The Office

  • Don’t wait to start mentally preparing and thinking through the practical things that will be affected by this transition. It was a significant shift to working from home and it will be a significant shift back to the office. 
  • If you were doing a lot of your work late at night or early in the morning, consider shifting your work routine now. Get your mind and body ready for 9 to 5.
  • Think through how this transition will affect your family. Have a family meeting to talk through how family schedules and routines will change. Your kids have also adapted to you being home during the day. They will need time and help to adjust. 
  • Be creative and intentional to find new ways to keep the things going that have helped your family grow stronger and be more connected. 9 to 5 doesn’t have to make your family less connected.

Best of luck to you, fellow worker who prefers to work from home!

TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management, 

What the heck? I just got used to working from home! Do you realize the adjustment that was? Do you think I can just switch everything up now and go back to the office? This disrupts all my family routines and we just got into a rhythm. Who knows if it’s even safe? Last time I checked, you aren’t the CDC. Plus, I can do the same thing at home that I do there. All I’d be missing is bad coffee. You guys seriously need to rethink this. This is so…

[Record Needle Scratch] 

TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management,

I want to thank you for how you lead our company through a global pandemic. My family and I are grateful for the adjustments you made that allowed me to stay employed during such a chaotic time. I realize others were not so fortunate. Thank you for your flexibility and considering your people while other companies were only worried about profits.

I would like to say that working from home has been a great experience for me and my family. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that it has benefited the company as well. After the initial adjustment, I believe that my productivity and contribution to the company actually increased significantly. If it is at all possible, I would like to explore the possibility of continuing to work from home and coming in on certain days to touch base with the team.

Regardless of what you decide, I have already begun preparing myself and my family for how the transition back to working at the office will change some of our routines. I believe that some foresight and good communication is essential to make the transition as smooth as possible for my family and me. We’ve met as a family to discuss different scenarios and how we will navigate them—working from the office full-time or working from home on certain days and the office on others.

I’ve honestly wondered how I have been able to work so well from home and actually be more productive. It definitely seems counter-intuitive. There are some obvious reasons—my “creative zone” seems to be later at night after my kids have gone to bed. Also, I’m able to focus on work without distraction from early morning until lunchtime and have about five hours of solid work done before noon.

Beyond those obvious reasons, there have been a few that have come as a surprise to me. Integrating my work life and my family life has greatly reduced my stress about both. 

For instance, instead of the morning being a hectic time so I can beat the traffic into the office, I’ve been able to have a cup of coffee with my wife. Instead of a “working lunch” at my desk, I’ve been able to sit down and connect with my kids and talk about their day. Also, instead of worrying about my elderly mother-in-law who lives with us, I’ve been able to keep tabs on her and build my relationship with her. Instead of fighting traffic to get home, I’ve been able to have dinner ready for when my wife gets home and we eat more meals together as a family.

I know that this is a lot of family talk and not a lot of work talk, but it has become clear that having more family stability and connectedness has made me a happier person. That happiness translates into more energy and focus for work, more creativity, and less distracting stress and anxiety. I have the ability to work from my deck and be outside in an environment that keeps my mind clear. I have the ability to go for a walk around the block and think through a work assignment. Plus, I have the ability to work while I’m in “the zone” regardless of a time-clock. 

This kind of flexibility and efficiency has given me more margin to take care of myself and my family. A healthier, happier worker is a more productive worker.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. Regardless of how my work situation plays out, my goal is to creatively and consistently keep these lessons learned as a regular part of my family life. I believe that if I do so, the company will benefit—no matter where I work from.