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Working from home COVID-19 Children's Wisconsin

To all the parents working from home right now — you got this!

Although it seems like an eternity ago at this point, it’s been just a few weeks since area schools made the tough but sensible decision to close indefinitely. That very same day, my employer, Children’s Wisconsin, called on all employees who could work from home to begin doing so.

When this news broke, my mind began racing through the seemingly impossible logistics of working from home while simultaneously overseeing my children’s virtual learning. At the same time, my thoughts kept drifting to my colleagues who were preparing to combat the global pandemic. My prayers remain with all of our frontline health care workers.

With four young kids ages 1.5, 5, 8 and 9 who all need guidance and a lot of attention, I knew we needed a plan to maintain structure and balance for our new work and home life. As the Director of Advocacy and Community Benefits, my job is to work with our dedicated advocates and elected officials to advance policies that benefit the kids and families we serve. I love my job. But how was I to do it well if I was struggling to be there for my own family?

The new normal

I would be lying to say this new normal has been smooth. But I have learned a few things I can do every day to keep myself and my family healthy and well. If there was ever a time to focus on well-being, it’s now. I quickly learned I needed to stop comparing myself to other work-and-teach-from-home parents. Instead, I needed to lean on others in my circle for tips, guidance and support. We are all wearing many hats — parent, employee, teacher, caregiver (some of you for more than just your own immediate family), and the list goes on. These are hats we always wear, but this is the first time we are wearing them at the exact same time, day after day.

If you are looking for a “how to create a perfect work from home” you should probably stop reading this. What may work for one family does not always work for another. But if you’re looking for some tips that may help, here’s what I have found. 

Routine is key. While it won’t be possible every day, do your best to keep to a routine. For me, making sure I start my day well before my kids are awake is key. It’s a chance for me to drink my coffee in quiet while getting a jump start on my day. (Side note: Has anyone else’s coffee consumption gone up about 10 times since COVID-19 forced us all at home?)

Stay active. Working out is also a huge part of my daily life. Making sure that I continue moving my body daily is extremely important to not only keep myself physically healthy, but mentally health, as well. During this “Safer at Home” order and with gyms closing, it’s time for us to get creative.

I can offer a few ideas here:

When possible, I take work calls while I walk. My team and I have daily check-in calls so these are great times to hit the pavement. What if you have young kiddos? Take them with! For calls like these, I put my daughter Mary in the stroller and bring her along. My colleagues have gotten used to hearing Mary sing or talk in the background at times. A,B,C…1,2,1,2 (my goal is to get her to count to 3 by the time she goes back to daycare!). You know what? Hearing her cute little voice helps lighten the mood quite a bit we are all human and navigating this together. My neighbors joke that I should attach a flag or some other visual when I am on a work call so they know why I am not stopping (6 feet away!) to say hello.

Stay connected by getting outside. I am a people person and not seeing others is really tough. But when I’m on my walks, I’m able to see others (from afar) and wave hello.

You know what also has been fun? Doing yoga! At Children’s Wisconsin we practice mindfulness — things like being here now and being aware of how our moods may impact our work. Before COVID-19, yoga was not in my vocabulary. I always wanted to try it and like it, but just couldn’t find the patience I knew it required. I am quickly learning it should be part of my daily routine. It is not only easy to do from home (check out Yoga with Adriene on YouTube), but my 8-year-old daughter, Ava, has found a love for it as well. What a powerful connection that we wouldn’t have probably stumbled across if not at home together right now. Perspective is key, right.

Above all — eat well and sleep well. Both impact our mindset and energy equally.

Anxious cookie or grateful orange? I am blessed to have a team who is supportive. We are truly each other’s biggest cheerleaders. When the work from home order was in place, our leader came across a creative way we could check in on each other to see how we were feeling. The game was simple — each day you had to declare your safer at home nickname. You say the emotion you are feeling at that moment plus the food you last ate. I remember the first day it went something like, “overwhelmed peanut butter straight outta the jar,” and, “anxious cookie…yes cookie, wish it was a salad.” But guess what? Each day since has not been the same. There are plenty of “hopeful carrots” and “balanced apples” in the mix! I took this idea and started it with my mom friends in my neighborhood, which has started some really great dialogues about the struggles we are facing as moms working at home with our kids. I have also started this with my own family. This tool has been nice way for me to get a pulse for how my work and home family are doing without asking, “How are you feeling today?” every day, because that becomes a bit overwhelming in itself. Give it a try!

Be creative with your time. I recognize not all jobs are the same, but if you have a job that has some flexibility, use that to be creative with your time. I use my early mornings to start my work day. It is typically when I respond to work emails, read the legislative proposals circulating, write my work goals for the week and do any of my writing (newsletters, emails to community members, legislators, etc.). Prioritizing this work upfront allows me to take a few deserved breaks throughout the day and be there now with my kids, help with some homework assignment they are struggling with (or at least try — who knew 2nd grade math could be so tough?!), do a puzzle, or maybe even go outside for recess with them.

(Side note: My kids told us the other day they don’t like homeschool as much as real school — me neither kiddos, me neither — but they do love how many recesses we give them. I had to chuckle at that.)

Create a space that is yours. Help your kids understand that this space is only for you to work in. Maybe have them put their art skills to use and make a sign for your office door. If you have an office already, great! If not, create a space. Do you have extra space in your laundry room? Or maybe a spare bedroom or basement for a table or desk? This is where you will take calls, do Zoom meetings, and get the projects done that cannot be interrupted. For the first week home, my work space was not defined and I ended up in my bathroom or closet floor escaping from my kids to get my work done (no, I am not kidding). We quickly realized creating these work spaces was incredibly important to maintain structure, boundaries and productivity.

TAKE ME-TIME. There is a reason this tip in all caps. Because I find it’s the most important one of all. This has always been true, even though it took me a long time to figure this out. And now as we navigate this overwhelming time in our lives, I find it to be even truer. You cannot be a good employee, parent, teacher, spouse, friend, and all your other important roles unless you fill your own tank first. I have started listening to one podcast a day — no, not about the economy or about how we are going to end this pandemic, but a motivational podcast (my new favorite is Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us). Find an outlet for yourself and carve out time for it every single day. 

Lastly, keep perspective. What is being asked from all of us working parents right now is a lot (that is an understatement). It’s overwhelming and recognizing that is in itself important. I have to give kudos to my supportive husband right now as we are true partners in this. I recognize that some of you are doing this working-parenting-teaching-caregiving job by yourself right now. And please know that I see you and I am cheering you on. No matter what your situation, this intense shift working parents are feeling is tough. Find balance. Give yourself grace. Stick to a routine as much as possible. Stop comparing yourself to how others are doing this — do you! Ask for support. Create a space that is yours. Move your body!

We’ve got this. Right? I would love to hear your tips for how you are navigating working from home. We are a community and we are in this together!