Martorella: Working from home
In the world BC-19 (before Covid-19), I was a working mom struggling to balance home and job responsibilities. I am lucky to have a fairly flexible job, which allowed me to concentrate my work hours during the school day and to work at home when needed. When I got behind, I could catch up on an occasional late night or weekend afternoon. It wasn’t easy, but it was possible to manage work and home responsibilities.
Now, in this bizarro world DC-19 (during Covid-19), it feels close to impossible. There is no work-home balance, because there is no separation. Work-home is now WhOmReK - Work and Home merged together, sharing the “Ohhh” and pronounced “home-wreck”.
See what I did there? I was trying to be clever, but maybe it’s a stretch. I don’t even know anymore. I can’t think because my mind is running on two paths at once all day and I’m NEVER alone.
Remember when this pandemic had people (including me) praising life’s slowdown, planning to tackle projects or learn new things in all our newfound free time? Yeah, well then reality kicked in and we managed to create a situation primed for burnout. We moved our offices to home, and our kids moved their schools there too. Parents are tasked with maintaining our jobs while also assisting with the children’s schoolwork, while also caring for them in every other way, and nobody is allowed to come in to help.
It is not realistic to expect to have a productive work day at the exact same time that you are supervising, entertaining, feeding, and teaching children. And it is not realistic to expect to oversee a successful school day at the exact same time that you are on a conference call, proofreading spreadsheets, writing reports, or advising staff. It is actually impossible. But we still try….mostly by extending the workday.
Studies indicate that workers who have shifted from office to home during the pandemic are working 3 hours more per day. Getting a head start in the morning before helping kids connect with school, falling behind through a day filled with interruptions, trying to catch up after dinner. As our colleagues juggle the same balls, emails get sent late into the night, and the temptation to answer and clear them from the “to do” list is hard to resist. With no commute ng time to decompress and no reason to be unreachable (we are all home after all), it’s hard not to feel open for business 24/7.
The overload of screen time definitely adds to the burnout, with our meetings, social life, and daily tasks now all taking place online. You may have a webinar running in one laptop window while you are typing in another, and also on your phone texting your kids to remind them to submit their Google classroom work or turn their music down.
As a parent, I am trying to model resilience and perseverance for my children, but there are times I can’t hide my frustrations and worries, and I resent having their academics on my plate too. Will they be behind? Need tutoring? Or is it all going to even out when they start school again, whenever that is?
As a manager, I am trying to keep spirits up for my team, but there are times I am too weary to be their cheerleader or hear their complaints. I wonder how to fairly track their performance. Do I give more leeway to those who have children or other caretaking responsibilities? Are those who don’t getting off too easy, taking advantage of the flexibility? Are we just throwing up our hands at this point?
Early on, I tried to be always present for my children while on constant call for my office. I was exhausted, complete void of free time, and waking each morning with a heavy heart, already feeling defeated at the prospect of another day underperforming at work, home, and school.
Now, I’m setting boundaries when I can. If I have long meetings, calls, or projects that I have to finish, I move to a room with a closing door and let my kids know they are on their own. I try not to schedule anything around the start of e-school because that’s the time I need to sit with my kids for them to best engage. I shut the laptop at 5, just as if I was leaving the office. I’ve also stopped emailing last minute thoughts or requests to my staff and colleagues to model reasonable expectations.
Offices may start reopening soon, but our children are already home with summer vacation looming, so many of us won’t be able to go back in right away. We may still have concerns about exposing our families and homes to the virus and limited childcare options. It’s hard to know how this will proceed, and the lack of ability to plan and prepare may be the hardest challenge of all.
Some days the best strategy may be to turn off the computer, put down the phone, and take a long, long walk.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at email@example.com