Since starting to work from home in March, I’ve been exchanging new Slack messages with some of the other reporters in MPR’s newsroom who are also parents. We tell each other how our days are going, but substitute the words “my co-worker” instead of using our children’s names.
“My coworker would not stop screaming this morning until I gave him a bite of my oatmeal.”
“When I insisted on turning off the TV, my coworker laid down, wrapped himself in a blanket and is now rolling around on the floor and moaning.”
I have two kids: one in kindergarten, one who’s 2 1/2. Some days are fine: I try to switch off kid duty with my husband, and work is full of just the usual interruptions, like Zoom calls with teachers, math questions, tantrums and diaper changes.
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I try to schedule interviews during nap time or “quiet time” in the afternoon. And I try to record voice tracks in my closet where I’m less likely to be interrupted.
But some days are harder than others. Like when both my husband and I have tight deadlines or have to recover from too little sleep the night before because we stayed up late to get work done.
Other parents in our newsroom are in similar situations.
Digital producer Nancy Yang is up at 4 a.m. to get as much work done as she can before her 9-month-old and 4-year-old are awake.
Reporter Riham Feshir gets unsolicited audio advice from her preschooler, and (also unsolicited) background vocals from her toddler.
Meteorologist Nicole Mitchell tries to get as much work done as she can before her 3-year-old wakes up in the morning.
For me, it used to be that going into work was a respite from parenting — and parenting a respite from work. Now, working from home without child care often makes me feel like I’m not doing either well — failing as both a reporter and a parent.
And, for what it’s worth, I am very aware of the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on limiting screen time for children my kids’ age. But despite that knowledge, both of my children are watching cartoons at this very moment, so that I can finish this story.
A cultural shift
Cathy Jordan is a pediatric neuropsychologist and associate director for leadership and education at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Last week I called her up for advice.
“We just have to let go of this idea as parents and professionals that we really can do all of this and juggle all of these balls,” Jordan said.
Instead of trying to do it all, she suggests setting maybe three or four priorities as a family and focusing on those. Make one of those priorities self care. Make another one emotional and mental well-being for your kids.
“If we are not paying attention to our well-being and our children’s well-being, they’re really not open to learning anyway,” Jordan said.
She also suggested families find time to get outside every day. Nature is restorative and helps build resilience. And play is particularly important for younger children.
“It’s never true that play, recreation, downtime is independent of learning,” Jordan said. “Particularly at the younger ages, play is learning.”
Jordan advises figuring out some sort of family structure and routine. But she said it doesn’t need to — and maybe even shouldn’t — be similar to pre-pandemic routines.
And as for work? Jordan says there’s a lot of room for change in our standards around what it means to be a professional:
“Everyone is going through sort of a cultural shift around what it means to be a professional and a family member ... and I think that’s actually a good thing.”
So the next time my kid interrupts a Zoom meeting or needs a diaper change when I’m trying to meet a deadline, I’m going to try to remember Jordan’s advice to embrace the humor in crazy work-from-home situations and practice compassionate flexibility. And I’m trying to remind myself: this is what being a working parent looks like right now.