Parenting in a Pandemic

When home becomes office, day care and school all at once

Meghan McCarty Carino Mar 18, 2020
Designating time for each parent to work or watch the kids could help while working from home. Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images
Parenting in a Pandemic

When home becomes office, day care and school all at once

Meghan McCarty Carino Mar 18, 2020
Designating time for each parent to work or watch the kids could help while working from home. Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images

Millions of workers in industries from technology to banking and marketing are all working from home in an effort to limit social interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19. There are a lot of benefits to remote work: no commute, plenty of laundry time and higher worker productivity. But the current circumstances, with many households full of people practicing social distancing, are proving more stressful.

“A lot of my time is spent on the phone, and there’s kids in the background screaming, yelling and trying to get your attention,” said Eric Ciesielski, who works in sales for a technology company in Cleveland, Ohio, and is now working from a card table set up in his basement with a 1-year-old and 4-year-old at home.

But at least his kids are young enough that he doesn’t have to worry about their schoolwork, like Los Angeles mom Sonia Kang and millions of other parents around the country where schools have shut down.

“You know that show ‘Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?'” she joked. “It just makes me realize how hard teaching is.”

Kang is juggling fifth-grade math tests for her son and high school reading assignments for her daughter as she tries to run her own online clothing business. She’s pretty much shifted her own work to the evenings. But she feels more clear headed and productive just knowing her kids are at home.

“I was a bit anxious just knowing my children are out there and how many touch points they’re going through on a typical day,” she said.

Less sanguine was Allison Landa, a freelance writer in Berkeley, California, who was not thrilled when her husband and 4-year-old son invaded her workplace.

“My family’s about to kill each other,” she joked as she attempted to escape the house on a run to the grocery store.

She and her husband, who works in quality assurance for Bayer, had both set up in the living room of their two-bedroom apartment.

“I think we’re doing it wrong, to put it mildly,” she said, making plans to move her own workspace into her son’s room temporarily.

“It is surprisingly difficult to avoid interrupting people that you can see,” said Teresa Douglas, a longtime remote worker and author of the guide “Working Remotely.”

Creating boundaries in this situation is important, she said. For those who can’t put a physical barrier between themselves and their housemates, she suggests a visual cue, like putting on a certain jacket or a hand signal that means “do not interrupt.”

Those with younger children and two parents home may want to trade off hours as the designated interuptee, the one kids can count on to answer questions or get them snacks.

But even adult relationships experience new pressures when our working patterns change, said Boston psychologist Kate King, who teaches at William James College.

“There are ways that work meets our needs that we’re not often even aware of until we’re away from work,” she said, such as missing out on the casual socializing, the sense of validation from co-workers or the healthy time away from a partner.

Just as retired couples often experience new stress in their relationship when they’re suddenly home together every day, partners suddenly working from home may be dealing with new challenges together.

“There’s a bunch of stuff you never talked about and you never had to talk about,” she said. “Now you would be well served by having those conversations,” about everything from who’s responsible for all the dishes piling up now that people are eating every meal at home to how much alone time you need to focus on work.

Are you stuck at home with kids right now?

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