As an introverted extrovert, it didn’t occur to me how bad I will be hit with the pandemic and social distancing until the circuit breaker took place in Singapore recently. The pandemic has resulted in lifestyle changes for me, but more so, it made me value the space that I once had, the reassuring routine as a parent and as a business owner.
As a public relations and marketing consultant, networking and coffee sessions with my clients played a big role in building rapport and relationships. As a parent, having the kids in school assured me of the best education they could get from trained educators while I focus on what I do best.
For working parents like me, the new norm has disrupted our usual routines. We took on multiple domestic roles on top of our professional one. Staying positive and productive can be challenging, especially when you are committed not only to your work and clients, but also to ensure that your home is well-run and your children are coping well with the changes. Thankfully, I am glad I am not alone. After going through weeks of new routines, I realised that there are some ways for families in self-isolation to cope with the new lifestyle and staying sane.
Stop being who you were. The most difficult to do for a perfectionist like me was NOT to be one. The initial experience of seeing my home turning into a constant dine-in eatery, mini camp site, a wrestling ring and lego building station drove me nuts. It took a toll on me as I wanted everything to be in order to a point of mental and physical exhaustion. Tempers flared and relationships got a little strained.
As the founder of my boutique public relations agency in Singapore, content writing, developing public relations and marketing strategies, and client call meetings are my bread and butter. When not out and about, I value my workspace and a clean home environment to be a productive thinker. Unfortunately, with our spouses and children at home, things can get a little out of hand. The frequent cleaning and preparations for meals thus forced me to be more innovative.
So I decided the only way to prevent developing a high blood pressure, was to develop a schedule and delegate the chores to the spouse and children. Especially for the kids, praising and thanking them for helping even though they might miss a stain on the dining table didn’t kill me! With the children confined to a limited space, I grew accustomed to stepping on lego blocks or blankets covering the sofa as they turn into a ‘fort’. I consoled myself and accepted that this is temporary and I had stopped seeking perfection in everything.
Be careful what you wish for. Pre-pandemic times, we always wished we had more time with our kids didn’t we? Now, that God has answered our prayers, we kinda regretted it. When everybody is at home, we might think our children do not need interaction since they ‘see’ us daily at home now. Wrong! Even if the family is in the same house together all day, our children crave our attention.
Instead of breathing down their necks and continuously nagging for every small matter, taking breaks in between my meetings, engaging or involving them in an activity in the kitchen helped. This is where ‘art of listening’ is important. When we present ourselves as a ‘friend’, our children will learn to open up a little. My teenage daughter now readily shares her feelings about how being away from school and missing her friends has affected her. Getting a teenager to open up easily is a rare occasion, so I appreciated it.
When saving the toilet paper from drowning is a big deal. Being a professional does not stop you from being a mother and we cannot run away from policing our children’s activities and ensure everything is in order. You would never guess the importance of toilet paper till a pandemic strikes. While it is not a big necessity in our home but it is still an item you wouldn’t want to see drowning in your toilet bowl (thanks to leaving the younger boy in the shower room for just 10 mins while you try to send an email.)
While we dedicate a time to carry out our work, we need to understand that it may not be as smooth sailing and make adjustments. This means pushing back all the zoom calls, responding to WhatsApp messages, and emails – until you are done with the household and the kids. Discuss with your colleagues and work out a mutually beneficial arrangement. For example, between my teammate and me, we stagger our time to respond to client’s needs. When you have your partner at home, plan a schedule to carry out chores, work timing, and managing the kids. By doing so, I felt I was not shouldering all the responsibilities on my own.
Parents + homeschooling = major meltdowns. I have high regard for teachers. It is not easy to manage a class of 20 to 40 different characters, and I applaud them for their dedication and resilience. As parents, we sometimes forget children will always be children. They need a lot of assurance, encouragement and patience to get them through one assignment. When I started home-schooling my son, I admit I was a bit hard on him. This resulted in tantrums and meltdowns (mine as well). I eventually acknowledged that he is also adjusting to this and the only way for a perfect partnership is to just cut some slack. It proved to be much better indeed.
Chuck the ‘screen time’ rule out of the window (just for now). As much as I hate to say this, unfortunately, our kids engage in more screen time now. They go online for their lessons and video calls more often with their teachers and classmates. As parents, we also look for online resources to keep the momentum going and fill their spare time better. There can be advantages. For example, my teenager seems to be enjoying interacting with her friends online and engaging in computer games. We also read more news online and discuss over dinner. If you need to get any work done, loosen the grip on ‘too much screen time’ during this period but monitor the sites they visit. If you need to stay productive, let them get on the gadgets just for a little longer.
Get used to your ‘new colleagues’ aka your children. Our home has now become our new ‘office’ and we welcome ‘new colleagues’. Remember Professor Robert Kelly, who was distracted when his kids came on during his live interview on BBC? Just like him, many of us are turning our bedrooms or living rooms to our ‘office’. Just like Prof Kelly, there have been many occasions where I had to manage interruptions from my ‘new colleagues’. Although pre-empting them early means that I need some quiet time on zoom calls, I am still bound to be greeted with friendly walk-in requests such as – ‘I need a hug now mom,’ or ‘sorry mom, can I have an early dinner,’? (Why can’t they wait?!) I suppose by taking these in my stride helped ease the tensions a little, so go easy on them.
Let it go! Yes, like the movie Frozen.. really, just let it go…. I am a fan of the movie ‘Frozen’ and the best advice from it was to ‘Let it Goooooo’. I have to admit, these new routines got me really exhausted and burned out. Some days, I gave myself longer naps. Parents, you do not have to feel guilty and there is absolutely nothing wrong indulging in some quiet time. If you need it, do it. For us to take care of our family, manage work and our businesses, we have to take care of ourselves first. I treat myself to bubble tea or pizza delivery when I don’t feel like cooking and binge on some Netflix movies to stay sane. Most importantly, if you need to speak to someone, reach out to your friends and let it go! You might just feel better.
If you are feeling depressed, gloomy and stressed during this period, it is normal. Take heart that we will all come out of this better. We will not know how long this situation will last, but figuring out how to deal with our expectations and emotions rather than striking for perfection can make us overcome this difficult period. There will be days one of the above tips may not work but acknowledging that we are doing our best and cutting some slack can help. So stay strong parents, we are in this together!