Parents working from home. It’s okay. Cut yourself some slack.

Take a minute and give yourself a pat on the back… yep, you in the comfy clothes.  You who has decided that showering can be more optional these days.  You who is trying to figure out groceries, school work, cleaning, and making sense of the chaos

You’re doing fine schooling your children and working.

I coach a lot of working parents who are currently trying to juggle it all… and struggling with their inability to do everything.  Here’s a little hint.  YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING!  And even more importantly, STOP TRYING TO BE PERFECT!

Imagine a top-notch teacher with a masters degree and years of experience taking over your job with no notice, some information, no time in which to do the job, and their existing responsibilities.  What would happen?  They’d struggle.  They – like every other human being – would probably feel like they are failing.

That’s what you’re trying to do if you think you can instantly educate your children as well as their teachers.  Teachers are skilled, highly educated specialists – and this pandemic should teach all of us that lesson.

It’s time to take a step back.  Consultant Mike Cardus, who has five-year-old twins at home, says “I’ve learned to lower my expectations.  My best advice is don’t be so hard on yourself.”   And he’s right.

That being said, there are some tricks that can make all of this a bit easier.  Years of working from home with little ones underfoot have taught me some important lessons.

Take breaks:  This is HUGE, and not just in our current situation.  We all need to take breaks from work.  Studies have shown that we are more efficient and happier when we do so.  A lunch break will increase your productivity.

Get outside:  Even if it’s for 15 minutes, you and the kids will feel better.

Create clear messages:  This includes letting them know when you can and can’t be interrupted and giving them messages they can fully understand. I failed it this one. My now-adult daughters laughingly told me that they thought “I’m working on a grant” meant “Do not interrupt me.”  They were right, but I could have been clearer.

Set boundaries:  Donna Migliaccio, Director of the Utica Children’s Museum, let’s her kids interrupt her when they have something important to ask.  They put their hand on her wrist, even if she’s on a virtual meeting.  She then excuses herself momentarily from the meeting and addresses their needs.  She also lets them know if it’s a valid interruption … a la next time you can follow the rules on snacks, because they aren’t changing.

Give them control:  Donna also gives her kids some creative control.  Rather than coming to her to solve arguments, she’s given each child a notebook where they can write “Tickets” for their sibling’s transgressions.  At dinner, they review the tickets and decide what’s going to happen.  She also encourages them to “write up” each other for good things, with a reward system in place when the whole family gets enough positives (slumber-party-in-the-basement type of reward).

Have some fun:  One of my client’s kids pulled out the Christmas decorations while she was working.  Instead of focusing on how upsetting it was, they planned a Quarantine Christmas for the weekend – songs, decorations, food.  A neighbor is having themed meals – including dressing up the family and the dog!  The kids aren’t going to remember that you couldn’t stop working for a minute.  They will remember the COVID Christmas in spring or the COVID theme days.

Give the kids responsibilities:  One family has an elementary student who needs to read aloud and a two-year old.  Letting the older child read to the younger one creates bonds and gives you some free time.  My daughters did this all the time!  If memory serves, a lot of the “reading” was actually storytelling of the pictures!

Make meals matter:  Kids can help with meals – even little ones.  Imagine if everyone took their dishes to the sink or helped clean the kitchen at the end of the meal.  Imagine if you let your kids make their own less-than-perfect sandwiches.  They learn skills and you ultimately will have less work!  At the same time, use meal time (prep, eating and cleaning up) to catch up and learn what your kids need.  Think about creative ways to inspire them.  If we all clean up together, we will have time for a walk around the neighborhood.

Remember you are a TEAM:  If there is more than one parent/adult in the house, communication between the two of you is essential.  You are co-workers now!  Compare schedules, figure out how to split things up, work together.  One father of preschoolers I recently coached realized that although he was trying to do more, he hadn’t yet talked to his wife on what she needed.

Be grateful:  The number one strategy to bring more happiness into your life is to practice gratitude, and now is a great time to do it as a family.  Let everyone talk about what the best part of their day was and what they are most grateful for.  Even in times of quarantine, we have much to be celebrate.

At the end of the day, remember, you are HUMAN.  Give yourself permission to do something less than perfect.  Give yourself five minutes to take some deep breaths.  And remember that this too shall pass.