So the crazy times continue but there may be a (very thin) silver lining to this global cloud. I think there are some lessons that we’ve learned during lockdown that we’ll be able to continue with when life eventually returns to whatever we will call normal in the future.
Starting well is key
The way your day starts has a real effect on the tone and mood of the rest of the day, so getting going with a bit of oomph can be a gamechanger. Doing this might involve a bit of preparation and planning the day before, and potentially getting to bed earlier than you are used to so that you can wake up refreshed at the right time.
I find that I have the bad habit of opening my eyes in the morning and immediately picking up my phone to check for messages and social media posts. This is a VERY bad habit – anything that was sent or posted overnight can wait until I’ve showered, and letting the world in after that is much more manageable!
Also…starting well might even involve a morning exercise session (gasp!).
Be clear with timing for kids
In a normal situation, if you were working at an office and had colleagues who depended on you for certain things, it would be good practice to make your timelines clear so that they can manage their time and expectations better, right?
I think the same thing is true for your children while you work from home. Don’t just say “I’m busy right now” – it’s a good idea to let them know how long you expect to be busy. You wouldn’t expect your adult colleagues to deal with you indefinitely saying “I’m busy!” – so definitely don’t expect that from your kids.
Make it clear how long your meeting will be or how long you will need to focus on work and then stick to what you said. The more your kids know that when mom or dad says, “I will be 30 minutes” that they will keep that time, the more they will trust you…and will probably be more likely to give you the space you need.
Have a basic plan that’s flexible depending on the mood
As I mentioned previously, starting your day with a plan of action is important to start well and to keep the anxiety and frustration down. But even the best-laid plans can fall apart pretty quickly. If one of your kids wakes up feeling a bit sick, or even just in a bad mood, it might be necessary to access and adapt.
Let your family know what the plan is beforehand and let them have input to what it should involve. We might have an idea of how the day should go in our heads while everyone else has something completely different going on, so don’t assume that you all agree on the plan if you haven’t verbalised it.
“Honestly, I think that in many ways this time has been an intense period of improvement of me as a father…”
Remember, the point of the plan is to help you and your family have a more enjoyable day. If it is getting in the way of that, change it! Obviously, knowing when to do this can be tough, but go with your gut on this one. Generally, if you find yourself or your family getting constantly frustrated by the plan…chuck it.
Find a separate space to work or integrate work with home life during the day
Both my wife and I are working from home during this lockdown period, but since she takes many more meetings and calls than I do, we made a little office space for her in our bedroom. She can close the door and separate herself from the noise and craziness that two preschoolers can create, while I have to work from the dining room table…right in the middle of our house.
This means that everything I do can’t require more than 15 minutes of complete focus since I will be interrupted by my boys who either legitimately need something or simply want to show me the cool new dance moves they’ve just taught themselves (which usually involves just falling to the floor).
This has required me to change the rhythms and flow of how I work. A lot of what I do is just staring at a blank screen and letting my mind drift while I come up with new content ideas. That method requires unbroken time and obviously doesn’t work in my new reality.
So, I’ve moved the creative thinking work to the evenings and kept the practical stuff (which doesn’t really need a flow) for the day. Usually, my boys need more attention towards the late afternoon, so I also try to make sure I have less on my plate by then, in case they need a good chunk of my time around that time.
Remember that your kids are going through tough times too – they aren’t the problem!
Look, I’m the first one to complain about how annoying and difficult my kids can be sometimes, but I’m trying to get better at reminding myself that they are also experiencing difficult times too, and they have even less understanding or control over what is happening than we do, so it’s no wonder they may act a little bit more than usual.
Keeping that in mind helps to maintain the perspective that right now, your family is not really the problem – the current world crisis is the problem. That might make it a bit easier to show empathy to them, even if you are already at the end of your tether yourself!
Honestly, I think that in many ways this time has been an intense period of improvement of me as a father and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to take all that good momentum with me as and when life goes back to a more regular schedule.
AfroDaddy, a.k.a. Terence Mentor, is a place for parents, especially dads, to come together and share in the “duality of parenting” – the fact that being a parent can be fantastic, wonderful and beautiful, while simultaneously being exhausting, frustrating and awful. A husband and father to two boys born 18 months apart, AfroDaddy shares his unique view and experiences while opening himself to new experiences, learnings and people. You can find him at AfroDaddy.