Put Your Lifemask On First: Strategies for Parents in 2021

As a parent, if you had asked me at the beginning of 2020 what I was most concerned about, a pandemic was certainly not on my list. But, as COVID-19 transcended upon our world, the 2020 that many of us imagined took a drastically different turn — with working parents feeling the impact significantly. A glimpse into my Google search history reveals a chronological timeline of the year.

  • January 2020: “What happens when a toddler eats crayons”
  • March 2020: “Rash or bug bite”
  • June 2020: “How to occupy kids while working”
  • July 2020: “How much TV is too much”
  • July 2020: “The mental health impact of pandemics on kids” 
  • August 2020: “Signs of burnout and what to do”
  • December 2020: “How to prepare for 2021”

In talking with other working parent friends, one commonality emerges: none of us knew what we were doing in 2020, and we are all feeling the stress of what’s to come in 2021. From navigating decisions about whether or not to spend time with family during the holidays, managing our own fears around the virus and its impact, negotiating schooling and childcare, being cautiously optimistic about the promise of a vaccine, playing the role of caretaker for older and younger loved ones, and trying to balance careers, the stress-inducing challenges can sometimes feel never-ending. 

A study conducted by Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed working parents in five countries (US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy) found that 60% of respondents reported that they had no outside help in caring for and educating their children. Now, when we consider the fact that parents have their full-time jobs, and that 60% of working parents are now faced with an additional full-time job of caregiving, it’s no surprise that parents are teetering on the edge of burnout.

The study also found that parents are now spending an extra 27 hours per week on household chores, child care, and education. When you consider the fact that, in an average working week, most Americans spend 40 hours per week working, 40 hours per week sleeping, and have 40 hours per week left over, it’s highly likely that these extra 27 hours are cutting into an area that is typically spent either working, sleeping, or engaging in some kind of self-care or restorative practice. 

And finally, almost half of the respondents felt that their performance at work has decreased as a result of all of the above. This number was highest among those with children between the ages of 0 and 5, with 53% of respondents responding affirmatively. Just as powerful was the finding that, among the same study, 66% of women and 52% of men report that they are worried about their mental well-being.

While there is no way of knowing what 2021 will hold regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, childcare, or even the fate of our employment, entering the new year with a focus on cultivating moments for our own well-being is more important than ever. The following strategies are provided with that in mind:

Be Gracious With Yourself

We are living in a moment where tensions are running high for a lot of us, and it can be easy to get frustrated with ourselves or with the people that we work with (or live with). It’s important to remember we are all negotiating a new norm and there are bound to be bumps in the road — internet outages, kids popping up in zoom calls, or some days when we aren’t as productive as we otherwise would be. By setting kind and realistic expectations for ourselves and others in our life, we can help to make sure that we aren’t holding ourselves to a pre-COVID standard in a post-COVID world.

Use Your Financial Voice

Be vocal about the financial toll that the pandemic is taking, the expectations that are being placed upon you, and the steps that lawmakers and policymakers can take to ensure that the needs of parents are considered when enacting new guidelines. For your own financial wellness, consider connecting with a financial planner or advisor who can help you to maximize your own financial situation and strategies that you can take to make it as manageable as possible.

Communicate Your Needs

Despite the Zoom fatigue that many working parents are feeling, communication can be a really powerful tool towards self-preservation. This includes communication with managers, team members, and partners or other people with whom you share your space. If you are partnered, try sitting down each evening and charting out the coverage schedule for the next day. Consider things like dividing household chores, and taking turns on “parent duty” to allow for self-care time. And, at work,  calendar blocking can come in very handy — creating blocks of time on your calendar when you know family commitments will come up (nap time, preparing lunch, helping with remote learning, etc.) and providing visibility to your team by scheduling that time as you would another meeting.

Share And Seek Support From Your Colleagues

If you’re not the only working parent in your company, seek out those who are also parents and buoy each other. At EVERFI we’ve banded together through our Working Parents Affinity Group to share schedule templates, pass on free and subscription resources, and even just post a meme or two to get through the day. Creating or finding a space for you to seek out or offer support, resources, encouragement, or to simply vent can do wonders for both your well-being and your sense of camaraderie. There are also some really great Facebook and LinkedIn groups out there that are specifically for working parents, which can help you to feel less alone.

Prioritize Your Own Self-Care — Including Seeking Help

We are living through an incredibly difficult time.  And the fact that it is not time-bound can take a psychological toll. The reality is that many working parents are currently working two full-time jobs, which in and of itself is stressful enough. 

While we cannot control certain aspects of the current situation, there are certain things that may be within your control– including how you structure your days. So one technique is to actually schedule self-care time as if it is an appointment or an important meeting. Maybe 10 minutes, or, even better, a full hour. Use that time to do something for yourself — maybe a meditation app, maybe some stretching, or maybe just eating a nourishing meal. And, for many people, this may also include carving out the time to connect with a counselor or therapist who can help navigate the stress that so many of us are under. 

If you find that the mental health effects are impacting your ability to cope or function, consider reaching out to your employers EAP (if they have one), or a local counselor – many of whom are now offering telehealth. And, if things get to a point where you are considering harm to yourself or others, please text HOME to 741741, or call 1-800-273-8255.

From a blog written at the start of the pandemic, which still holds very true: At the end of the (very exhausting) day, the reality is that this period of time will eventually pass. And, in many ways, there have been some silver linings through the dark clouds. We have been forced to challenge the historically held status quo of remote work. Parenthood, an aspect of identity which many have held closely guarded, has become front and center alongside one’s career, shedding light on the often unseen challenges that working parents face. And one day, our children may grow up and recount the “global pandemic” that they experienced in their youth as a defining moment on their character-building journey. Until then, remember that you aren’t alone.