Amir and Ria live and work in Seattle. He is an employee of Amazon, she is the CEO of a startup. They have two children – six-year-old Amara and two-year-old Aryan. Spouses are used to coping with the tasks that are common for all families where both parents work: caring for and learning, eating and doing household chores, as well as full weekend activities together.
Things got complicated after an outbreak of coronavirus occurred in Seattle and its suburbs. At first, Amazon asked all employees to start working from home, a week later the school that Amira goes to announced that it was closing. Soon the office of Rii and the kindergarten Aryana were closed. Since then, Amar and Riya have to combine constant childcare with work from home, trying to maintain maximum effectiveness.
During the first week, they perceived the situation as a vacation, with little concern for structuring the daily routine or duties. Because of this, everyone quickly found themselves in an unenviable position. The spouses could not cope with the work, they were worried that Amara was allowed to use the tablet for too long so that she would not get bored, and regular tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, seemed to only accumulate. The fact that they were locked together together in a confined space exacerbated the situation.
Our company creates software that helps working parents cope with their household chores and parenting. We are constantly collecting best practices from busy parents, and recently we have been helping families from Seattle, San Francisco, and New York who are already faced with the current new standard of living.
Their experience has shown us that the key to successfully overcoming difficulties is to invent new ways to preserve old routines. Firstly, it allows you to maintain a sense of habit and constancy, which is comforting and therapeutic during the turmoil. Secondly, it is convenient. When you have to fight for every drop of productivity, you want to feel like an ingrained habit every day, so that you don’t have to waste time puzzling what will happen for lunch and when to go play outside.
You can adapt your old plan to a new standard of living in the following three stages.
1. Keep a routine.
The first step is to maintain the typical structure of each day. So you can not only take advantage of the familiar scenario, but also get reliable ways to draw up your work schedules and child care.
The routine of one of the families with which we work included a children’s breakfast at 8:15 in the morning, then classes with the nanny after the parents left for work. An hour of free games, an adventure on the street, lunch at home, then a combination of educational activities and needlework, then a second walk. Children had lunch at 5 pm. Parents returned home at 6. In the evenings, they read books to children or played with them until the end of the day, which occurred at 7:30 or 8:00.
I would advise this family to maintain their routine. Regardless of whether they still have a nanny, they should not change the time of meals, classes and walks. (I myself used this approach during my long trips with my family.) You will draw up actual schedules at the next stage, but before that you need to determine their basis, which rests on what you already know.
2. Create modified charts.
Then make schedules for each week, including as many components of the old routines as possible, modifying them taking into account your work blocks and other new responsibilities for cooking, housekeeping, and child care.
We modified the “Sunday Check” planning protocol we compiled for busy parents, adjusting it to the chaos that is happening now, in which it is especially important to plan a week.
When planning, be sure to consider the following.
- What is your child’s schedule?
- What will be for breakfast, lunch, dinner?
- When will you do household chores (wash, wash dishes, clean)?
- When will you have key work meetings and when you need someone to work for you while you do something around the house?
Add this information to your calendar, and then start assigning shifts and responsibilities to specific family members. Our family uses Google Calendar, and we have created a model for other families to use this service, with which they can draw up schedules for their children and paint shifts for parents on top.
Finally, create work blocks. Depending on your childcare responsibilities, your community and quarantine regime, you can choose one of three ways to solve this problem.
Relocation of parents: four-hour shifts during which one parent works and the other takes care of the children.
Short shifts: Shifts lasting from 30 minutes to 2 hours, which rotate between a certain number of adults.
Video shifts: if your children have already grown up, they can play with friends by communicating with them via video (this is described in detail below) if you organize it. Grandparents will also be able to virtually occupy your children. Although all this will require some attention from you, you will be able to answer the call or do the work for which you need to focus.
You will get the feeling that you need to squeeze at least a drop of productivity out of every minute of the day. The reality is that many of us have to set aside time to work early in the morning or after the children go to bed. But be sure to plan breaks and unstructured periods to relax and chat with your spouse or children. This is a marathon, and it is important that we find an opportunity not to burn out.
3. Introduce new ways to solve old problems.
Finally, if your children are used to playing games with friends or weekly events, do not cross them out of the calendar, just find new forms for them. Everyone will be happy to spend time among people, and as a bonus, such ventures can give you the opportunity to cut out half an hour for continuous work. Take a look at the following options.
Video games. On Google Hangouts (or Zoom, a matter of taste), send invitations to your children’s friends’ parents. For the game itself, you will need an Internet-connected gadget – a tablet, laptop, or devices such as Amazon Echo Show or Portal from Facebook. During a video call, the children can simply communicate, coloring something together, or one of the parents can direct their actions or read books.
Creative sports for children. Register your children on educational resource sites such as Cosmic Yoga, Art Hub for Kids, or Go Noodle. Plan their use for periods that are usually reserved for extracurricular activities. Children must move every day. You can just send them to the courtyard (if allowed by the rules of your self-imposed isolation – Ed.. ) To play football or tag.
Commonwealth of parents. Together with a group of 3-4 families with whom you are friends, create a common fund of resources (any, from the menu and schedule of children’s classes to lesson plans).
Set aside free evenings to participate in club meetings or watch sports together. It is equally important for adults to be in touch, stay active and communicate. If you are not a member yet, create one. This can be a book club or a club for sports or other television shows. Add it to the schedules of the participants and organize video communication sessions so that everyone can see something together. Take care not to give up sports. You can go jogging, or warm up at home, or use online features. Even a walk with the family along the street sometimes works wonders.
We need to rely on our local communities more than ever. The nature of this crisis requires us to find responsible and safe ways to help each other without losing sight of our work and household responsibilities. Rely on your community – other parents living near you to share responsibility with them, taking care especially of those who need help more than others, for example, physicians and other people who cannot work from home who are left without kindergartens. Accept the fact that not everything will go smoothly, and we will not save 100% of our personal performance. But you will be surprised how well we can adapt to what is happening if we moderate our expectations and apply a flexible approach and ingenuity. If we’re lucky
About the author. Avni Patel Thompson is the founder and CEO of Modern Village, a technology solutions company for modern parents. Avni earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Master of Chemistry from the University of British Columbia. Lives in Vancouver with her husband and two young daughters.