With schools, day cares and work spaces closed to curb the spread of COVID-19, working parents across the world are grappling with the new reality of home life colliding full force with their jobs.
Elise Cote has been working from home since March 11. COVID-19 cases started rising in B.C. just weeks after Cote’s one and a half-year-old daughter was hospitalized for pneumonia, and Cote decided to pull her daughter and six-year-old son from day care and school, just a few days before schools were shut down province-wide.
Cote, who works for the federal government, said the first few days were the most difficult.
“The first little bit was incredibly hard,” she recalled. “There was a lot of, having to leave them crying and locking myself in a room so I could finish a phone conversation, which was hard on me and hard on them.”
At first, she spent most of the day focusing on her kids and then working into the night, often until 2 or 3 a.m.
“I’d put the kids to bed, make a cup of coffee and then go sit down and start working,” she said. “I was happier and feeling more stable working in the night, but I knew I could only do that for two weeks maximum and then I’d burn out.”
|Elise Cote is one of many parents working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cote, like others, had to find creative ways to create structure and balance when her work life and home life collided. (Courtesy of Elise Cote)|
Things are easier for Cote now that her husband is home too, but she says a big game changer was creating a detailed, daily schedule that included time for both work and play.
“From the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed there’s that structure,” she said. We’re dealing with so much anxiety and so many emotions and trying to cope with so much change. We need to eliminate some of that uncertainty.”
Cote also takes small chunks of time throughout the day to give her kids her full attention.
“It helps to give them your entire focus often – put the phone down, close the computer and play for five minutes,” she said.
Massoud Moslehi, a Victoria-based mental health clinician and therapist, says that anxiety is very real for families, and requires parents to be flexible, both with themselves and with their kids.
“The core of this is understanding and being flexible,” he said. “What is needed is for employers to really have that confidence and trust in people in this very difficult and abnormal time, and that will help employees adopt the same attitude and become more flexible with their kids.”
Moslehi said parents should be open to taking breaks to connect with their children.
“It carries a lot of weight when we sit with our kids for 10 or 15 minutes,” he said. “It creates that emotional connection and that’s exactly how we will survive this whole thing.”
While teacher resources, virtual tours and other programs are available online, the government has issued benefits to provide relief for parents.
Single parents, those who are unable to work from home, or parents overwhelmed with juggling both responsibilities can access Canada’s new Emergency Response Benefit. The taxable benefit of up to $2,000 per month is not just for those who have been laid off, but also for working parents who have to stay home, without pay, to care for their children.
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