It’s 9pm, the kids are asleep, there’s a tonne of work to be done, the kitchen has the remnants of three rushed meals on every surface, the lounge is cluttered with toys and cardboard designs and the smallest bits of shredded paper that only a hoover will pick up. Your back aches from sitting at the uncomfortable kitchen table on your laptop and you really should do some yoga to wind down and tidy up all the mess from the day. There are 7 missed calls from your mum and 45 unanswered WhatsApp messages from family and friends. You dive in between the dishes to make a G&T and fall asleep in front of the telly, feeling sad that you once again didn’t manage it all.
In the weeks since the pandemic made us all retreat to our homes, we have all had to make serious adjustments to our lives to find some sort of balance between managing our own and everyone else’s emotions and fears, while trying to work and perhaps also looking after small children and/or home-schooling. This includes altering your own expectations of yourself and your work, as well as considering your priorities and primary needs. For those of us that are parents of young children, life can seem completely unmanageable. Already with school or childcare life was busy and we had little time to fit in that extra piece of work that would further our careers, or manage our busy lives.
What happens to University staff when it suddenly becomes impossible to go the extra mile?
In academia, whether professional services or academic staff, many of us are motivated individuals who strive for careers and achievements. What happens to University staff when it suddenly becomes impossible to go the extra mile? Under our current circumstances, we have spoken to many parents who feel like they are suddenly failing in all parts of life; being a good parent, spending enough time home-schooling (and not giving in to Netflix), doing all the necessary things at work, keeping in touch with family and friends, being a supportive partner, volunteering time for vulnerable neighbours, getting enough exercise, making three meals per day for the family… and the list goes on. Why do we feel like we are not doing enough? What are the effects of stress on our emotional wellbeing? In order to cope with this huge adjustment, we also need to change our expectations of ourselves. It isn’t possible to be a perfect parent, employee, teacher, neighbour, partner and friend all at once, and during these times we cannot aim to achieve all of this.
To find balance, set yourself realistic targets. This is a good time to learn to say no to exciting opportunities, funding bids, and article submissions, and to come to terms with the fact that some days you might not achieve any work at all. Getting out of bed and managing to stay indoors with your partner/cat/dog/child(ren) or on your own all day is achievement enough. Press pause on your need to achieve and do well, and remember that everyone else is pressing pause too during these difficult circumstances. Prioritise what makes you and your family feel good.
Tips to stay sane:
- If you live with someone or co-parent: share the burdens as much as you can
- Don’t read the news more than once per day
- Turn off your phone (if possible) if you get a moment to work and when you have breaks/playing with your children
- Lower your expectations of what your children need to achieve during the day
- Lower your expectations of what you can achieve in a day
- Prioritise moving/physical exercise if possible
- Listen to positive music (rather than the news or radio)
- Tell family and friends that you will not be able to talk on the phone each time they call
- Remember to breathe
- Try and allocate an hour to yourself every day for only YOU
Support with wellbeing and mental health during the pandemic:
Online support group for parents during the pandemic, run by a queer parent: www.healing.jacksmcnamara.net
If you are struggling to explain to your children what is going on, here’s a new free online book by the creator of the Gruffalo: https://nosycrowcoronavirus.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/Coronavirus-ABookForChildren.pdf
For some inspiration and things to do together, here are some suggestions:
- Ideas from Maddie (from CBEEBIES): https://www.youtube.com/user/maddiemoate
- Yoga for kids (that they can do themselves): https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga
- Have a nap together in the middle of the working day
- Stop for a moment, read a story
- Support the NHS and essential services by colouring in images to put in your windows (plus other useful crafty suggestions): https://www.facebook.com/madeinashford/
- Learn about evolution with your kids, with materials from Kent’s own Prof Kivell and Dr Skinner: https://www.kent.ac.uk/anthropology-conservation/news/4305/human-evolution-educational-materials-now-available-to-download
- For older children (or adults), learn the guitar, free lessons: https://www.fender.com/play
Please share your ideas and suggestions below in the comments!