Over the last eight months, it’s been almost impossible for working parents to separate home from the office. For many working parents, including myself, the adjustment has been difficult. I am a Director at PwC juggling work on digital transformation in audit with three kids -- and five adults -- at home. To say the least, our house has been hectic! I recently spoke on a panel with a few other working mothers about how we are all managing. What struck me, and gives me hope, is that the tools we are using to deal with the COVID-19 crisis will continue to serve us. In fact, these lessons can help us tackle any of the everyday challenges that come with being a working parent.
Here, thanks to COVID-19, is my working parent’s survival guide.
Before COVID-19, working parents spent so much time and energy building a wall between who we were at the office and who we were at home. Even in those more normal times, it was a constant effort to keep up the appearance that one world did not intrude into the other. That has to change quickly when you are working from home with children, or in my case, with three kids under eight during a pandemic. The stress can be unbearable if you don’t.
On one particular call, I wasn’t able to hit the mute button fast enough before my daughters barged into the room, chattering away. In response, my boss said, “I just love hearing those little voices in the background!”
It may have been a throwaway comment for her, but it really stuck with me and has made a world of difference as I continue to adjust to my worlds colliding. I assumed that the people on the other end of the video saw my home life encroaching on my work the way I did: as a burden. That is not the case. People can appreciate you for more than your office persona. Once I realized that my teams at PwC were struggling just like I was, and most importantly, weren’t judging me, my life got easier.
Here’s the first cliche tool I use; it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes it can be hard to admit that you can’t do it all on your own. The experience of supervising distance learning for my kids and working at the same time relieved me of that notion. I have never appreciated teachers more -- whether at school or daycare.
After breaking the habit of “trying to do it all,” I looked to outsource and find shortcuts to accomplish the long list of to dos that come with being a parent — cleaning, snack time, groceries.
One advantage we do have as 21st century parents is technology. I can do almost anything from my phone. Grocery delivery can be automated through apps. My robot vacuum can start on voice command. I can use my smart speakers to remind my kids to wash up before lunch, or tell them to get back in front of the computer before the next class starts from the other side of the house.
Outsourcing is important not so you can fit more work into your day, but so you can take some time for yourself. This is a constant reminder parents need to keep top of mind, for the sake of the entire family and your own well being. It’s okay (and important) to shut off your devices. Stop doom scrolling. Take a walk and breathe. We are all dealing with a lot right now and if we don't actively take time for ourselves, things can get worse.
I am incredibly lucky. As a parent at PwC, I have always had a flexible work schedule. When my kids were babies, I logged on later to spend the mornings with them and would sign back on after they’d gone to bed. After my third child, I raised my hand to switch clients to something with a shorter commute to give me more time with my kids. As they entered school, I was able to adjust my schedule as needed to volunteer in their classrooms weekly, join them for lunch in the cafeteria, or drive them to soccer practice in the early evenings. During this crisis, PwC has continued to be supportive. My story is just one example of PwC’s investment in its people, as reflected by the firm’s inclusion on Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list again this year.
COVID-19 has forced many companies to understand the value of flexibility. PwC is doing more than ever by doubling down on policies it already has and expanding others, including providing enhanced benefits in this difficult time. Everyone from partners to staff can block “Protected Time” in their calendars to take some time for themselves. I have protected time every morning to help my 1st grader through school. Our US Chair and Senior Partner has challenged us to reduce our meeting time by 25% in an attempt to stop the grind and encouraged video-less Fridays. PwC’s focus has been not just on our flexibility, but on our wellbeing.
COVID-19 is not the only crisis of 2020. The tragic events of the spring and summer highlight the systemic racial injustice that is obligating this country to examine its ingrained inequalities. Many, many stories have been written about how to talk to your children about what is happening. I’ve found there is no shortcut here. Not even technology can help make this discussion easier. In our household we have turned to books to help us have a continuing discourse about these issues. Literature has given me the language to confront these difficult conversations with my kids. They have really latched onto biographies. A favorite so far is about civil rights activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is another popular book of biographies my kids love. They’re able to draw connections between themselves and the inspirational figures profiled.
This has been a year of crisis management for everybody, but particularly working parents. While sometimes it can be hard to see the positives, they do exist. My parents have lived with us since before COVID-19 and my sister came down to stay as Manhattan went on lockdown. Suddenly, my kids have five parents. While managing those personalities can be hard at times, my kids have formed stronger ties with their parents, grandparents and aunt. That is a lifelong gift that I’m not sure would have been possible before. Every time I get overwhelmed or anxious, I just remind myself of that. We are together as a family, helping support each other and doing the best we can. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough.
Working parents have a special set of challenges. This year, my grit and resilience may have been tested, but I’ve learned a lot. These skills are helping me lead a better life now and will continue to do so after this crisis. More importantly, it seems the rest of the world outside my home office has changed. It’s my hope that this experience will help lead to more flexibility and support for working parents across the country.