Working from home and parenting: Show up ‘your way’ by letting go

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Here is some great advice on parenting during the lockdown and what may be our new normal for a while.

There is so much advice on how to tackle our new way of being. One of which is to ensure a well-organised schedule for your time as well as your kids. Now I am the preacher on using your calendar to schedule work and life tasks to ensure they get done. My mantra is – ‘If it gets scheduled, it gets done!’ There is a huge ‘however’ coming…

HOWEVER….this philosophy has been tested to its limits in the last week. I planned the week ahead knowing exactly what outputs and deliverables I wanted to achieve and then sat down to make an ‘excellent’ schedule for my children ages 5 and 7. Day 1 did not work out too well….

By the end of the day, I was so frustrated because I kept hearing myself say throughout the day ‘but I should be further along because you should be doing X or I should have finished X by now’. I was so annoyed that the day wasn’t flowing according to my plan and felt frustrated with myself and this naturally gets diffused into the energy of the house.

If this sounds familiar, keep reading. I want to share with some thoughts on how to better approach this new reality and how you can manage your headspace and thinking to ensure the time ahead is productive, fun and a pleasant place for your family to be:

Learn to let go

In my previous blog, I wrote how we need to let go of the things we can’t control and focus on what we can. I decided it’s pretty good advice and used a new lens to adjust my attitude accordingly. Have a schedule, but with a lightness and flexibility towards it. Children are little people and like us, they want some autonomy on how they want to spend their days too.

The way to let go is to practice kindness towards yourself. If you didn’t complete the intended task, then just focus on what you did accomplish and pick up when you can. I’m not suggesting you adopt a slacker mentality and just do the bare minimum. I am sharing my experience that getting yourself worked up to the point that results in pure frustration at yourself and others isn’t going to serve you during this time. I am a typical A-type so trust me this has been exceptionally hard for me to get my ahead around.

We are in different times, especially having kids and family at home. It is not possible for the day to flow like a typical work day. When you get disturbed or you simply just couldn’t get to it – allow yourself the space to not be perfect. Let’s celebrate imperfection because all you can be at this point is celebrate being imperfectly perfect. This notion comes from the beautiful Japanese concept of ‘Wabi Sabi’. In her book Beth Kempton shares the following insight which is so apt right now:

“We need to find ways to slow down, so life does not rush right past us. We need to start noticing more beauty to lift our spirits, and keep us inspired. We need to give ourselves permission to let go of judgement and the endless pursuit of perfection. And we need to start seeing each other–and ourselves–for the perfectly imperfect treasures that we are”.

I love this quote from Beth – ‘Letting go of what you think should be does not mean giving up on what could be’In that one line, she gave me permission that what I want to achieve just practically cannot happen in this period but it doesn’t mean I won’t achieve the goal. It is about a recognition and surrender to the current situation. It is not about not achieving goals and dreams, just pressing a slight pause around the time lines. It is also about dropping expectations of what ‘should’ happen in your day.

Just because it’s in the calendar with colour coding and highlighters – doesn’t mean it will necessarily unfold that way. When you fight with your expectations, you will end up in overwhelm. As I said, 2 months ago I would not be writing these words. But having a flexible and agile approach is what is needed to succeed day to day.

“Put simply, Wabi Sabi gives you permission to be yourself. It encourages you to do your best but not make yourself ill in pursuit of an unattainable goal of perfection. It gently motions you to relax, slow down and enjoy your life. And it shows you that beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places, making every day a doorway to delight.”

Don’t be tricked into the illusion of full days with no distraction

There is a false sense of how much time is actually available to us during this period. One thinks I have the whole day to spend time on something because I have eliminated travel time. When in reality, you are only going to get a few hours to yourself if you are a parent or looking after other family members through this period. Contending with kids, parents, fill in the blanks – you will be disturbed, distracted and quite frankly, you need to be there for them.

I realised I was expecting too much of myself in one day and put these ridiculous deadlines on work that could quite honestly be done over a few days or even weeks. Again, I had to let go of the schedule mentality and rather aim for the progress daily mentality – the micro win strategy. When you break your tasks down into bite size chunks, every time you accomplish something – that’s a micro win.

The good news is micro wins done consistently over time result in progress and ultimately success. The trick here is be realistic about what micro wins can happen in a day. Some days are going to be better than others but work with a kindness towards yourself. Enjoy the process of what you need to do and don’t get stuck on the result. If you managed to write 200 words but you aimed for 1000 – give yourself a break and celebrate what you did do.

Time to rethink what a micro win could be

It’s also changing your definition of what a micro win can be. Perhaps you managed to stay patient and operate from a place of calm the whole day despite the natural frustrations that occur. That’s a huge win! Being the person to keep the house in a positive frame of mind is a success.

This situation has also brought in opportunities for rethinking your priorities and perspective. A month ago, I was so focused on my upcoming workshop scheduled for the 27th March and now my focus is ensuring my family are in a good head space during this time and putting valuable writing into the world.

My intention every day is about contribution. When you move your focus from ‘me’ to ‘we’ – you enable yourself to be energised by a larger cause greater than yourself. On the days you feel like you have achieved nothing, simply picking up the phone and checking in on someone else to lift their day is equally a win.

Have empathy

Empathy is critical. This simply means sitting down and thinking how each person in the house must be dealing with this and what is it like to be in their shoes right now. My kids acted up hugely the first few days and I was starting to get quite impatient.

I called a special friend for some guidance on the situation and she pointed out to me that they are feeling equally out of sorts. They don’t quite understand why they aren’t at school, they can’t see their friends and why we can’t go to the usual places. This special lady told me ‘Walk a mile in their mocassins’ and just think about it from their point of view.

It is so obvious and makes so much sense. So I sat down with my son and said to him ‘wow, it must be so weird being home at the moment, does it feel a little strange?’ and I gave him room to chat and give him space to explore his feelings. Just naming the feeling you are experiencing gives you the emotional bandwidth to let it go especially for kids – give them names for these strange feelings and a way to make sense of it.

Give your loved ones space to express themselves and explore their emotions. Anger, frustration, sadness, overwhelm and anxiety are just some of the emotions that will naturally arise. But then be able to help them shift to a more beneficial place like gratitude. Have a daily ritual where everyone can share what the best part of the day was and at least one thing they are grateful for.

Take a pause before responding

Now we are all human. And even having empathy can still leave you feeling frustrated, annoyed and out of balance. The reality is you still have work to get done and now even more challenging circumstances in which to complete it.

When you can feel yourself getting a bit heated, press the mental pause button. Stop yourself, take a breath and just pause. Brendon Burchard, author and trainer, has a wonderful approach and says ‘Ask yourself – how would my higher self respond right now?’ It gives you the distance to move into a space of mindful responding rather than out of control reacting.

We are all a little on edge right now. If you receive a rude email or WhatsApp message – pause! Do not respond immediately. You will say something you regret and you can never take it back.

Give yourself a few hours or even a day to cool off. When you can respond from a place of fact rather than emotion, you can reengage the conversation. And best to do it telephonically than text or email. Now more than ever is the time for real connection.

One way I use my mental pause button when I get disturbed by the kids is to insert the thought ‘Is 10 minutes really going to matter in the scheme of things?’

This is really powerful because often all your kids and loved ones want is your undivided attention. Even if it’s just 10 minutes. Maybe they want to show you something they made or help with a game or whatever. Remind yourself it is only 10 minutes – maybe it’s 20 – but approach them with love and kindness and patience.

This is so important because if every time they come to you and you respond with frustration and anger, they will start to feel it. 10 minutes of undivided attention will mean the world to them but barely register on your radar.

They also need some connection, comfort and care. I’m not saying don’t set boundaries, equally they also need to respect when it’s your work time. But just for the next week or so, while they are also adjusting, practice a little more patience than normal.

I set an alarm every day for 6pm reminding me to be patient, kind and nurturing. Because at that time of the day, when I am tired and they think it’s funny to play games at teeth time – I need a gentle nudge that this is how I need to show up for them.

Practise contentment in the moment

I know this sounds very Zen but hear me out. If you don’t consciously manage your mind, it will manage you.

This is an opportunity to reconnect to loved ones as well as ourselves. I was doing some writing this morning and my son asked if I can help with his homework. I put the laptop away and we sat together chatting while he did his work. I made a conscious decision to practice contentment by reminding myself ‘I get to…’ I get to sit with him and spend quality time together.

The alternative is as the above – frustration and annoyance of all the things ‘I could and should be doing’ and he would be left feeling rejected. There is nothing easy about this time – it is filled with financial concerns amongst a lot more but creating this default thought of ‘I get to’ reminds you what is important. At the end of this crisis, I want to leave the house with a peace of mind I was there for my family and showed up as my best self.

It is possible to do both – serve your clients and community as well as your family. But practising contentment enables you to have the same result but without the unnecessary stress and frustration.

Ultimately – there is no one way to navigate this time ahead but the most important thing is that you make sure you do it your way. Don’t compare yourself to another person or fall into the mental jail of ‘I should be doing it like this’, it ‘should be rolling out like that’.

I tried this for a few days and it is a recipe for disaster, frustration and unnecessary stress. Do it your way – do it the way that brings harmony. Forget balance during this time – aim for harmony in the house.

Every day is going to be different. Some days you will nail it and some days you will feel like a complete failure because you lost your temper when you promised yourself you wouldn’t. You are human. I have lost it plenty! But all I can do is ask ‘how can I do it better tomorrow’, ‘what can I do differently to avoid being triggered?’

The key in this period is to identify your triggers – what time of the day, what activity, which person usually gets you stirred up and then figure out a way to catch yourself from reacting. This time ahead has huge opportunity for reflection and personal growth. Start the day reminding yourself who you want to be and how you want to show up. It is micro choices throughout the day and being aware of your thoughts that will be your map.

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