How to work around your family in a crisis

20 Mar 20

As a career coach who helps women to build family-friendly careers and supports women to create good work-life balance, I feel like now should be my time to step up and advise on the way forward as the government yesterday announced that from Monday schools and nurseries will close for most children and their continuing education will be in the home.

But I’m no expert in home schooling and from the little I do know about it a good chunk of home schooling actually takes place outside the home within a supportive and dedicated community who help each other out as well as the option for many home school parents of outsourcing certain aspects of the “school” week. So the situation we now find ourselves in is unprecedented. A mass and sudden shift in how we not only work but how we educate and care for our children and how we live.

So what’s the plan? How are we going to do this? All over the country now, millions of women are hitting What’s app and Facebook groups, sharing tips and resources on education and what the children will need but have we stopped and thought about us, as women in this situation?

Yes, we need to step up and keep our children educated and cared for and for a lot of us too we will also be being asked to step up in work as the financial impact grows bigger. Or if we run our own businesses we are going to have to make very tough decisions about where we focus our energy to ride the storm and hopefully emerge with a business still standing. In a normal world it’s a tall order but then throw in having to potentially become a carer for sick people in the house or to remotely manage another relative or friend becoming sick too, then very quickly things could get tricky. 

So, how can we mitigate the blows. Below are some tips which I think may help, based on the same principles I use to coach women to manage work and life more effectively. I think they will still apply for the most part because once we have a solid base and know how to draw strength then we are pretty much capable of anything.

 1. Don’t take this on alone 

More than ever the case for joint parental responsibility is screaming at me. Already many women are asking “How am I going to do this?”. Yes we are good at multitasking, and yes we can whip up a schedule and collate resources in double quick speed because we are resourceful. We know what our children need and if not we know how to find out. But before you go ahead and map out a structured time-table of what will happen when, stop and ask yourself, does it have to be me who delivers it all? Can my partner get involved, have I asked? If you don’t have a partner or they, for whatever reason can’t contribute, who else can? Technology will be our saviour in all of this so lets use it to it’s full potential. Can we lesson share with other parents in our network and transmit through the screen? If the grandparents can no longer physically look after our children, can they help with some of the “lessons” we’ll be giving to our kids? Not only will it help us out and give variety to our little learners but it could also help out the older generation who right now may be feeling more isolated than ever.

I have been blown away already by the support of women with each other, it’s something that we excel at normally anyway and we have really stepped it up, but let’s not get swept up in the desire to manage everything. It’s one thing getting the kids sorted but we also need to make sure we’re managing the other important things in our lives still like work and….us.

 2. Put yourself first 

So this is going to be a hard sell for many of the women out there right now. How can we be thinking of ourselves as the world around us is seemingly falling apart and so many more people need our help. But it’s fundamental and so important that we start with us first. 

If you were able to get on a flight at the moment, you’d recognise the same old message that we are told in case of emergency, “Please do not attend to anyone else’s oxygen mask before you have put your own on first”. Why is that? Well you’re no good to anyone if you can’t breathe. Who’s going to help move the children along out of a sinking plane if you can’t pick them up? We need you, in a case of emergency especially, to be firing on all cylinders and offering your support in the best and most effective way for everyone. And that means looking after yourself, mentally and physically, and seeing that your needs are being met. 

 3. Work out what you need

First of all work out what you need and start with the basics. Basic needs like sleep, food and exercise ideally need to prioritised to keep you feeling fit and able. Assuming the food chains are still intact for the foreseeable future and we aren’t going out so much then getting the food and sleep that we need may be actually be easier for some than it normally is. For others not so. Anxiety and worry can play havoc with our eating and sleep patterns so tune in and see if you need to manage those areas if you are not eating or sleeping well at the moment. 

But exercise, how do you fit that in? Well you can do exercise anywhere, it doesn’t have to be at the gym or as an organised team activity or for very long. There are so many exercise classes, many for free on You tube that you can search for and just do, whenever the mood takes you. And you can also include the children, whatever age they are. And for everyone to want to do it more, make it fun. It can be such a welcome break in the day, especially if the kids have been sat still for a while doing their Maths and English (wishful thinking…). 

And then on top of the basics. Is there anything else that you really need to make you feel ok? Are you creative and need an outlet, do you need to connect with others to feel inspired? Whatever else for you is important identify it and then try and prioritise these things first before you even think about looking after everyone else. 

Now here’s the rub, how do you do that when your workload has just potentially doubled over night? You’ve also got a job or business to run? 

How the hell are you going to fit it all in? You get clear on your priorities and then set some boundaries….

 4Get your priorities clear 

As well as creating chaos in our communities, leaving people isolated and schools closed, the other massive knock on effect is the strain on the economy. And more than ever the need to keep people working is adding to the pressure. For those in employment they are going to be largely dictated to by their organisation and in all likelihood as a professional you are probably being asked to step up a gear or two. Ask yourself this? How important is my job to me and my household now and in the long term? Are you working out of love or out of need? If it’s need then it becomes a priority to focus on it, say for example you are the main or sole breadwinner of the family. If that’s your priority then the rest of what’s going on needs to fit around that (after of course you have accounted for your own personal needs). 

We also have to accept that we can’t all now become perfect and experienced educators or super nannies overnight and we’re not expected to. This is not normal what we are going through so why should we act like it is and alter the expectations we have for ourselves. In my opinion, our main priority is to get through this crazy experience in as much as one piece as possible. So if stuff slides, you need to assess which bits take the hit. If education is your focus and you’re worried about the needs of your child and you can take or leave work then this will become your priority. It’s a decision only you can make, but make the decision and leave the guilt behind.

 5. Set some boundaries

Setting out what you can and can’t, will and won’t do and at what times will help enormously to get through the coming weeks and possibly months. If we are clear about our own limitations, needs and wants then we can communicate that with others to help ease the burden and get stuff done. 

Lots of people have been talking about getting a structured time-table in place for when the kids are at home which I think is a great plan, as this gives routine and clarity to everyone about what is expected, plus you can work out then what times you can fit in work. But just a couple of things on that. Try not to be too fixed on the schedule. Things may crop up with work or with your partner’s work that may have to be prioritised unexpectedly, you may need to go with the flow a bit more than usual but I think that’s ok as right now we’re not living our normal and no where near our perfect lives. But routine is good and even if it’s just a few markers throughout the day to know when you can shift some energy, swap over with someone or get a clear run of work done, can all really help to ease the mental and physical load. Be clear about what you need as a minimum. If you’re having to tone down work hours or focus to make room for childcare, what can you do to ensure that you are still fitting in the basics to keep everything going? What can you let go and focus on at another time? 

And lastly communicate. Communicate with your partner if you have one, tell them what you need and ask for flexibility from them. Communicate with your manager if you’re employed, how flexible can they be, how much wiggle room can they give you? Communicate with your customers or clients if you run your own business and see what they can accept or wait on from you. Communicate with your children, and manage their expectations about what the coming months may have in store. Largely we don’t know but start with what we do know and take it from there.

Testing times are ahead but we’re equipped to deal with it all as long as we manage it in a way that gives us the power and the energy to do it. 

Good luck with the weeks ahead and stay healthy x 

I will be running an online webinar on Monday 23rd March at 8.00pm to talk about how we as women can find power to deal with uncertain times. Join me for more practical tips and insights so you can navigate these tough times ahead as best as you can. Email me at jo@jooogarah.comto register or ask to join my newsletter. You can also get some additional support and insights by joining my Facebook Group Work Life Thrive