To say that 2020 was a tough year would be an understatement. 2021 came around and we all felt relief that the disaster that was 2020 was finally over. We felt hope that 2021 would be different. Now, just a short time into the new year, most of us have realized quickly that just because the calendar year has changed, doesn’t mean that our slates would be magically wiped clean. The challenges and the stressors of living and working through the pandemic are still present and many of us are still trying to figure out how to manage it all.
As a mother who worked from home before, during, and will continue to work remotely once all this is over, I was challenged this year as a working mother in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It has been a rollercoaster. In fact, I think I said the word rollercoaster more than any other word in 2020. Just when I thought I had found the right routine and was maintaining some sense of normalcy, the rug was pulled out from under me time and time again.
I would love to be able to share the solution to our work at home problems during all of this. I would love to be able to say that I found the answers in 2020 and both my work and my child are thriving like never before. Sadly, I don’t believe that solution exists. This is hard. It is going to keep changing and throwing new and different challenges our way. The only thing we can do is try to focus on our learnings from the past year and keep moving forward, doing the best we can. What I can share with you are four of the important learnings I have taken away from 2020.
1) Be flexible
As an expat living in Argentina I had become used to a healthy amount of uncertainty from having to navigate a culture so different from my own, however, that still didn’t prepare me for what 2020 had in store. Most of us have been forced into flexibility, whether it comes naturally to us or not. Embrace it. Right now, we need to tap into flexibility more than ever. There are no guarantees for what will happen tomorrow. We don’t know when things will go back to normal in schools, workplaces, and the world in general. We have to try to learn to go with the flow as much as possible and keep modifying and updating what works in our households all the time. I know. It’s hard. During the height of lockdown in Argentina, there were days that I had to reinvent our routine on the hour. It’s draining and exhausting, but it will not last forever. The more resilience we build, the better able to deal with these changes we will be.
2) Ask for help
This is such a simple concept, yet it’s one that many of us struggle with. As women and mothers, there is an expectation that we can do it all. It comes from an unrealistic belief in the “superwoman” or the “supermom,” who should be able to maintain a career while also maintaining the perfect home, often taking on the bulk of the childcare, homecare, and other care tasks. When we have to ask for help, this can feel like we are failing. In reality, the only way we can survive this with any sense of our own well- being in tact is to ask for AND accept help. If you have a partner, you should regularly discuss how to manage work, child, and home responsibilities. Who does what, when. Make a plan and agree on it. If you don’t have a partner, who can you ask for support? This could be a family member living nearby. It could mean forming a bubble with another trusted family with whom you can share certain responsibilities. It might mean having a conversation with your boss to discuss how the company can support you.
3) Celebrate your wins
It might be hard to see what is working well these days. It’s easy to focus on how hard everything is, but it can be dangerous to stay in that frame of mind. I invite you to spend some time at the end of each day to write down five things that you did well. It could be reading a book with your child, having a positive outcome in a work project, or connecting with your family over dinner. No matter how small the win was, it is important to honor it. Throughout the day, when you find yourself harping on the things you aren’t doing as well as you would like, consciously reframe your thoughts and force yourself to celebrate a win. Over time you will see the positive results of this practice.
4) It won’t be perfect, and that’s OK
We need to let go of perfect. Perfect isn’t realistic or healthy, even in the best of times. Instead of trying for perfection, think about what you can do to make each day as good as it can be. Then work on accepting it for what it was.
This is a work in progress. I have to remember to work on these things every day. As you mindfully practice these, over time, they will start to come more naturally to you. Be gentle with yourself. We’re all doing the best we can.