Developmentally speaking, “2 years old might be one of the roughest ages” for social distancing, says Arthur Lavin, a pediatrician in Cleveland and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. A 6-month-old offered peas for dinner either wants them or not, but a 2-year-old knows something tastier exists. It’s the age of challenging the world, making vague demands and feeling intense emotions at every turn.Expert advice for sheltering in place with a tyrannical toddler. Washington Post, On Parenting. By Veronica Graham. April 1, 2020.
The article goes on to advise parallel play…
- Stay close and present
- Keep up physical contact
- Pick toys that encourage exploration and imagination
- Scale back on toys
I think we have done pretty well. Fleur spends time with me on conference calls. I will turn on the video so she can talk to early bird coworkers before a call starts. She gets bored pretty quick on moves on to something else adjacent to me.
I work in IT, so my work is a mixture of meetings to talk about processes and working tickets. The computer systems I manage are all virtual servers in our private cloud. So, the tools I use to do my job at my desk is the same laptop I use to do my job at home.
Maybe in part because so much of my work is asynchronous, there are expectations of a lag in responses. If I send a message to a person or group, then I expect them to respond when they can. That may be instantly or in a couple days. There are tools at my disposal to get the attention of people faster if so needed. But, if I also need to step away to entertain the bored toddler and it is not a live meeting, then it is not that big of a deal. It is no different than the interruptions I get in the office from people stopping by to ask a question or make an observation.
What I didn’t expect is to have people so supportive of having a toddler present. A number of times, I have forgotten to mute myself in a meeting or the toddler unexpectedly loudly ran into the room. In every case, my coworkers or our clients have been amused about it. It elicits an amused response. When Fleur joins me, I turn on the camera and let her see my coworkers. She loves getting to see them when someone reciprocates.
The coup de grâce was my boss was waving to her with his camera on during a meeting. When the meeting ended, she was upset. So, I “called” him via the system and they got a few more minutes of interaction. I wanted to talk to him about the meeting, so once she got bored and moved on, I talked to my boss. It made me feel appreciative.
We both felt guilty for the work we were not doing — and aching for the way our son was struggling and needed us to be present and calm. But that’s exactly what our current schedule prohibits, as we run back and forth between work calls, requests, and parenting… We feel like we’re failing at both. Our kids don’t just need us — they need more of us. Our kids are acting out, abandoning the routines they already had, dropping naps, sleeping less, doing less — except for jumping on top of their parents, which is happening much more. We’re letting them watch far greater amounts of screen time than we ever thought we’d tolerate. Forget homeschooling success — most of us are struggling to get our kids to do the basics that would have accounted for a Saturday-morning routine before this pandemic.The Parents Are Not All Right
Yeah, this description feels familiar. It does feel like we are making choices about at what we can do well. Parenting vs working. And failing at both.
The other thing is a tracking too much stuff. Work provides tools for managing this: project plans, ticket tracking, and any other tool that allows for putting in writing a task exists then mark it complete. I have an app for doing the same at home.
The one problem is due dates. Things are going to miss. Without enough time in a day to meet all the commitments, something will have to give.
This creates a stretched feeling. Being pulled in multiple directions and realizing that I am not going to be capable of meeting it all. But, as a valued technologist who gets assigned a lot of work, I know this environment fairly well. I manage expectations by communicating what are my priorities so that if something will be dropped, supervisors know where I am going to allow it. At the same time I provide my contingencies. The funny thing is a toddler doesn’t really care. She just comes to me and says, “Daddy, up!” or “Daddy, read!”
I am fortunate to have super supportive management who recognize this is outside normal. Doing what I can to keep the lights turned on and projects moving is all I can do. And the feedback I have gotten is that the effort is appreciated.
I also take every opportunity to turn on the video chat feature of work’s systems to allow the toddler to interact with them. It is actually easier than taking her to the office and track down the same people.
“As social scientists we rarely completely explain anything, but in this case we completely explain the parental happiness gap,” said Dr. Glass. In countries with the strongest family-friendly policy packages, “the parental deficit in happiness was completely eliminated, accomplished by raising parent’s happiness rather than lowering nonparents’ happiness,” the authors wrote.
It’s not just one policy, like paid parental leave, that makes the difference. It’s the magic of a package of policies spanning over a lifetime, that allow people to care for children, support them financially, and even enjoy them every once in awhile on a holiday.
Who would have thought work-life balance policies could help make people not as miserable?
I am fortunate to have an employer that makes this stuff possible. Guess I should use it for more recruiting.