A glimpse through an average UK household window will reveal a very different picture to what was going on a year ago. Now, swathes of working parents up and down the country are juggling online meetings and deadlines, with facilitating their children’s education. Members of households are competing for devices, space and bandwidth whilst trying to maintain some semblance of separation between work and home life.
Recent research has shown that women’s mental health is being disproportionally negatively impacted compared to men’s during the pandemic. Working fathers have taken on more domestic responsibility over this period but balancing child care, home schooling and possibly commitments to care for older relatives, is adding to the load for women when trying to work from home. Consequently, they will more frequently see their paid employment interrupted. These stressful circumstances can result in disrupted sleep patterns, increased anxiety and depression.
The support an employer can offer to working parents at the moment can make a significant difference to wellbeing. Thinking about flexible working which can fit around home schooling or for some use of the extended furlough scheme, could all reduce stress. Employers can also offer clear guidance on options that are available during the crisis, such as the use of ‘support’ and ‘childcare’ bubbles, or if an employee qualifies for paid/unpaid parental leave. Offering opportunities for staff to share their experiences and discuss safely how are they are coping will help relieve feelings of isolation.
Furthermore, the challenges for working parents over the forthcoming weeks will made somewhat more tolerable if they are encouraged to build some self-care activities into their working day, such as spending time on a hobby or making use of permitted exercise time for a break.
To help working parents look after their mental health during Lockdown 3.0 here are some additional tips to support them:
DON’T STRIVE FOR PERFECTION – It is really important that we don’t set unrealistic expectations of ourselves and our children. Aiming to be the perfect teacher, spouse and parent whilst juggling working from home is setting the bar too high and will inevitably be detrimental to our mental health. Remind ourselves that we are all doing the best we can in unprecedented times.
STRUCTURE THE DAY – Children are more likely to thrive and feel calm if there is a clear routine built in to their day. Get their input to design a realistic schedule which can include lessons/work set by school, regular break times, help with household tasks and much needed chill out time.
TAKE THE BURDEN OUT OF MEALTIMES – Our kitchens may feel like they are open 24/7 at the moment so to reduce the stress of thinking what might be served up for lunch cook extra dinner the night before making it easy for all to help themselves.
CLEAR BOUNDARIES AROUND WORK SCHEDULES – Parents must be allowed to have periods of uninterrupted work time. This may mean that one parent takes on responsibility for children’s care/activities at certain points in the day whilst the other can focus on work. If circumstances don’t allow this then asking your employer for flexible working hours might be a better option.
TIME OUTSIDE – There is a limit to how much screen time and being indoors both parents and children can have before becoming unproductive and cabin fever sets in. Getting some fresh air and access to green space will benefit all; reducing stress, boosting our mood and restoring some calm. We will also see a better attitude to learning in our children if they are given this time out to exercise.
SHUTTING DOWN – We can help draw the line between work and home life better if we follow a shutting down ritual at the end on our working day, even if that has to be later at night. Diarise a time you plan to finish and if possible stick to it. If there are tasks that are still outstanding write a simple to do list (for home and work) which can be carried over to tomorrow. This will help to mentally end our working day so we can come together as a family.