A few days ago, I was busy getting some last minute things checked off my to do list, when my six year old snuck into my office and handed me a piece of paper. At first, I glanced at it and said “oh that’s so good buddy!” but when I looked closer, I read four words that broke my heart – “Mommy, are you done?” to which the “mommy” in the picture answered “No”. I looked at the clock – it was 6:05PM. Then I looked at my to-do list which seemed to be a mile long. My heart sank – although I don’t like to admit it, this is the situation almost every night.
My ability to separate work from home life has become more and more challenging as the pandemic has worn on. Technology does not help with this challenge either, with notifications streaming in on an almost constant basis. My ability to separate from my device has become harder and harder these past few months, exacerbating the imbalance of it all. In fact, the vast majority of remote workers find it increasingly difficult to separate from work at the end of the workday or work week. And while tips of how to separate work from home help in some ways, in reality it has become harder and harder to separate the two. Compound that with the responsibilities of parenting, homeschooling and home obligations in general and it feels overwhelming. I have to take multiple breaks during the workday to check in on my 5th grader while he is learning remotely, or pick my 1st grader up from his pod, feed my kids, help with homework, run errands when needed, etc etc etc. Those “breaks” end up cutting into my productivity, which is happening to working parents across the country – it was actually quantified to 3 hours of lost productivity per day in a recent study.
And the guilt associated with that is palpable. Guilt for not doing enough work in the day. Guilt for not being at my best mentally or emotionally. Guilt for spending transactional time with my kids instead of intentional, meaningful time with them. That last type of guilt is what fell on me like a ton of bricks when this sweet drawing landed in my lap. My only solace (which isn’t great) is that I’m not alone in this feeling. Working from home while having family obligations has taken a tremendous mental health toll on the American workforce, and trends show that remote work is here to stay. Employers and organizations need to step up in real and meaningful ways to support remote workers to help balance the mental, emotional and physical toll they are carrying
I guess the only good thing I can take from this experience is my kids love spending time with me. But it still doesn’t make it easy, especially since my kids ask me almost on a daily basis when I’ll be “done”, this was just the first time it was articulated in such a heartbreaking way.If you’ve ever gotten a drawing like this, or ever felt the guilt of feeling like you’re “failing” at balancing it all, please remember you aren’t alone. This burden we are carrying through the pandemic will hopefully lift sooner rather than later and we can emerge with better support systems and tools to balance all the things life throws at us.