Ghenwa Yehia, Content Development Specialist at QF member Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press, on how to meet the challenge of balancing working from home with family life amid the coronavirus crisis
Our worlds are colliding. Identities such as ‘mother’, ‘wife’, ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ are forced to coexist in the same headspace, at the same time – and in my case, in the same very small two-bedroom apartment with three other people.
It’s been more than a week of practicing social distancing, and it looks like it’s going to be much longer. When the initial roll-out of school closures and work-from-home policies was announced, I was happy to do my part to help the situation. How hard could it be? What a small sacrifice I am being asked to make when others have it so much worse.
With the overzealous attitude that is characteristic of any perfectionist, I had prepared a schedule for the kids and myself so things could remain as normal as possible. I posted it up in our living room and explained to everyone that this 60cm x 40cm white board would be our beacon – guiding us through each and every school/workday. Each hour would be realistically and thoughtfully planned to ensure adequate activity using different mediums, variation to cover a wide variety of topics, and enough instruction so that I’d have the freedom to focus on my own work. Business as usual, right?
Today, I woke up physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Exhausted from the nagging and the bickering children who, in normal situations, get along great. Exhausted from having to repeat “Can you hear me now?” because the quality of web-based conference calls is so bad as a result of everyone using the internet at the same time for working and learning. Exhausted by the fear caused by the constant bombardment of fact mixed with fiction; the worry that I’m not doing enough to do my part; and the guilt knowing that what I’m facing is nothing compared to so many others in much more dire circumstances.
Still in bed, I turned over and reached for the worn copy of Mel Robbins’ The 5 Second Rule on my nightstand.
I reminded myself of the Rule: “When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count ‘5-4-3-2-1-GO’ and move towards action. ... If you do not take action on your instinct to change, you will stay stagnant. You will not change.”
We need to keep moving forward, pushing past the fear and lean into the change that we are facing.
What does that mean? It means new rules.
It means making the time to enjoy a peaceful family breakfast each morning because you don’t have to rush out the door for a morning commute.
It means letting the kids play a little longer on their electronic devices and not worrying about screen time.
It means spacing your workday at a pace that works best for you because even if the expectation to work normal hours is still there, there is nothing normal about having to juggle the demands of all of your identities at the same time.
It means re-committing to our values and beliefs through prayer, meditation, and simple acts of kindness.
It means staying connected with friends – a phone call, FaceTime, or chatting – who are probably feeling the same way.
It means connecting to an online fitness class or wellness app to take care of your physical and mental health (it’s never too late to start!)
It means asking for help and advocating for yourself.
It means turning off the news and shutting out the external hysteria and focusing on internal peace.
It means being kind to yourself when you lose it for a minute and snap under the pressure. Lean into the emotions – frustration, anger, stress, fear, sadness – and really feel them. And then 5-4-3-2-1...Let them go.
Some of these things apply to normal life in general, but, now more than ever, we need to adapt our expectations, of others and of ourselves, to be able to better navigate our current reality realistically.
Lean into whatever feels best for you, whatever feels best for your family. Lean into whatever makes sense for your children. Lean into whatever makes sense: anything that provides you the mental and emotional space to get by for the next couple of weeks.
There’s no right or wrong way to deal with what’s happening as parents, spouses, employers, employees, and human beings. We just need to do the best we can remembering that when this is all over, the big takeaway is how we acted during this time.
Did we find a balance that allowed us to meet our personal needs while maintaining our responsibilities as employees?
Did we manage our expectations as leaders and managers to allow for flexibility?
Did we make tough decisions, some of the toughest we've ever had to make, with consideration for the greater good?
Did we consider that our children look to us as examples, and that they may never remember the details of the situation itself, but the feelings and behaviors they were exposed to at this time?
Did we act responsibly when sharing information so as not to add to the problem?
Did we try to find compassion, beauty, and love in everything around us despite the uncertainty of it all?
Leaning in means everything above. It means to work, play, rest, care, smile, laugh, cry. It means finding new ways to move forward even in those moments when it all seems like too much.
We need to accept that things aren’t the same, and that they may well never be the same.
But we have a chance to learn, to grow, to change. We have a chance to reassess and readdress our values as individuals and as a society, and simply do better.