Being a working parent is
anything but “business as usual now.” Many parents are finding that traditional
telework is harder since what used to constitute normal telework is not
happening now. Summer, too, is fast approaching in the midst of the coronavirus,
or COVID-19, pandemic. Right now, NASA Johnson Space Center working parents are
closing in on more than eight weeks of working from home (WFH) while providing full-time
childcare, homeschooling children and working full-time jobs — often with no
changes in task deadlines or workload, leading and managing working groups, as
well as possibly providing care of other family members, managing their
households, missing out on key social events/milestones and securing essential
supplies. It’s certainly a lot … and on top of the stress in ensuring that
they, their children and family members remain safe from becoming infected with
Parents want to focus on their
families and well-being while minimizing pressure from work, and with more
schedule flexibility. Johnson parents were surveyed, and the results indicate
that the duration of the quarantine restrictions have become more difficult. As
summer approaches, discussions about the return to on-site work highlight
parents’ concerns about how that will affect their children and ability to
provide consistent, reliable and safe childcare.
The realities of COVID-19 mean that parents will have to exercise even more caution when planning summertime childcare and activities for their kids.
Yet even with the stress and
struggles that the current pandemic has exposed, there are several advantages
that parents have been able to experience. Johnson parents have found many
co-workers and supervisors flexible to their obligations. According to the
recent JSC Parenting group survey, 33% of JSC parent respondents reported
feeling that things are getting better as time goes on. Parents have also
reported being able to establish schedules and routines to adapt. As a whole,
Johnson parents want more WFH options going forward into the future. Some,
having newly experienced the benefits of telework, see how much more efficient
they will be when children are in school or in reliable childcare situations.
Many have been able to enjoy more time with their children, and that has only
been achievable due to telework.
As the temperatures portend
summer, the community is also prepping for key considerations for Johnson
parents and their work family. Parents report current concerns are enhanced
because of lack of schooling during summertime, as well as current spatial-distancing
requirements that disrupt other childcare options. Parents have also shared
frustrations about not having enough hours in the day, interruptions,
exhaustion and discontent in meeting expectations at work and home. Working
parents are acutely aware of the increased stress during this unprecedented
Family Team Approach
Parent are advised to allow
reasonable expectations for themselves and children, and should work toward
flexible schedules when developing a routine. In addition, both children and
parents need breaks — and should commit to taking them.
Exhaustion is best supported
by a “family team” approach with the distribution of household and childcare
duties. A “family team” includes all family members — toddlers on up. Subconsciously,
we usually equate parents as mainly mothers and, all too often, fathers are
left out of the conversation — or the
Parents are mothers, fathers,
supervisors, managers, directors, astronauts and more. Co-parenting is vital to
the successful resiliency of working parents, especially for the summer and
because of the duration and the impact of quarantine. Recognize and acknowledge
your own unconscious parental gender role bias toward yourself and your
co-parent to establish realistic expectations and bring success in preparing
for the summer and beyond.
The younger members play a
role, too. Parents need to look to have toddlers assigned a job. Older siblings
should pitch in more, with permanently assigned duties and responsibilities to
earn and or maintain their privileges. When every family member contributes as
a team, then sharing duties helps to teach independent skills, critical
thinking and increase family bonding. Sharing the load also aids in improving
children’s social skills though the rigors of communication, which is
increasingly required as they mature.
Added bonus: Family teams also
allow children time to bond with other essential caregivers and changes
gender-biased assumptions of home and childrearing responsibilities.
Parents, embrace your
humanness and let go of self-judgement! Many parents in the survey echoed
frustration with work productivity and dissatisfaction with attending to their
children’s needs. Families and individuals have to confront gender bias in what
is expected from mothers and fathers. In 2020, the continuing burdens of caring
for children, sick relatives, cleaning and managing the household, and keeping
their family fed fell disproportionally on women who are already falling behind.
Researcher Brené Brown spoke
to the Johnson family before the quarantine, and it’s important to consider her
work in understanding the difference between shame and guilt. Several Johnson
parents have commented about feeling guilty for asking for extended leave;
availability for their kids and their schooling; work availability; “burdening”
co-workers; and quality of work output. Making matters more difficult, the
classic work/life balance guilt has been amplified a million-fold due to the
No person succeeds trying to
be everything to everyone, especially during such an unprecedented life event.
Parents should apply self-compassion liberally and decrease self-judgement to
improve coping with stress and anxiety. Those who are able to manage their own
unreasonable expectations, bias and self-shaming thoughts tend to see
improvement in stress levels in the home. By doing this, telework will be able
to be a viable option for parents in the long term.
Summertime, i.e., What Now?
Parent workers need to be
highly and frequently communicative and direct with their supervisors or managers — plus
honest. In addition to desiginating a workspace, giving yourself
grace, taking breaks and checking in with colleagues, make sure you also prioritize
(or deprioritize) work, keep co-workers updated on work schedules and
caregiving responsibilities and commit to those boundaries.
On the flip side, leaders will
find it helpful for their employees if they acknowledge parental guilt and
struggles. Empower employees to use leave available and decrease the amount of
mandatory meetings. Begin the conversations surrounding return to on-site work
considerations, as well as potential summer constraints, to understand and
prepare for workers who will need to WFH longer. Parent workers, meanwhile,
have expressed the value of metrics that are useful in supporting flexible work
According to a recent articleby the Society for Human Resource Management: “It is best for managers to
clarify priorities, while empathizing with the challenges of the current
crisis, and then give their people the flexibility to determine when and how to
achieve those goals based on their particular jobs and personal
Other helpful articles to add
to your reading list (click to read):
• Melinda Gates on need for caregiving priority
• NYT article on essential worker parenting burnout
• Mindr white paper
For more resources and
toolkits to keep your kids engaged (and maybe get a few things done in the
meantime), see NASA at Home, the JSC Employee Assistance Program SharePoint site and JSC Parenting group on Teams.