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Parenting & WFH — and What to Do About Summer

Anika Isaac |
May 18, 2020

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 COVID-19.

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.


Telework Benefits

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.


WFH Concerns

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 circumstance. 


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 expectation.

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.


Parental GUILT

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 pandemic.

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 schedules.

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 responsibilities.”

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.