I write this in my basement, as my toddler and infant tromp around above me—all while trading childcare shifts with my husband because daycare’s out of session due to covid.
Clearly, the current era has been all about juggling. But at a time when it’s harder than ever to achieve balance in our work and home lives, striking some kind of peace treaty between work and home life is especially crucial.
As the Millennial Money Expert at Fabric, a startup that’s a one-stop-shop for families and their financial lives, I speak to all sorts of parents. Between these conversations and the tenuous line I’m also trying to walk, here’s how I’ve been thinking about work-life balance in 2021.
Leave work at work, even if you’re now working from home: In practical terms, the best way to do this is to set aside a designated place for WFH-ing. If I try to work on my laptop at the kitchen table, I can guarantee that I’m going to be interrupted with a request to bake cookies (where did she get the impression that was on today’s schedule?), build a puzzle or help with the niggly parts of dressing a baby doll. Finding a work-only space can be difficult if your home isn’t giant or you don’t have a separate office. Still, even if “home office” means throwing on a winter coat and working out of the basement (ahem), it’s vital to have a designated space where you can concentrate—and where your kids understand that you’re off-limits.
Set time limits on technology for your kids and yourself: When your top goal is to get your kids to be quiet long enough for you to get through a conference call, it can be tempting to plop ‘em in front of a screen. Likewise, when the weather’s cold and all the stores and restaurants are closed or potentially coronavirus-ridden, it often feels easier to tune out and tune into Netflix. I’m not here to take a stand on whether screen time is good or bad in general, but my own experience is that after a long day of screens, I often feel better if I can step away. Sometimes this takes the form of cooking and baking or listening to an audiobook. Lately, I’ve been rediscovering my crafty side by drawing kids’ books and puzzles for the children in my life. Whatever your release, try asking yourself: After the fact, which action will make me feel better about how I spent this hour?
Get your financial life in (better) order: With so much going on, dealing with finances and long-term planning can feel very stressful and overwhelming. But in a world of chaos, it can be reassuring to impose some order. Think about what tasks are on your financial and organizational to-do list. Which ones can you knock off between kids’ bedtime and your own? Start there. Whether you are a new parent or not, nows the time to think about the status of your life insurance, will, and college savings plans and update priority documents so you can relax a bit.
Iron out a schedule with the people in your life: If you’re a single parent, this time is incredibly challenging. I hope you have other support systems in your life, like family and/or “learning pods” with friends’ kids. Whether your pinch-hitters include spouses and partners or grandparents and friends, this pandemic has gone on long enough that it probably makes sense to formalize your arrangements, if you haven’t already. If your kids are typically in school or daycare, what’s the backup plan for if and when they close for the dreaded 14 days for COVID? If you have a nanny, what’ll you do if they end up getting sick? If grandparents or other family members can help out, can they come on regular days each week?
This hasn’t been easy for any of us. I can’t pretend that work-life balance is going to magically fall into place, especially when it was hard enough previously, without a pandemic! But I know I’ll be taking a deep breath and thinking more consciously about how I can create the boundaries I need to maximize my work and family successes.