Recently I was on a Zoom business call with a woman whose three young kids and very vocal hound dog all made appearances. She was mortified by the interruptions and apologized profusely. I told her not to worry one bit. Not only have I enjoyed meeting people’s kids and dogs on virtual calls during the pandemic, the blending of work and real life is simply our new reality. But that is easy for me to say since my stepkids are grown and gone; for parents trying to juggle it all, the struggle is real.


Let’s face it -- every working parent has been put to the test since COVID-19 hit. Trying to lead teams or manage work while simultaneously handling child care and schooling has become exponentially difficult as lines between home and the workplace have blurred. 


The interruptions are constant. A December 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that “half of remote workers with children under 18 have found it challenging to get through the workday without interruption, as opposed to only 20% of workers without kids.” 


Not only do those interruptions cause stress, they also interfere with leading effectively, meeting performance goals and even advancement opportunities. While we know the pandemic has disproportionately affected women in the workforce, challenges are reported by both mothers and fathers. And while virtual work has unique challenges, those who are not working remotely are also pulled in multiple directions. 


How are working parents adapting and coping with this new and continuing reality? With school starting and the variants delaying or changing back-to-work scenarios, I turned to local leaders with kids and asked: “What is one of the most important lessons you have learned as you have juggled your professional career and parenting kids through so much recent change and uncertainty?”


Sophia Ahmad, senior director of development, MercyOne Des Moines Foundation; founder and principal, Mobile Music Lessons LLC: The lesson I learned was to keep growing. I became a mom three days into the pandemic lockdown. As our world slowed down, I focused on small, frequent disciplines that reap long-term rewards while being deeply present with my family, co-workers and clients. I started an MBA and expanded a side business, while embracing the compelling work at MercyOne.


Jenna Knox, external relations manager, Broadlawns Medical Center: The importance of clearing the slate. Over the last 18 months, my children have felt a great amount of uncertainty and change in their worlds. I have had to learn to be mindful about not adding my own pressures to “juggle it all” onto them as well.


Jorge “Junior” Ibarra, CEO and team leader, Ibarra Realty Group: Being an entrepreneurial family and having three kids under the age of 5, the most important lesson has been that it’s OK if things aren’t perfect. We have to give ourselves -- both parents and kids -- flexibility with our routines and workload. As long as our family is healthy -- physically and mentally -- then everything else will get figured out. It all works itself out in the end.  


Joe Murphy, executive director, Iowa Business Council: To be intentional. I try to schedule every aspect of my day. This helps me stay aligned on the Iowa Business Council’s strategic priorities but it also helps me carve out deliberate time to spend with my family and friends. Being intentional about everything I do keeps me focused on the things that truly matter at work and at home. 


Lauren Patrick, dentist, University Dental Group: Be flexible and communicate your needs. In a time when we don’t know what’s coming at us from one day to the next, be OK with both having a plan and knowing that plan could crumble at any moment. And to that point, vocalize to your support system how they can step in and help you.


Aaron L. Todd, chief executive officer, Iowa Primary Care Association: When life throws me a curveball, I pause and ask myself: “How much does this really matter?” We can spend so much time trying to control things, seek perfection and ultimately allow minor obstacles to stop us from progress. Or we can pause, take a deep breath and refocus on what truly matters. 

 

 

Advice from leaders with kids on keeping your sanity while working and parenting:

  • Refine your reactions. Leaders strive to provide appropriate and constructive feedback and monitor responses at work, but can also benefit from refining reactions at home. “Don’t laugh at your kids during a meltdown,” advises Murphy, the father of three, including a set of twins. “It makes it much, much worse.”
  • Set boundaries. Todd suggests that the concept of work-life balance is “phooey,” that it all comes down to setting boundaries and is incumbent upon the leader to set them. “It’s essential to take the time and make the effort to authentically know for ourselves how to seek and find fulfillment at work and home,” he says, stressing it’s important to recognize that the journey is “not static but rather ebbs and flows over time,” and to accept that it is essential to practice self-care, particularly during times of rapid change.
  • Make time to recharge and invest in yourself. “During the pandemic I fell in love with five-minute YouTube workouts,” says Knox, who continues to do them. “They are so short that there is no reason I couldn’t fit at least one workout into my schedule, and they make me feel good about accomplishing something for myself that day.”
  • Get out! “Take some time to be outside -- ALONE!” says Patrick. “Connecting with nature always lowers my anxiety -- even in the middle of a workday.”
  • Retain a sense of wonder. “A best practice for parents is to retain a sense of wonder and curiosity, which inspires joy, empathy and mutual respect,” says Ahmad. “I see that wonder in my son, and it inspires me to hold tight to it.”
  • Keep on keeping on. Working and parenting is not easy, especially when you have deadlines to meet and kids who need attention and support. Says Ibarra, “For those of us watching Disney movies 1,000 times over ... hakuna matata. Just keep swimming.”