New Perspective on Work-Life Balance in the Age of COVID
Have you ever wished that you had time to slow down? Time to just stop, disconnect from technology, and connect with those around you? I have. I used to think about it a lot. I just needed a break from everyday life and the hundreds of things that go along with it.
I’m always on the go, and by always, I mean ALWAYS. I never stop. I’m on the parent council at my children’s school; I volunteer at school as much they will let me; I run two of my own businesses; I’m a mom, a stepmom, a partner, a daughter, and a granddaughter, and I am busy. My kids, like many kids, are enrolled in so many programs. One plays Select Hockey, which takes over our life, and the other one dances. Each week they have tutoring sessions, religious school, and gymnastics, and then we need to fit in time for playdates, not to mention appointments for the doctor, speech therapist, and so much more. Just thinking about it all makes my head spin! Sometimes it feels like we are on a merry-go-round and we can’t get off.
As my kids got older, I wanted them to experience as much as possible. I encouraged them to try as many things as they wanted so they could figure out what they liked and disliked. I wanted my son to try as many sports as he could, and I wanted my daughter to get involved in a variety of activities such as dance, gymnastics, and art so she could determine what she loved. I wanted my kids to be well rounded, so I planned something for every day of the week. But that was not the only reason.
My whole life, I have been busy. I suffered from anxiety for many years, and my way of coping was to be busy. The more I kept going, the less I had to focus on the anxiety and the less anxious I felt. I found that, when I had time to sit and think, my anxiety would get out of control. When you have kids, you always worry about what you will pass on to them, and the parts you wish you could change about yourself are what you dread passing on to them the most. So I kept them busy — very busy — because it was a coping mechanism that has worked for me for many years.
No Control or Say
Fast-forward to today: a life of social distancing and coronavirus. There is no hockey, no dance, no appointments, no playdates. It's just us, at home, and I have learned a lot. Life is so busy, and having the opportunity to stop and be present has been a blessing, one I never would have imagined. The thought of not being able to go out and be busy was terrifying for me, yet here we are with no control or say in the matter.
I have spent so much time as a parent trying to figure out my work-life balance, but social distancing has taught me that life is about balance in general; it's not just balancing work time vs family time, but also balancing busy time vs downtime. The coronavirus has given my family a “reset.” I am shocked to say that being home has been great. In fact, it’s something that I am grateful for. Once the novelty wore off, my anxiety soared. I began to feel trapped in my own home. I felt scared and alone, and my anxiety was pouring out of me in a way I never wanted my children to see. I began panicking that my fears all along were right, that if I couldn’t stay busy I wouldn’t be okay.
"I suffered from anxiety for many years, and my way of coping was to be busy. The more I kept going, the less I had to focus on the anxiety and the less anxious I felt."
But it didn’t take long before I was able to find new coping mechanisms, and I found a way to be okay with the downtime. I have enjoyed being at home, and as a family we have taken to the outdoors to get rid of that anxiety. We have gone on lots of scooter and bike rides, we have gone on more walks than I can count, we have played tennis and basketball outside the house, and we have skipped rope for hours. We have spent time in the kitchen, time doing lots of schoolwork together, reading and writing books, and talking! We have embraced the calm and being at home, and we are appreciating the slower pace.
As time has passed, I’ve thought a lot about what life will be like when this all ends. When the kids are able to go back to school and to all of their activities, will I do it all the same?
I’ve learned that I need to value the time at home with my children as much as I value the extracurricular activities. I need to balance the time we have, especially while they are still young. I've learned that instead of keeping them so busy that any anxiety they may have stays hidden, I need to give them a chance to live life at a slower pace so they have the time to communicate their feelings and needs to me instead of being rushed into bed after a jam-packed day. I need to give them more emotional time with me, not just physical time. We need time that is calm and quiet, bonding time when they can share their problems and we can come up with solutions together. That is what will make the biggest difference at the end of the day. It won’t matter as much if he is the best goalie or she is an incredible dancer; what will matter is whether or not they can problem-solve, whether or not they can communicate their feelings and needs, and that they feel loved and supported enough to come to me with anything.
This is the biggest lesson that I have learned during the pandemic and I won’t go back to the way things were before. There will come a day when I don’t have my kids at home with me — they will go to college, they will move away, and they will start their own lives. It is my job to give them the time to build the skills they need to help them in the future.
Coronavirus has given me a new perspective. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t feel the need to always say yes — yes to all the activities, yes to all the playdates, yes to all the sports. I need to prioritize everything on the list, and one of those things needs to be time at home, just us. If we all go back to life the way it was, then what have we learned? My life after coronavirus will be a pared-down version of the life I lived before. Less quantity and so much more quality: quality time with my kids, quality time with my partner, and lots of quality time at home.