Off and On

For many families during Covid-19, the new version of normal means that school and work have both come home.  While it might save a little bit on the fuel and the dry cleaning bills, it’s presented an impromptu case study in “How to Function Under Enhanced Stress”.  Parents have lost the support of care and education in the form of childcare and schools.  There are actually now virtual babysitters and virtual teachers, therapists and tutors.  The division of labor just isn’t the same.  Now, resources can be accessed.  But they are all in the virtual space. 

We don’t DO life virtually.  Not only do many people work in factories, offices and stores, but many of them work with teams that are normally out in the field or off on the road and are supported by a back office with administrative support, product support and technical support.  We’re used to having dedicated space for almost every activity of our lives from childcare, education, healthcare, home, and professional activities to hobbies, personal development and other forms of recreation.  The road used to separate these roles for us and sort them pretty neatly into whatever blocks made our lives run.  The school day, the work day, personal time… these were all a thing until Covid-19. 

Now- two people are trying to work, educate their kids and care for them, their home and themselves all in the same space.  And it’s hard to leave for a break!  Oh, sure.  You can get your groceries delivered and see your colleagues on Zoom.  Some stuff works okay.  But if you have young or special needs children, you have already experienced the vortex of EVERYTHING that has landed on the home front.  School might be virtual.  Or on campus.  Or a hybrid.  But you’ve got to keep up with safety and health precautions and educate those kids.  Work might have dried up completely due to some businesses folding under the stress of Covid-19 mandated closures.  Or it might have doubled or tripled if you’re an essential worker taking care of health, retail and safety clients.  One things’ for sure, even if roles have shifted and the division of labor is different, there’s plenty to accomplish and less than ever in the way of resources for most folks to get it all done. 

Amassing wins in 2020 might feel more like keeping your kids healthy and safe and keeping your household finances and marriage intact than gaining that promotion or working through those benchmarks from the earlier part of the year.  That’s okay.  They still count.  Covid-19’s impacts may not have been anticipated, but most of us are old hands at dealing with the fallout by this time, even if we’re feeling more of the wear and tear as we come around the shifting seasons into the fall months facing the prospect of renewed resources needing to be allocated for work, school and relational health and harmony.  Sorting through the tasks, roles and responsibilities that have to be performed under abnormal circumstances and significant duress can feel taxing, overwhelming or even impossible.  The thing IS, we’ve still got some distance to go…

Take stock.  Some families have trimmed their list of things to do on all fronts and September is as good a time as any to redo the list again.  With school and work coming IN for many of us with more intensity, everybody has got some sorting to do.  Work time, rest time, personal time, parenting time, friend time, creative time, cooking time, cleaning time, childcare time, budgeting time… decide what the categories are for your household and decide where to place the added emphasis of “this has GOT to get done”.  Extra energy being sucked up at work?  Kids need extra assistance with school?  Maybe that toxic frenemy has GOTTA go.  List out your “to do” majors for each day. 

If you’re not motivated by a list, get yourself WHATEVER motivates you and use it.  Vision board?  Writing time?  Friend time?  Couples time?  Feed yourself whatever you need with respect to self care in order to be optimal in terms of fulfilling your roles.  Also, as long as there’s trimming to be done- it’s time to give the side eye to toxic time wasters.  They’re kind of like yeast- they enhance their footprint in your life, even after being beaten down. If you continue to drink, drug, gamble, game, act out sexually through porn or shop…  just be aware that stress is high, so investing in moderation will be more difficult. 

Give yourself the gift of an honest assessment in determining if your stress busters serve their intended purpose or if they’re the existential equivalent of highly processed food- do they cost more, taste worse and enhance your felt sense of joy less?  It could save your some heartache now AND later to ditch them.  Don’t get me wrong.  We all have a few distractions.  But if they’re destructive, better substitutes are in order. 

Which brings me to some of the best advice that I’ve ever gotten and it was from my seventh grade social studies teacher, who said: “when I was in college, I made sure that when I worked, I didn’t think about the party later that night… and when I was at the party, I enjoyed myself and didn’t worry about the test tomorrow… when I worked, I worked.  When I played, I played.”  There’s a lot of wisdom in those couple of statements that I missed as a teen.  Being discrete, insofar as possible, in your roles is one of the keys to managing felt stress.  If you’re worried about the kids, the house and the spouse while your boss wants your attention on Zoom, it’s going to be hard.  If you’re worried about your budget during the evening care routine with your littles, you’re not going to be IN the moment with them.  At least not in a good way.

With everything tumbled all together into the home space right now, it’s sometimes necessary to conflate things for a moment and there.  Toddlers are making their Zoom debuts during meetings with bosses and clients.  Spouses are cycling household laundry while busting out that report after the kids have gone to bed.  Teens are figuring out how to connect the dots socially and academically in the absence of school classrooms, sports fields and teachers.  Resist the temptation to assimilate everything.  One big LUMP of life taken all together in a single moment is heavy, stressful and unproductive.  One mission, moment, role and task at a time- carefully traded and mindfully executed, will yield reduced stress and better deliverables on all fronts.  It’s worth thinking about what Mrs. Clardy said one afternoon way back in 1980.  I think you’ll agree that she had a point.  If we heed it, it will serve us well. 

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