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Parenting during the COVID-19 global pandemic has been quite the emotional rollercoaster. A time of heightened anxiety, social distancing, ‘lockdown’ of local and national regions and extended periods of staying at home, we have all been separated, physically at least, from friends and family.
We are now adjusting to this period of “new normal”; a world where physical distancing, increased remote working and home schooling may be around to stay for at least the foreseeable future. The inability to have childcare support from grandparents, some schools and kindergartens being closed and a constant need to entertain our children means that as parents, we are left with little or no alone time. There’s no doubt about it – it’s hard!
For many, returning to work after maternity leave during this period of real unknown can be quite challenging, adapting both to new ways of working and juggling the balance between home and work life.
Here are my tips for navigating the new normal after maternity leave:
- Try and keep to a routine
Try and maintain some sense of routine for your family. Whilst this may not be the same as your pre-lockdown routine, keeping things consistent will help everyone maintain some sense of normality, which is particularly important for younger children. Find a rhythm that works for you and your family, but get up and get dressed even if you have no where physically to go. As tempting as it may be to stay in pyjamas or loungewear, the physical act of getting dressed is a mental trigger that you are starting the day ahead.
- Get outside when you can
With prolonged periods of time spent in the same physical space, now more than ever it is important to try and get outside when you can. Going for a walk, exploring your local village or simply getting some fresh air in your yard can do wonders for you family’s overall mental health. Getting outside in the sunlight can also help provide a source of Vitamin D and stimulate the production of melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone.
- Avoid blurring the lines between home and work
Working from home with children in tow was never going to be stress free. When you and/or your partner are working in the same physical space as your home life, it is really important to set some time boundaries.
Ensure lunch break and regular breaks are taken throughout the day just as you would normally in the office. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you need to be available 24/7. Set your hours and try and stick to them, creating as much separation between your home and work hours as possible in the circumstances.
If the hours are proving difficult with your children at home, see if you can flex or change your hours and work when your children are in bed. Try and share the ‘parenting’ between you, particularly if you are both working full time.
- Seek out self care
It’s important to look after your own mental health in order to avoid burn out. Seek out some time for yourself, even if it is far more limited than it used to be. Read a book before bed, go for a short walk or run, have a long bath with bubbles or simply have a shower with the door closed!
- Remember it is hard for the kids too
You may find that children act up at times or show signs of frustration, anxiety or sadness. Cut them some slack if their behaviours are inconsistent or they are more fractious than normal. In the same way we have bad days, so do the kids. Write it off and try again tomorrow.
- Worried about screentime?
Make wise choices so that the screen time they do have is educational. There are lots of educational resources that are being offered for free at the moment as well as printable worksheets for older children that can keep them entertained whilst you are working / tending to your newborn.
Don’t undervalue the life skills – helping you change a nappy, washing or peeling vegetables, helping you load the dishwasher, baking a cake.
Stay connected. Could the grandparents read your eldest a story whilst you feed your baby before bed?
Seek out the positives, however small.
Don’t compare your new normal to anyone else’s – every family, and their circumstances are different and what works for them may not work for you. As with all social media updates, there will always be that one person who seems to be juggling motherhood, working and a newborn with ease, as well as serving up a home made masterpiece every single meal time. Take these updates with a pinch of salt, the reality is often far different from the image they portray.