Reflections of a WFH Mum: 4 Struggles and Solutions That Worked (for me!)

For some of us, being able to work from home has been a dream. One of the teachers mentioned how she thought it will be wonderful to go for a swim at the beach in Bali and then return in the afternoon to her beach house to conduct her online lesson. Ah, the flexibility of working from home.

Yet, this very same teacher has come to realise that working from home during the Circuit Breaker period is quite unlike the dream arrangement she had envisioned. This imposed work-from-home arrangement has been a challenge and for working parents, I dare say that it is even harder. But there are workarounds—not only for us to keep sane but perhaps even turn this uncomfortable experience into a fond and laughable memory in retrospect.

Reflections of a WFH Mum

Today, I would like to share with you 4 struggles I have had since the beginning of this work-from-home arrangement and a few things that worked to help make things better at home.


1. The can-of-sardines situation at home 

 

1. The can-of-sardines situation at home

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

  • Create a workspace for each member

  • Create a communal workspace if that works better for your family!

While some people were stocking up essentials at home, I was panic reading. Scrambling for some wisdom on how to manoeuvre life in the new normal, I read countless articles about working from home and how some have cracked this lifestyle wide open.

Creating a dedicated workspace was one thing every WFH champion advised.

Some have suggested perhaps compartmentalising our homes to see if we can work in a spare room while our children study in the living room. One can be at the dining area too while another sits at the coffee table. Re-arrange a bookshelf to partition new spaces. Put your headphones on and zone out to Zoom in.

During the first week of the Circuit Breaker, I locked myself in a spare room for most of the day, especially while taking in calls. I had a desk and swivel chair stationed right next to the window, and I felt like a real WFH pro. This would probably work perfectly for non-parents but not for someone like me who has a 4-year old toddler and a 9-month old baby.

I am blessed that I have a helper and she manages both well, but I am sure you know that when your kids know you are at home, they transform into needy infants no matter how old they are. Locking myself in this child-free zone led to my toddler having occasional tantrums, screaming outside and kicking the door for added drama.

This was not the chill WFH life I had expected. As such, on the second week of Circuit Breaker, I decided to try something else. I set up my workstation at the dining table and found that my son’s behaviour changed completely. I realised that as long as I remained visible to him, he felt more secure and the tantrums dialled down, if not stopped completely. I had to set some ground rules though. I made it clear that when I am on the phone, he must play quietly. Four weeks in and so far, he has kept his promise.

I’m sure you have tried some, if not all of these tips. But what works today may not work tomorrow and what works for one home may not work for another. With the Circuit Breaker extension, it may be a good time to evaluate the sustainability of your current home environment and adjust where needed instead of feeling the need to do what is the BEST way to work from home.


2. The non-existent work-life balance

 

2. The non-existent work-life balance

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

  • Create a structure or routine during work hours

  • Dedicate time for lunch (or even tea)

  • Protect your breaks and rest time by communicating with your colleagues

In the beginning, I have to admit, I had this feeling of guilt crawling under my skin. If I did not answer work messages and emails outside of work hours, I felt like I could hear my boss say: I know you are just at home. Why are you not answering my call? I got lost in the endless hours of working from home and I constantly felt that because my boss did not physically see me working the full 9 hours (even when I was working), that somehow I had to make up for it by working more. I kept stressing about it and the more I pushed myself, the farther over the edge I faltered.

Sensing a meltdown coming, I took active steps that worked for some people and may work for you too.

Apparently, adults thrive on routine almost as much as kids do. When does work start and end? How about my breaks? WFH experts suggest drawing some lines and giving yourself cues while you are at it.

Wake up, do some yoga (or other forms of exercise), shower and change, have breakfast and get yourself a cup of coffee (or tea). Sometimes if I wake up earlier than usual, I even turn on some K-drama or read a book before I switch my brain on for work.

When it is time to start, I sit at my station, I turn on my laptop and I start sipping that coffee. Almost instantly, I feel ready and hear myself say: okay, it is time for work.

Scheduling short breaks throughout the day is next. Just like getting up to go to the washroom, stopping by the pantry to fill up your water bottle, or engaging in some friendly banter with your colleagues, you should take these short breaks at home too. Share a joke with your spouse, check in with the kids, grab a healthy snack or just stretch your legs.

Without cues from colleagues, sometimes you won’t know when lunch is either. Schedule it in! Some even set an alarm. It is a bit of a stretch, yes, but having proper meals on time is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Those who can afford to, even use apps like TimeOut for Mac or SmartBreak for Windows to lock themselves out of their devices for that 60-minute disconnect.

As your workday comes to an end, wind down and signal to yourself that it is time to end work. Some WFHers also send out quick messages to sign off from business messaging apps. When I am finally done, I shut down my laptop and then announce to the whole household by shouting: I am done with work! To which, my son would reply with a scream (more like a victory cry) because that is his cue that now Mom can play.

Every small detail helped me define my day and diminished any guilt I felt at the beginning. Following some of these tips and adding that little structure, I felt I was better focused and accomplished more.


3. The feeling of being alone and disconnected (for parent and child)

 

3. The feeling of being alone and disconnected (for parent and child)

Photo by Gabriel Benois on Unsplash

  • Stay connected with friends and loved ones

  • Use different channels – FaceTime, call, WhatsApp etc.

  • Dress up for your meet-ups! 

There is no denying that we are social creatures and staying connected is a primaeval instinct. How we fill up our social tank is crucial, too. Many suggest using face-to-face video calls over voice calls. Why? Well, we have always known that nonverbal communication makes up a big chunk of how we communicate.

Initially, I was not too keen on this idea. I am not a fan of FaceTime; it gets awkward for me as I feel as though I am talking to myself in the mirror (with my face staring back at me). But two weeks into the Circuit Breaker, I initiated a video chat with a friend and blew myself away. If an introvert like me who goes out once a month (sometimes less) feels the need to connect, I imagine the rest of the world must be feeling really isolated these days.

So wash your face (doll up, if you want) and get used to seeing yourself on screen. So far, I have had a Budae Jjigae (Army Stew) catch up after work with a fellow K-drama fan, promising to pass her some of my homemade Kimchi once the Circuit Breaker is over. My 5-year-old niece FaceTimes my toddler once every few days. Some parents I know have let their kids Zoom with classmates over recess or lunch, eating together and staying close.


4. The missing kindness to yourself

 

4. The missing kindness to yourself

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

  • Make time to do an activity you enjoy

Finally, I am writing this tip last because it is the one thing I want you to remember first after reading.

Be a little selfish today. Our lifestyle has changed drastically and even in the weeks to come, we do not know what will happen. There is a reason why airline staff tell you to put the mask on yourself first and then attend to your child. The only way to truly care for our children is to care for ourselves first.

Take a breather right now and pay attention to your own needs. Go for a run, watch a movie with your spouse or simply kick back with a glass of wine.

Research has shown that happy parents raise happy children. As such, I think it is safe to conclude that caring for ourselves allows us to function as more efficient adults and better parents.

Often, in my most trying times, I think about how my kids are like netizens with smartphones constantly taking videos and recording how I react under pressure. I imagine seeing myself on playback and wonder if I will like what I see. With this in mind, I try to be kinder to myself because only when I treat myself kindly can I extend that same kindness to others, especially my loved ones.


All of us are sailing in uncharted territory. But we are all in it together.

So take heart. Take charge. Try the tips recommended in this post that you think might work for you.

At the end of the Circuit Breaker, we will see ourselves on playback and be proud of how we have journeyed, grown, and overcome a worldwide challenge.


 

 

 

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Ms. Kai

Lil’ but Mighty is a growing organisation as each team member play a vital role in keeping our services in tiptop shape. It is Kai’s passion to maintain seamless workplace systems for everyone to accomplish tasks effectively and efficiently. She is committed to preserving total synergy between parent-teacher communication, administrative work, operational management and overall customer experience. She loves to write in her spare time and her lifelong dream is to become the next C.S. Lewis.

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