8 ways to set boundaries for work and family

With families home together during the health crisis, it can be hard for parents to play teacher and maintain their workdays with colleagues and clients. The New York Times offers 8 ways to set healthy boundaries with employers, coworkers and your family.

 

This article originally appeared in New York Times on April 9, 2020.

8 Ways to Set Boundaries Between Work and Kids

Communication, flexibility and a bit of grace are key to blocking out time for child care while logging in from home.

It feels impossible and overwhelming to care for kids while managing the expectations of a full-time job. And yet, this is the reality: home-schooling while Zooming, conference calls squeezed in during naptime, emails written during yet another screening of “Frozen 2,” everything else finished post-dinner, post-bedtime, post-cleanup.

I spoke to experts and parents for advice on setting boundaries with bosses, with kids and with yourself while working from home. Communication, flexibility and a bit of grace are key, they said.

1. Talk to your boss.

This is not the time to suck it up or pretend that you don’t have a baby at home who demands your attention. “The only way you can get support is if you let your manager know what’s going on with you,” said Kym Harris-Lee, an executive coach and consultant in Atlanta. She recommends having an honest conversation with your boss early on and communicating needs clearly.

Harris-Lee encourages managers to lead from a place of empathy. Ideally, she said, it’s your boss, not you, who takes the time to check in and ask: “What do you need from me to ensure your success as a member of this team and your success as a parent?”

2. Clarify expectations.

Before you begin a call or a video conference, let everyone know what’s going on. Maybe you have a tween who might wander in with a question, or a baby who might wake up crying.

3. Be flexible with your schedule and tell everyone about it.

The old 9-to-5 workday no longer works for everyone. Many parents, especially those with younger children, are coming up with new working hours, logging on early in the morning, during naps and then later in the evening post-bedtime.

4. Let technology be your friend.

The technology that has enabled so many to work from home can also feel intrusive, adding pressure to be “on” and responsive. Remember that video can always be turned off and the mute button can stay on. This can be a godsend on days when you haven’t showered, are still in pajamas and a kid is screaming.

Some workers are getting creative with email signatures and auto-replies to communicate availability and set boundaries, for example: “I will be unavailable in the afternoon, beginning at 1:30 p.m., and my response will be delayed.”

5. Make a plan with your kids (even if they’re little).

Kids absorb anxiety and can sense that you’re distracted. Even if you don’t think they know what’s going on, Laura Guarino, the associate dean of the children’s program at Bank Street College of Education in New York and the associate head of the Bank Street School for Children, said it is important to “name it.”

Guarino suggests calling a family meeting to talk about what’s going on, to let the kids have the chance to say what they need, and for grownups to say what they need in order to get their work done. From there, you can start to come up with a plan together.

Jed Lippard, the school’s head and dean of children’s programs, added that “to the extent we can involve kids in creating solutions, they are more invested into living into them.”

6. Maintain the kids’ routine.

As much as adults’ work schedules will have to be flexible, it is important to try to maintain kids’ routines. Regularity “ensures their daily life reflects what is familiar to them and gives them anchors to tolerate new frustrations,” Guarino said.

It might seem silly, she said, but packing up a backpack and lunch or any other part of their usual routine could be useful. “It helps to make what’s going on more visual and create a sense of agency,” she noted.

7. Signify to your kids when you are working and “off-limits.”

It’s easy to say that when the door is closed, don’t bother Mommy or Daddy. But what if you don’t have a door? Some parents use headphones and a laptop to signify that work is being done.

8. Carve out time for yourself.

Taking time to be alone, to decompress and to recharge, is “essential for managing your patience and anxiety for the duration of this,” said Amy Cirbus, Ph.D., a therapist and head of clinical content at Talkspace, the online therapy app. “It will be the thing that helps you get through this.”

Cirbus recommends scheduling small breaks throughout the day. Any way that you can get that time will be beneficial.

Written by: Leah Chernikoff

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