For many people, a challenge of the current situation is that the entire family is home, all the time. And most of our homes aren’t set up to have parents and children working in the same place.
Of course, many single parents are thinking, “I would love an extra pair of hands around here! Nothing would make me happier than the chance to fight about who’s going to unload the dishwasher.” Other people are wishing for companionship at home. And many people are thinking, “How I wish I could work from home! I have to go in,” or “I just got laid off.”
At the same time, for working couples, conflicts about sharing a workspace as well as parenting duties can be a major source of tension.
If you’re struggling with this common issue, consider these ideas.
15 tips for sharing parenting duties and workspaces during COVID-19
1. Take advantage of people’s different energy levels. If one parent is a morning person and the other is a night person, take that into account when assigning tasks. Maybe the morning person deals with getting everyone up and ready for the day, while the night person handles bedtime.
2. Be explicit about assignments. A clear plan for who is supposed to do what chore can minimize squabbles. When expectations are explicit, it’s easier to be fair—and recognize when someone isn’t doing their share. Resentment can build if one person thinks another person isn’t pitching in enough, so a clear assignment of divisions of chores promotes harmony. Who is making sure the kids are keeping up with their homework? Making sure they’re brushing their teeth? Checking to see that teenagers aren’t staying up until 3:00 a.m. every night? Be clear.
3. It’s often easier to divide chores than to share them. Sharing promotes shirking.
4. Some chores don’t need to be done at all. Examine your assumptions! Maybe certain tasks can be ignored—at least for now. If it’s a big hassle to get your kids to make their beds, consider dropping that item from the to-do list.
5. Rearrange your space. Your home wasn’t designed for full-time occupation for work and school. Could you empty out a large closet to use as a small office or phone booth? Could you change the dining room into a silent work space, for anyone who’s doing quiet work? If the kids are underfoot, could you clear out a room temporarily to give them a space to play?
6. Coordinate your calendars. In everyday life, you and your sweetheart probably don’t need to coordinate what you’re doing at 11:00 a.m. every day—but now you do. It can feel like a pain, but it can make life a lot easier, if you both review what exactly needs to happen when. When does one person need to be on an important Zoom call, so the other has to be on child duty? When does one person need time to concentrate without interruption? Who’s helping the kids get set up for the day, who’s making lunch? (Note: this kind of scheduling may be very disagreeable for Rebels.)
7. Agree on “do not disturb” periods. For some periods each day—and you may have more or less flexibility, depending on work schedules—arrange that each person can work without interruption.
8. Enlist help. Can grandparents or others do “virtual babysitting” by reading to a child or playing games on a video call?
9. Use your earbuds. Maybe this is just my pet peeve. My husband talks on the phone or joins video-conferences all day, and he usually listens by speaker-phone; and my daughter listens to her teachers on speaker. It grates on my nerves to hear these disembodied, low-quality voices droning on.
10. Just because something is important to you doesn’t mean it’s important to someone else. If your sweetheart has often said, “It’s a waste of time to tell the kids to pick up their toys. Everything just gets messy again,” don’t expect that person to do that chore. Along the same lines…
11. Remember that often, we’re arguing about preferences. I prefer for things to be tidy; you don’t care if they’re messy. I prefer to have set times for meals; you’d rather be spontaneous. I think it’s important to limit screen time, you think it’s fine to watch a lot of TV. I want to have set hours for work time and family time; you’d rather have it all blend together. I think the kids can stay in their pajamas all day; you think they need to get dressed. With these kinds of disagreements, we often argue, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” But often no one’s right, no one’s wrong, we’re arguing about preferences. So the challenge isn’t to convince other people to change their minds, but to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and productive.
12. Experiment with time. If your work permits it, consider a less traditional approach to the work day and work week. Maybe one partner works on the weekend, or a couple splits evening time, so give each person more time to do office-work without interruption, while the other person handles child-work.
13. Acknowledge the challenge of shared work. Shared work is tough.
14. Keep a sense of humor. Easier said than done, but try to look for the funny or absurd moments.
15. Remember love. Think about what matters most. Be grateful. Hang in here. The days are long, but the years are short—even this year, which seems very, very long already.
I keep returning to one of my favorite quotations, from the Roman poet Ovid: “Be patient and tough; one day this pain will be useful to you.“
What strategies and solutions have you developed, to help you work more harmoniously with your sweetheart?
Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it’s hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people’s fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we’re all so grateful for the healthcare workers and other essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.
I’m writing from my own experience, at this moment, in New York City.