How Working Parents Can Create a New Normal for Their Family

Millions of parents who worked during the Covid-19 epidemic have faced constant waves of change and challenges. Many are now returning to work, and there is hope for a return of pre-pandemic life. However, it has taken a year and half to create a new reality and balance. It is important to take your time, consider what you have experienced during the pandemic, and make a plan for the future. Mark the highs and the lows of the pandemic by drawing a timeline. Mark the highs you want to keep and mark the lows you need to adjust. Next, think of ways you can keep the most important moments from your highs going forward. Then adjust your work schedule to reflect this as you return to work.
Last spring, we met Ria and Amir just as the pandemic was tearing apart lives. We asked: How do we navigate such upheaval and so little support? How can we create a new normal for everyone?

Millions of parents all over the globe faced nonstop challenges and changes in the 18+ months that followed. There is some hope that this fall, at least in North America and Europe there will be a return to pre-industrial lives. The reality we are returning to is not the same as what it was before. Many millions of people, particularly mothers, have had to quit the workforce. Companies have many expectations about how and where they should work.

After a year and half of carefully crafting a new balance and reality, there is much anxiety.

Most of us were so busy with keeping our heads above water at home and at work that we havent had the opportunity to properly reflect on the good, the bad, the never-want-to-think-about-let-alone-live-it-again. It is important to take time to create a new future that you love, taking into account what you have experienced during the pandemic. To help you envision your future, I suggest creating a map of the last year and a quarter. This allows us to be honest about which parts we should keep and which ones we would like to get rid of.

What you'll need:

A piece of white paper. If you are doing this as a family or couple, each person can make their own or use a large piece of paper to fit everyone.

markers, crayons, pens

photos (or whatever you store your images on, such as your phone)

Calendar or planner for past events and meetings

Begin with a map. As a timeline, draw a horizontal line from the center of your paper. Create ticks to mark the months of January 2020 through September 2021. Take out your calendars and photos, and look through each month. You can go back in time to feel the emotions of the chaotic first March. The calm, but still eerie silence of the global shutdown and all the discomfort that it brought. Pandemic panic and frustration continued throughout holidays, birthdays, or other events. The slowness of reopening. The challenges of schooling and work. The joyous friend is always there. The loss.

Month by month, mark the high and low points. Consider three lenses when you are doing this: routines and rituals as well as relationships. Routines refer to the routine events, such as school pickups and commutes. Rituals are things that we love and attach meaning to. The most important relationships are with your partner, children, family, friends, and you. However, professional relationships can include a supportive manager or colleague on a collaborative project, as well as frustrating exchanges via social media. What was it like to interact on Instagram and Twitter during this time.

You can be as specific as you like, but the exercise is more about reflection and recall than completeness. You can add colors, images, or doodles to your family's map of your experiences.

Concentrate on the most important. Mark the highs that you want to keep and mark the lows that you want changed with an X.

What were the unexpected highs? These could have been weekly video chats with friends and family, or feeling closer than you've felt in a while. Perhaps it was forming a support group with close family members. You might have discovered new interests or strengths that you didn't know about before.

The other side is what was difficult and what you must change? You can work from home, have no commute and travel virtually nothing. What can you do to get that back? You might be able to create a mock commute from work that takes you to the cafe and back. Can you plan a monthly dinner if you haven't had time to spend with your friends?

Take a look forward. Consider the next six-months. What is expected to change in the next six months? What is expected to change at work, school, and at home? What would your ideal vision of it look like? What can you do to advocate for something so close? What modifications could you make to preserve the highs that you have reached?

Perhaps weekly video calls with your family can be transformed into monthly calls. Morning walks are now evening walks. You can think about how you can preserve your time for regular exercise or simplify your home logistics (keeping everyone more organized or giving them more coverage when both parents work from home). You might decide to limit extracurricular activities or pick one that everyone does together. Perhaps you would like to have weekly potlucks with the pandemic pod. With these ideas in your mind, you can plan your return and transition.

This exercise has two goals: to increase your intentionality and control over your decisions during periods of transition. It is not about going back, or returning, nor about making up time. It's about starting a new chapter. A new phase. Our older, wiser selves have learned skills, instincts, and lessons. Another moment of transition. We have the right map and the tools to navigate the next year, just like we did the wild unknowns over the past year.