Parenting, cleaning and doing the day job: Here’s how to set limits and stay sane

Mom working with her daughter nearby. (PHOTO: Tom Werner/Getty Images)
Mom working with her daughter nearby. (PHOTO: Tom Werner/Getty Images)
Tom Werner

Juggle, juggle, juggle – from the moment you open your eyes until your close them again at night it’s all you’re doing these days.

Parenting has always been hard, but lockdown and home-schooling have ratcheted the pressure up to a whole new level.

Now you’re not only your kids’ parent, but you’re also playing teacher, trying to get them to do their work so they don’t fall behind at school. And in between multiplication and long division, many people have their regular jobs they’re now trying to do from home along with all the chores such as cooking, cleaning and shopping that need to be done to keep the household from falling apart.

No wonder many parents are feeling frazzled. It’s hardly surprising that tempers are starting to flare. And then after that comes the guilt as you berate yourself for being a bad parent.

These are unusual circumstances, says Kobus Maree, a professor in the University of Pretoria’s educational psychology department. And when you add all the fear and uncertainty to these other new pressures parents have to face, it’s inevitable there are going to be occasional outbursts. “It’s entirely normal to be feeling a wide range of emotions at this time. It can fluctuate between anger, disappointment, anxiety, uncertainty and a feeling of impending doom.”

But thankfully there are a few steps you can take to lighten your load so you’re not constantly freaking out. 

Teamwork is the key

If you and your partner both work from home you need to come up with a plan of who takes care of the kids at set times, says British psychologist Sam Akbar. You can’t just leave it to chance.

Over breakfast or the night before, sit down with your partner and look at the day ahead. Work out a timetable, taking into account work deadlines and crucial meetings. You can even divide it into hourly slots so you can both take turns.

Stick it up on the fridge or some other visible area. At lunch time you can check in with each other to see if any adjustments need to be made.

Father and his children planning a chore list
Father and his children planning a chore list. (PHOTO: Monkey Business Images/Getty Images)

Let your kids know what you expect

You need to explain you’re not on holiday and that you all have work. Involve them in the timetable and explain that if they make an effort to do their schoolwork by themselves, you’ll – for example – be able to play with them in the garden over lunch time or bake a batch of biscuits with them at the end of the afternoon.

“Let them help create a schedule – they’ll buy into it and be more settled than if they’re told what to do,” says British child psychologist Paul Kelly.

Make a sign that you can stick on the door to warn them when you’re busy with a work call. Teach them that when that sign is there they’re not to barge in unless it’s an emergency. For added peace of mind, invest in noise-cancelling headphones and familiarise yourself with where you can find the mute button on your video-conferencing software.

Adjust your work hours

If you’re struggling to cope, chat to your boss about your challenges. Find out if it’s possible to work flexitime, perhaps starting work at 6am then taking a break for a few hours in the morning or afternoon so you can home-school your kids.

Try productivity techniques

It’s easy to get disheartened about how much time you’ve lost but realise that you can still get a lot done in short bursts. Try the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the ’80s. This entails setting a timer for 25 minutes then working flat out for that time and not allowing any distractions.

Be realistic

Realise that this is a demanding situation and that there are going to be good days and bad. “Looking after kids at home is a full-time job so if you have to work on top of that, you won’t be the perfect employee and the perfect parent at the same time. Prioritise – it’s not going to be possible to do everything,” Kelly adds.

British psychologist Nerys Hughes says in these uncertain times your kids need you more as their parent than they do as their teacher.

“You aren’t a teacher – you’re a mom or a dad, and you risk changing the relationship you have with your children if you change too much,” she warns.

Father helping his son with homework
Father helping his son with homework. (PHOTO: MoMo Productions/Getty Images)

WHEN IT ALL GETS TOO MUCH . . .

Take a break

When everyone is snapping at one another and your home feels like a pressure cooker, there’s one thing you can do to instantly reduce the stress. Take a short break, child psychologist Paul Kelly says. “Even if you’re halfway through an email, stop,” he adds. “Go for a walk together –even if it’s just in the garden – or do something different, something physical, just to change the behaviour patterns and your script. It shifts everything.”

Reach out to others

“Contact other parents and form a support group to exchange ideas and learn from one another,” Kobus Maree, a psychology professor, says. “If necessary, you can also speak to a therapist or psychologist.”

He says strengthening family ties during lockdown is also important. “Listen to what the other parties have to say and expect them to listen to you too.”

Be honest

It’s important to remember that you and your children are only human, says Nasreen Cariem, a psychologist from Cape Town. “Anxiety creeps up on everyone – there’s a fear that one of us will get the virus. Parents can feel frustrated because they don’t have enough personal space and children can feel frustrated because they’re bored.”

She says it’s important for everyone in the household to communicate clearly in order to preserve the peace.

“As parents, you need to be open and honest with your children when you’re in a bad mood.”

And if you’ve lost your temper and realise you’ve been unreasonable, don’t be too proud to apologise – you’ll be teaching them a valuable life skill.

Make time for yourself

You can’t focus on your children 24/7. For the sake of your sanity you need some alone time. Take a long bath, exercise or settle down with a good book.

Being in a better state of mind will make you a better parent.

Woman relaxing
Woman relaxing. (PHOTO: Westend61/Getty Images)

Set boundaries and maintain discipline

Clearly and calmly explain to your children what the consequences will be if they don’t follow your instructions and follow through if they disobey.

Consider creating a “contract” in which both you and your child agree to the terms. This will help with getting their buy-in and ensuring they’re heard but also that they clearly understand the expectations.

Be realistic.

It’s hard to maintain keeping a teenager’s phone away from them for a month, but doing it for a few hours or a day is easily achievable.

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