Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Racheal Kwacz shares tips on coping with working at home with kids during Malaysia’s Movement Control Order period.
It's been weeks since I've stepped out of my front door; since I've felt grass beneath my feet; since I've seen the inside of a grocery store; since I've seen my parents who live 16 km from us. I had literally got off a plane from a back-to-back work trip to Bali and Sydney and went straight into quarantine from the airport to our apartment in the city following the advice of our doctor.
As a Child and Family Development Specialist and mama to 5-year-old Ella Grace, I've really had to redefine this new normal of staying at home and working from home. What is the definition of home during this time? What makes home, home? Is home still a place of rest and solitude if home also becomes the only walls in which you work, play, breathe, eat, cook, clean (Oh my! The never ending cycle of cooking and cleaning!), love, sleep, and live in?
I was deeply honored to be asked to share as a working parent a little bit about what has helped us during this Movement Control Order (MCO). It is my hope that as you read this, you'll find a little bit of the light coming back in through the tough times, and feel empowered that we can win this together.
1. Designate work and non-work time
This is crucial and will make a huge difference. A schedule will help everyone know what to expect and really be present - whether at work or with each other. One of the first things we did as a family was to sit down and talk about what we really needed and what’s important to us during this time of being shut in together. This keeps everyone on the same page and everyone feeling heard, seen, and valued.
2. Plan your time strategically
Mornings for me are for correspondence/follow-up/emails as I know I'm more likely to be interrupted at this time so I pick tasks that would be easy to get back into. During my daughter’s nap time is for making calls or anything I might need to get done that works better with minimal interruption. I usually "clock-off" at 3 or 4pm to play with Ella Grace before I start dinner. Then, I usually go back to work at about 8 or 9pm to do work that requires quietness, like writing articles, designing workshops, or working on slides.
3. Connect to disconnect
If your little one is interrupting a lot, they are seeking for an emotional refueling and connection. If you are able to, fill up that “emotional tank” through play and presence. At first, your kids will crave for this a lot and follow you everywhere. Keep filling that tank, and when you can get it full, you'll be amazed at how well and willing they will be to separate and do their own thing.
4. Set up for wins
Sit by a window and bathe in natural light, preferably with some view of greenery, and a giant bottle of water next to you to stay hydrated! Healthy snacks also help you get into a theta wave state of mind, which is when your brain is the most receptive to information and learning. Eat well - it's easy as a mama during this time to go without, but remember how important it is for mama to refuel so she can be at her best. Welcome interruptions lovingly but stay focused and come back to it. Take breaks and ask if you need to connect, limit, set, prioritise, or nourish.
Take lots of movement breaks. Choosing exercise instead of snacking allows your brain to stay in the theta wave the longest. This helps you clear your mind and cope better by also releasing a flood of happy hormones. We try to start our day with a 20-30min family exercise, and it doesn't have to be fancy. Sometimes it's a mini course in our living room, a yoga or zumba video, or even just a dance party.
6. Show up at your best
You don't have to "dress up" but it's important that you get dressed, brush your teeth, wash your face, prep yourself. It will really help you move from sloth to work mode.
7. Designate a work area and space
Having designated work spaces is important to help us keep focused and "in the zone".
Quietness is ideal but if not, earplugs or headphones work, too, when you need it.
11. Set a timer to clean-up
Make 20-minute shakedowns your friend. We play this game in the evenings or when we need it and it's called a 20-minute shakedown. We set the timer for 20 minutes and everyone earnestly picks up, cleans up and puts away the crazy of the day. The key is to really walk away at the 20 minutes mark even if it's not perfect. Because you know it's only going to be 20 minutes, everyone tries their hardest and makes it fun. Better yet, everyone is happy to do it again the next time!
12. It’s okay not to be okay
Give yourself permission to feel. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to have a hard day. This is all so new and so hard and we are all still learning. You got this, mama. I see you trying hard - take deep breaths in and out. You’re not alone.
When the MCO first hit, every single grocery delivery app we had been using all crashed. I sat with an empty fridge and running out of medication, completely overwhelmed with the pressure but one by one, my tribe and my neighbors came together.
#kitajagakita isn't just a pretty slogan, it is a call-to-action. How can I create community with what I have? Loneliness comes from not knowing who we are, not having close intimate relationships with people you can trust, and not having community. Read that again and if you are feeling lonely at this time, try and identify which one struck a chord for you.
Is it time for you to know you?
Is it time with the people you love that love you back?
Or is it time to create a community, a collective whole of neighborhoods and kampungs and a nation coming together?
When all else fails, I come back to this question and it always puts it all back into perspective for me, in this unprecedented global pandemic, how do I want to remember this and what do I want to be remembered for?
Racheal Kwacz is a Child & Family Development Specialist, women’s leadership speaker and mama tribe writer. As a thought leader, Racheal has had years of international experience working with children, training teachers, leading and developing curriculum for childcare centres as well as being a parent educator. She specializes in equipping and empowering parents with tools for Respectful Parenting through “The RACHEAL Method”. Her most popular sold-out workshops include "Toddler Wars", "Preschool Wars", "Food Wars", and she recently led a dialogue with 180 pediatricians, obstetricians and gynaecologists on "Device Wars". To learn more, connect with her on her website or follow her on social media @rachealkwacz!