Things are running we: Raising a family whilst working from home

Keltie Neville

HR Director, Dentsu Aegis Network Canada

We have a saying in our house: “We run things; things don’t run we.”

I know what you’re thinking: Keltie, that makes absolutely no sense. I mean, you’re right. But also consider that this bit of wisdom from Miley Cyrus (taken from 2013’s We Can’t Stop) is actually pretty killer. As a family, we use this as one of our guiding principles - it harkens to the early days when everyone had an opinion on how to raise our baby and it’s still pretty relevant for us nearly three years later.

Appearances can be deceiving

As working parents, my husband and I thought we had it all figured out—date nights and free nights for ourselves scheduled into our Google calendars. Swimming lessons on Saturdays, followed by a trip to the grocery store, then putting our son down for a nap so that we could relax for a few hours. We had finely engineered our family life into units of time, organized to make each day both enjoyable and productive for each of us. We were, dare I say, smug in our cozy little way of life.

But now, my friends, it seems like things are running we.

Trying to keep a spirited 2.5-year-old occupied while working demanding jobs from home is hard. Social media had me thinking I was doing it all wrong, because didn’t we have limitless free time for reading and new hobbies and learning new languages now that we were at home. What was wrong with me that I didn’t have any free time at all? How had I so grossly miscalculated our lifestyle during a pandemic where everyone else seemed to be FINALLY living their best lives? Many a day, I would roll out of bed, (maybe) brush my teeth, throw a sweatshirt over my pjs and plop my kid in front of the TV after breakfast while I joined calls and started my workday. How were people thriving while I was barely even surviving?

Plot twist: they weren’t.

Finding strength in a support network

Eventually, I started talking to my friends with kids about how the heck they were keeping their heads above water. At first, I was too embarrassed to admit that things were falling apart over here at Everything-is-the-Best Crescent. But by being vulnerable with my friends, I realized we were doing the same. We shared some ideas and strategies, but it mostly helped to hear from other working parents that this was, of course, an impossible situation and to just keep doing the best we can. It was the thing that started to make this whole thing bearable.

I’m now feeling lighter and better able to see this through to the end with (what remains of) my sanity intact. Our son is having a blast, which makes each day a little sweeter. I’ve blocked my calendar from 08:00-09:00 (breakfast and “mama needs the kitchen to not look like a Category 3 hurricane” time), 11:30-12:30 (lunch and putting down tiny Napoleon for a nap), and 18:00-19:00 (dinner and bath time).

Managing expectations and staying true to yourself

I’ve communicated to my team what I can and can’t do and, you know, everyone just does way better when the expectations are clearly communicated anyway. I’m doing the best I can with the tools I have right now. Did I brush my hair today? Nope. Did I get some productive work done today while my husband made our son toaster waffles for lunch? YES! Did I take on a home DIY project this weekend that I regretted starting about half-way through? Of course, I’m still me after all!

I have no magical tips to share with you other than to admit to yourself what you need right now - and we all need different things – so just own it. I don’t need wine and a face mask, but I do need to take our dog for a long walk by myself at night and listen to a podcast. It took me a while, but I think I’ve finally acclimatized to this new normal.