In these tense times, our Family Life pastor takes a light-hearted look at how to survive working at home and still build flourishing relationships within the family.
Many of us are working from home these days. Some are really happy about this — the ones with long commutes to work, for example. But I suspect the happiest ones are the true introverts – the ones for whom social distancing is not a precautionary measure but their idea of utopia.
For those of us new to this, it requires us to get used to working quite differently. We’ve had to get used to the practical logistics like dialling in to video-conference calls (who knew “sharing screens” and adjusting microphone volumes are not always intuitively easy!?!). We’ve had to adjust to social aspects of not having face-to-face time with our colleagues. But for some of us, we’ve had to adjust to the relational aspects of working from home with spouse and children underfoot.
This is both a boon and a bane. For the last couple of weeks, I got to have a late lunch with my children when they get home from school. Giving them a hug when they came home or sharing a snack during mini-breaks from work have been precious. But this week, when school holidays arrived, I woke up on Monday with the sobering realisation — my kids are home with me 24-7 for the next seven days — what hope do I still have of work getting done without resorting to duct tape and handcuffs?
I share some tips as you work from home with your family this season and still obey the Sixth Commandment – thou shall not murder.
Set and Respect Boundaries
When working from home, the most challenging aspect is adjusting to how porous work and family time becomes. Work and personal time bleed into each other and this is exacerbated when family time gets thrown into the mix. It’s actually easy to forget to eat when your work lunch kakis don’t round you up at lunch time!
I have learnt that setting boundaries in the form of work mode and family mode is helpful for me. I also schedule in work start time, end time and meal breaks. This helps me to fully concentrate when I need to accomplish tasks and be fully present when with my family. For me, this takes the form of closing the door during video-conferences and stretches of work or study time. After these stretches, I come out, check in with the children and move on to my next stretch of work. Teaching my kids to respect these boundaries by not bursting in or yelling loudly outside has been part of the process.
Take Disruptions in Your Stride
But life is not always so neat. Sometimes, I have to restart work when the children have gone to bed because there were too many disruptions in the day. In the late afternoons, I encounter them more than usual because the children often have requests for food, more food and multiple questions that only Mummy can answer. Perhaps the heat of the late afternoon also adds to the crankiness as I break up quarrels and accusations of “He did this!!” I don’t necessarily respond to all demands for attention. For example, some cries of “I’m so bored” are fended off with a standard “Please find a book to read, I’m not responsible for your entertainment” reply.
But sometimes, disruptions are real connection opportunities. Sometimes, there is a real emotional need to be met. In these times, I try to discern their real need behind the tantrum and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me and attend to them – whether it is the pain of injustice faced from a friend in school, or the sense of inadequacy when they have done badly in a bite-sized assessment. As I take time to hear their heart, coach them through some solutions and turn their pain over to God in prayer, I am reaching their heart in a way that life-as-usual cannot. Some disruptions can be divine.
Look for Learning Conversations
All of life can be opportunities for learning if we ask God to show us how. On my day off, I took the kids to a hawker centre for an early lunch. It was a blazing hot day. And naturally, they asked why they could not go to an air-conditioned eatery for lunch. Seeing an opportunity to help them see beyond their own wants, I asked them to observe the hawker centre and how it was much less crowded than usual. Then I asked the question: “What does it mean for these hawkers who have less business?” We then had a conversation about how hawkers tend to have less financial buffer than larger restaurant chains and how it is worthwhile supporting them in these times. A question that began with “Why can’t we go elsewhere to eat?” turned into a conversation about community life and compassion.
Another conversation began when the hawker uncle exclaimed about how the wet market closed up at 9am this morning because they were completely sold out due to panic buying. It was another opportunity to talk about our responsibility in community and how we can share with each other in times like these.
What good can come out of Covid-19? Perhaps as we adjust to a new way of life and working, we might find that the challenges and disruptions can be divine opportunities for heart conversations and relationship building within our very own families.