Prioritizing Life, Improves How We Work
This past June, Karin McGrath Dunn, a long-time member of the ThirdPath Community, contacted us to get support for a summertime goal: she wanted to cut back on her summer work hours to create more time to recharge after an exhausting year responding to the pandemic.
Karin is the president of PRD Management, a company that provides affordable housing to seniors, families and handicapped individuals. As the leader of second generation small business, Karin always has a lot on her plate, even in non-pandemic times.
Karin first connected with ThirdPath over a dozen years ago when she and her husband attended an event for parents. She’s remained involved ever since, participating in our annual events, and a group that meets every other month to support leaders to create healthy and flexible work cultures.
Like everyone else, Karin found herself battling new and unexpected hurdles when the pandemic hit in full force March 2020. Unlike many leaders, we think Karin was better prepared to respond to these challenges because of the years she spent participating in ThirdPath programming.
Photo by Myles Tan on Unsplash
While the crisis around the pandemic increased, Karin’s first priority was to protect the health of PRD’s clients and front-line property workers. She also transitioned a large number of employees to work remotely, most for the very first time.
To help accommodate these unexpected demands, Karin and her team re-evaluated the goals they had set for the year, “This wasn’t the year for high flying or aspirational new projects,” she explained. “Our job was to keep jobs intact and keep elderly tenants and team members safe.”
Karin and her team took a number of additional steps to support everyone through the pandemic. They:
• Allowed for flexing of location and schedules, so even maintenance workers could flex
• Explored creating “core work hours” to coordinate flexible work hours
• Encouraged the use of an email scheduling tool to keep communication within work hours
• Took five-minutes at the start of meetings for a more informal exchange to help keep workers connected
• Instituted no meetings Fridays
• Increased holiday time … and made sure leaders modeled this themselves by using their vacation time
Did PRD’s efforts work? Karin responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”
“I’m proud to tell you that our apartment complexes weathered the pandemic crisis with virtually no staff illness and very few losses of our residents. We came through as a strong, committed team, with low turnover, a high vaccination rate, and a feeling that ‘we have each other’s backs’ – even without seeing each other as often.
“It goes back to how we handled the first few scary weeks and months between March and May 2020. We flexed and experimented in all kinds of ways and asked people what they needed to keep going.
“Now in late 2021, we face the new challenge of managing a workforce that has experienced high personal stress and sustained trauma over the past 21 months – people need to ‘recover and recalibrate’ and we are looking at new ways to help them do that.”
Despite these excellent results, Karin herself was burned out, which is why she turned once again to ThirdPath.
To help her with her summer goals, Jessica paired Karin with one of ThirdPath’s expert Integrated Life Advocates. Together they defined Karin’s goals, assessed the reality of her work responsibilities, and began to take active steps toward reaching these goals.
Once again Karin learned committing to her life outside of work helped her get smarter about her approach at work. For example, she:
• Clarified the role of two other company leaders
• Identified tasks she could delegate
• Developed a role and job description for a future employee who could help lighten the load
• Worked with her assistant to carve out unscheduled blocks of time as uninterrupted days to work on big projects
• Committed to taking vacation time earlier than originally planned
As the summer shifted to fall Karin realized she was not going to achieve her original summertime goal, but she had reduced her work-related stress and identified ways to shift things to help create more time away from work next summer.
ThirdPath’s work with leaders like Karin – leaders who are working hard to model integrated lives – has helped us understand there will always be times when leaders feel like they are failing in their journey. When this happens, we encourage them to see it as a moment in time where they just had something new to learn.
Jessica DeGroot has experienced plenty of moments like this herself. “One of the ways ThirdPath is a resource to our community,” Jessica explains, “Is to help people not give up on their work-life integration goals. Instead, we connect them with a community of people to talk to about their latest challenge, and not feel so alone as they reach for their preferred approach to integrating work and life.”
Want to design your own unique “third path” – an integrated approach to work and life? Join our virtual Parents Forum this February.
Or register for our free Town Hall discussion: Work Life Integration and Wellness, 12/9 @ 1pm ET.
Instead of “Hybrid” or “Remote” Let’s Call it Strategic Flexibility
Jessica DeGroot and ThirdPath Institute were recently featured in the Society for Human Resource Management’s newsletter.
Here’s the link to the full article, or read on for an excerpt that helps illustrate how we as change agents, can make the most of this moment in time.
DeGroot has seen the power of strategic flexibility in the community of leaders her nonprofit supports. Long before the pandemic, these leaders were experimenting with remote work as one of the options offered to employees to develop an integrated approach to work and life—one that allowed them to be successful at work while having time and energy for life responsibilities. This paid off during the pandemic. At ThirdPath’s recent Leadership Summit, DeGroot discovered that, unlike many businesses today, none of the participants had lost a disproportionate number of female employees during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, she has also heard a number of less-progressive stories, including those that illustrate outdated thinking by HR. “Too often, HR sees itself as rule enforcers for the way things have always been done,” she said.
DeGroot shares the story of an engineer who had successfully worked remotely a few days a week his entire career. During the pandemic, he and other team members were laid off, but his confidence in his ability to work remotely inspired him to apply for a position that was physically located a four-hour drive from his home. It was a company he had been following due to its groundbreaking work, and since its employees had been working remotely for a year, he saw it as an opportunity to join the organization.
When interviewed by one of the company vice presidents, the engineer was told, “HR’s policy is that you cannot work remotely. There’s nothing I can do about it.” But then the vice president confided that he had two team members who worked remotely long before the pandemic, one living even farther away than a four-hour drive.
DeGroot believes HR can be instrumental in creating strategically flexible workplaces. “This includes messaging to current employees and potential new hires, partnerships with managers to help them develop the skills to manage remote work teams and revising job descriptions,” she said. In this way, and with the support of senior leaders, “HR can make a major contribution to their organizations’ success,” she added.
The article then goes on to share the story of how Delta Emerson, one of our amazing ThirdPath community members, used strategic flexibility to transform her workplace.
As Delta explained, “We had some old-school leaders who couldn’t imagine the kind of workplace we were envisioning,” she said. “Over time, however, as positive results became evident, resistance dissipated.”
The article concludes with this powerful truth: “Because of the pandemic, numerous organizations that had never contemplated strategic flexibility before have had to adjust. Now, rather than returning to the old ways, let’s take advantage of this otherwise disastrous event to rethink how work is done.”
GOOD NEWS! Delta Emerson will be joining us for the launch of our new season of Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars. Stay tuned!
Prioritizing Time Alongside Money
As a society, we have been trained to believe that more money is always better. People in the ThirdPath community have turned this assumption upside down. Instead they ask, can we design a financial solution that allows us the time we want, not just the money we need?
By getting clear about life priorities, being intentional around spending, and creating financial buffers, there really is a way you can create more time for the things you love.
The way to do this, Matt Becker would argue, is by following a “life-centered approach” to finances. Matt is the founder of Mom and Dad Money, and he talked about this on one of our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars. Click on the YouTube recording and you can listen to his insights right now.
While discussing these ideas, Matt encourages parents to think about the time they want for different things — family, partner, your kids and other highly valued non-work activities — then to use these “life goals” to become more intentional about how to manage earning income and spending to achieve them.
For example, being conservative around spending can help you afford to use time in a way that is most aligned with your values. It also helps you better manage unexpected changes in employment, or the need to temporarily reduce the number of hours you work.
Members of the ThirdPath community apply the life-centered approach to family finances in a variety of ways.
As one mom explained, “Live at or below your means, but never above your means.” Another father told us, “Avoid the assumption that the person who earns more should work more. Instead, find solutions that advance the family’s needs, and each parent’s professional goals, as a whole.”
Just as there are different “North stars” there are also a wide range of ways ThirdPath parents “balance” the competing needs of time and money. (Learn more about this by downloading a *FREE* of our ThirdPath Leader Guide.)
We all need money to live, but the exact amount depends on how much we spend, how much we save, how much debt we have, and what our values are. With the right amount of reflection, conversation and visualization, each of us can find our own unique life-centered financial equation.
What’s the right “life centered approach” to finances for you?
Renegotiating Remote Work for a Post Pandemic World
When remote work is working for you but everyone else wants to head back to the office, how do you convince your boss to let you stay at home (at least some of the time)?
To learn more, read our guest post by Heather Cluley, Associate Director, Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Or click on the YouTube video to listen to the great advice from our April Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar.
Step 1: Get clear about what’s working and what you want
The first step is to objectively assess your remote work experience and think about adjustments that will improve your productivity and communication with your colleagues and clients. Before the pandemic threw us all spontaneously into remote work, these types of arrangements were proactive and well-planned affairs. And that was a good thing because that meant productivity could be optimized, teams could better coordinate their efforts, and managers expectations could be better managed.
An example of just how organized these arrangements can be can be found in the 40-page Guide to Telework in the Federal Government. It spells out exactly the conversations that would need to be had between employees and their managers when a telework arrangement is requested. While you may be well beyond this conversation now, this survey tool, developed by my friends at the ThirdPath Institute, can help you (re)assess and recalibrate your remote work plans. This will help you think through how your continued remote work arrangements can benefit you, your work, and your team, as well as how to improve the arrangement (now that we’re not in crisis mode).
Step 2: Frame your request from the managing up perspective
Now that you know what works best for you, you need to honestly reflect on what works best for your boss and your organization. Taking this bigger picture view will help you figure out how to frame your request for continued remote work in a way that will make it harder to say no to. BTW, this ‘managing up’ approach can also help you at work generally. When it comes to your manager, think about their goals and perspective. What are their plans and pressures? Also, what is your boss’s communication style and decision-making style? Does your boss prefer written or face-to-face communication? Do they want to know all the details and all the options, or do they just want your recommendation for moving projects forward? A boss who values face-to-face communication might be more open to an arrangement that is part-time remote work versus one that is full-time.
You will also want to frame your request with an understanding of your workplace’s culture. For example, a split schedule – where you’re working some hours during the day and some in the evening – might work well in a 24/7 work environment because it can allow you to be responsive to those evening requests. But a work arrangement that is more 9 to 5-ish might work better in a work culture set by more traditional business hours. Try to meet your own needs while also staying within the framework of the organizational culture and your boss’s work style.
Step 3: Make the request using the triple win
“Hey boss, I want to continue to work remotely after the pandemic (sometimes, all the time, on Wednesdays…). I have thought about how to make this work for me and my work, for you and the team, and how it can be really great for serving our clients. Let me tell you about this triple-win proposal…” Honestly, if I am your boss, I’m all ears in this conversation. If you can truly lay out a plan that is a win for all stakeholders, you’ll be well on the road to a yes. A few other tips to seal the deal: consider pitching this proposal as a trial or pilot test. Suggest it as a time-limited experiment. Then build in advance a timeframe for review – when you will discuss what’s going well and what adjustments are needed. Then spend the trial phase doing an awesome job, so there is no question when that review time comes around, that things are going well. Competent work (being predictably good) and great communication are two key ingredients to building trust.
I’m going to use this post-pandemic opportunity to rebuild my life into a life I want, not one that is shaped by outdated ideas and needless inefficiencies. (Ok, I’m probably also going to end up back where I started when it comes to running a child around to way too many activities.) For me, I’ve been in a pretty good situation for a while. Nearly ideal. The remote work arrangements and flexible schedule I’ve enjoyed used to be unheard of in many organizations. But now is the time to start making work more fun and less stressful by building on what we have learned about the possibilities that seemed so untenable until now.
Heather Cluley, Ph.D. is the Associate Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. She also happens to be one of ThirdPath’s AMAZING ILAs.
Black Career Women and Strategic Mothering
Once again we will have Riché Daniel Barnes join our Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars this month. Her amazing book, Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood and Community taught me how much the Black professional mothers in her study have in common with our Shared Care families.
Her study reinforced how the dichotomy between work and family isn’t working for anybody.
To challenge this, these Black professional mothers had adopted a more flexible approach that provided a wider range of options to meet their responsibilities around work, family, community and marriage.
When I asked Riché what prompted her to begin this study, she explained, “I was in grad school, so I had time to take my daughter to the library a couple times each week and I kept on noticing the same Black mothers who were there as well. Every Black woman I knew had always worked. But this group of women were showing up week after week. Some of these mothers were taking time for family alongside their careers. Some were not planning to go back to work. Some were planning to go back, they just weren’t yet sure when.” And all of them, Riché pointed out, were doing this without any role models.
Riché uses the concept of “Strategic Mothering” to describe what she observed.
This is an approach Black women have used for generations as a way to strengthen their communities through their work as caregivers, culture bearers and community builders. Whether flexing a full time job, working reduced hours, or temporarily stepping away from their careers, these Black professional women were searching for ways to break down the dichotomy between work and family.
In a previous interview, when asked how their more flexible approach to work and family was an example of “Strategic Mothering”, Riché answered, “In the time span that I interviewed these families, only 2 have ended in divorce. These women saw having an intact family as important to the community. Family life is devalued. Marriage is devalued. The majority of black children are being raised in single-parent households. These women saw what they were doing — by staying together — as ‘raising the race.’”
Read more …
However, as Riché clarified, these mothers hadn’t arrived at these answers just by choice.
Their strategy was based on a history that included slavery, Jim Crow and systemic racism. This historical context helped illustrate why, as Black women, it was assumed they would combine work and motherhood. It also underscores how the ongoing racism Black families face – including Black professional families – makes it extremely risky to rely on just one parent’s income.
Riché explained, “These families knew they were making a precarious decision. Even as professional families, most were just one generation away from not having had anything. And because their financial circumstances were often dependent on an employer – they knew they had to put other types of financial solutions in place for themselves.” For many, this meant having some other type of income producing activity on the side, whether it was real estate, something entrepreneurial, or something else.
Riché points to the need to create better public policy to address this problem.
Riché argued, “We are putting more responsibilities on families to take care of themselves, and we’ve eroded the safety net that so many of us have worked hard to create.” Going forward, we need to create good public policy and good workplace policies. Unfortunately, Riché concluded, our country does not seem to be going in this direction. “We need to pivot our conversation and recognize that families can’t do all of this work themselves.”
Check out the above YouTube video to listen to our first conversation with Riché. Then register to join us on 1/14/21 @ 1pm ET to learn more about this important topic.
Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community … Read on to learn how our amazing board member, Elizabeth Hall, crafted her integrated career.
Elizabeth Hall – “Pivoting” to Accommodate Work and Life.
Recently, Elizabeth helped coordinate a company-wide pivot that allowed her 5,000-person health care company to become fully remote. Elizabeth joined this organization six years ago. Today, she is Vice President of Employee Experience.
For example, when her son Spencer was born 17 years ago, the world was a different place. She also had a vision of trying to be both a working person and a parent, crafting a plan that felt pretty innovative considering the lack of successful examples in her circle of friends, family and coworkers. That’s a brave thing to do.
“I thought, well, I know my company doesn’t really have anyone who telecommutes, but maybe they will let me work from Portland. I also knew they weren’t going to fire me for asking. So, I went to my boss with a proposal: I could come down to Los Angeles every other week for four days, and the rest of the time I’d work from home in Portland.” Her boss said yes.
Elizabeth imagined only commuting every other week for a short while, but the arrangement lasted for two and a half years, with the company paying for Elizabeth’s travel.
Once again, it was time to pivot.
After Spencer was born, she decided she would resign, thinking she would be a full-time mom for a while. That was until her husband was laid off. “So there we were, with a baby and no jobs.”
Fortunately, Elizabeth’s former employer was happy to take her on as a part-time consultant, allowing her to work while still spending time with Spencer. This also taught Elizabeth how much, “It pays to really invest in those relationships, and to do good work.”
Time passed, and it became clear that Elizabeth was going to be the primary income earner in the family. Elizabeth found a new job that proved to be exciting, and full of opportunities for travel and success. But it also demanded a lot of time, and that took its toll.
Free for you! ThirdPath handout:
Launching an Integrated Career
“I felt like I didn’t have enough time for my child. I didn’t have enough time for my spouse. I didn’t have enough time for friends or family.” It was time to make another change.
Ultimately, she wanted to find a job that would be a better fit for her as a parent. She also wanted time to invest in her marriage to see if she and her ex-husband could turn things around, but they couldn’t.
Around this time her mother’s second husband also passed away. And once again, Elizabeth thoughtfully observed all of these new realities and rose to meet them, including the fact that if her mom wanted to spend time with Spencer, the time was now.
After considering a number of options, her mother said, ‘What if we just got a big ass house?’” This sounded appealing to Elizabeth, but life had also taught her it would be important to test-run the idea. So that is what they did, they found a big house she and her mom could rent, and the experience has been absolutely wonderful for everyone.
Today, when describing how she’s helped her current employer manage the changes connected to the pandemic, it’s easy to see how she continues to draw from her strength in having brave conversations and pivoting as needed.
Of course, Elizabeth first gives a lot of credit to her organization. But the idea of doing a test run before going fully remote came from carefully observing both her work and life experiences.
It turns out Spencer’s school was very close to the first reported U.S. virus outbreak. When this happened, the school sent all of the kids home. Then after a few days, they were ready to test virtual learning for a full school-day. It went so well, they never returned to school. She decided there was a lot to gain from doing a test run in her organization as well.
We picked a specific day and communicated our plan. “We told everybody to take their laptop and go home for a day.” The test day went pretty well, and ten days later the state instituted a stay-at-home lockdown. They were ready.
Just as before, Elizabeth found a way to draw from both sides of her experiences—in life and work—and pivot.
“You know,” Elizabeth remarked, “We’re all the same people, no matter where we go, so the skills you hone at work help you be successful at home, and the skills you hone at home help you be successful at work.”
She also learned, “You might not be able to solve everything at the beginning, because you don’t know what is going to happen, but you can solve what is right in front of you. You can evolve. You can do it.”
Want to meet Elizabeth Hall? Join our Thursday webinar on 11/12/20 @ 1pm ET. Register here.
Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community … Read on to learn about Sergio’s journey as a non-traditional father and husband.
The Essence of Sergio Rosario Díaz
Yet, despite his pride, Sergio hasn’t always opened with the military part of that description.
Why not? It seems that many folks have a very specific idea in mind when they hear the term “military spouse.”
As Sergio says, “I can be a good spouse without solely being defined as a ‘military spouse’ . . . your roles are defined by who you are, your essence, not by where you work or what you do.”
Sergio recently joined ThirdPath’s team as a Marketing and Social Media Associate. He is going to help grow ThirdPath’s social media presence. And like all of our employees, he has a multidimensional spirit that we benefit from.
In addition to working for ThirdPath, Sergio is the director of Proyecto Piquete, a band focused on folkloric rhythms from Puerto Rico and oral history through music. He manages Soy Super Papa, a community whose mission is empowering fathers to focus on highlighting their roles in society and within the family.
So “who” Sergio is can be many things. He is an educator and an entrepreneur. He is a community leader and a drum instructor. He is a doting dad, caring husband and supportive spouse. That is his essence.
Sergio met his wife, Lyn, in Washington, D.C. She was working as an attorney in the U.S. Army and he was employed by a large family services organization.
They had a daughter, Stella, who they started in full-time childcare. But childcare was expensive, and it made for a stressful start to their life as a family. So they talked about it. “I think,” adds Sergio. “The most important part of the story was the communication throughout the whole process.”
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Then, two big changes were made. They moved to North Carolina, and Sergio left his job to become the primary caregiver for Stella. However, it turns out that the concept of being a stay-at-home dad is often met by the same antiquated notions as military spouse.
“It’s very hard. When people first meet you, the first thing they ask is what do you do for work? Instead of asking, how are you? Tell me your story. The first thing they want to talk about is work. And living in D.C. or other big cities, it’s even more that way.”
“If you are thinking about doing something less traditional, you need to have good communication. And when stressful situations come, criticism from the family, from friends, from relatives, the first thing that needs to be done is to communicate with your significant other, just let them know how you feel.”
It’s also about support, both personally and professionally.
Sergio was able to focus on his professional identity through drumming, entrepreneurship and educating, while Lyn pursued her goals within her military career. Depending on the circumstances, they would prioritize different roles.
“In my case, when it’s about the military community, I tend to shift to a supportive role. When we are in the musical and cultural community, I take the lead in the role, and my wife is a supporter. So we each feel important in our own communities, but we also both support each other.
Sergio and Lyn have an incredible partnership where they see each other as very capable of caregiving and very capable of having their respective professional identities.
They also understand each other’s responsibilities. “When we sit and watch TV, it’s because we both have time. So we respect each other’s chores, duties, exercise time, all these things. Musical time, when I’m recording, she respects my time and she goes and does her own thing. So it’s about balancing those chores, those responsibilities.
We knew when we first met Sergio he was the right guy for the job. Not only does he bring great skills and a passion around involved fatherhood, he and his wife also have a great team at home – and we’ve certainly learned how all of these things help develop a more creative and committed employee for the long run.
All year long our Thursday webinars will explore new approaches to work and family to help you find a more sustainable solution during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. Here’s where you can find out what’s happening next.
Or, click the above YouTube link to watch this season’s opening webinar. Sergio joined us along with two exciting book authors as we explored how to rethink the mental load as an important step to creating more sustainable solutions (and greater gender equity too!)
10 Proven Ways to Balance Family and Work
Does it sometimes feel challenging to create a team approach at home?
Listen to our recent Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar to discover how you can strengthen your partnership at home as you navigate work and family through the pandemic. Our guests were Catherine Aponte and Rachel Allender, both long time ThirdPath community members who work with couples.
Researchers at Colorado State University studied 47 middle-class, dual-earner couples with children to identify key strategies for successfully managing family and work balance. Here are the 10 ways these couples found to balance family and work.
1. Valuing Family. Successful couples stress the importance of keeping family as their highest priority. They create family time such as “pizza night” on Friday, or bedtime stories every night. It is not uncommon for these couples to limit work hours… or make career changes… to keep family as the number one priority.
H (Husband): …Every night, one of us reads with our son for about 20 minutes.
W (Wife): …David was going to go to medical school…. creating eight-plus years of being an absentee father…. we said no…. we needed to pursue something else.
2. Striving for Partnership. Being partners means being equally valued.
H: …My job is both earning and caring, and so is hers.
H: …If I win and she loses, then we both lose.
W: …We continue to talk about career…where do we want to be?
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W: …We both really like our jobs…they’re stressful at times, but we…feel good about what we are doing.
H: …I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.
4. Maintaining Work Boundaries. Successful couples make a commitment to maintaining control over work, not allowing careers to dictate the pace of their lives.
W: …We both like our jobs, but, when it’s quitting time, we’re out of there.
W: …When you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you’re at work.
H: …We’ve always said “no” to jobs that required long hours…weekends, lots of overtime.
5. Focusing and Producing at Work. Being productive at work is important to successful couples. Setting limits on their careers has not adversely affected their productivity.
H: …We both pull our weight at [our] jobs. [No one] has felt we’re slacking off or getting off easy because we’ve got kids.
W: …I don’t mess around. When I’m there, I’m working.
6. Prioritizing Family Fun. Successful couples use play and family fun to relax, enjoy life, stay emotionally connected, and create balance in their lives.
H: …I think a lot of our family bonding revolves around these excursions, going on lots of hikes or bike trips…sometimes fishing, concerts…the three of us.
W: …Once in a while, we’ll just try and do stuff off the cuff; one night we had a camp night in front of the fireplace.
7. Taking Pride in Dual Earning. These couples believe dual earning is positive for all members of their family and do not accept negative societal message about their family arrangement.
W: …Of course [children] fulfill you, but they can only fulfill a certain part of you.
H: …One of the nicest gifts that Patty has ever given me is to go to work and to bring home a good income.
8. Living Simply. These couples consciously simplifying their lives.
W: …We don’t go out to eat. We don’t need cable. We don’t need to sit in front of the TV anyway.
H: …We don’t use credit cards. We can’t have fancy cars where the payments just eat you up.
9. Making Decisions Proactively. Being proactive in decision making is most important. Successful couples are vigilant in not allowing the pace of their lives control them.
W: …If you define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do…if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.
H: …We talk a lot during the day…[about] anything from getting the oil changed in the car to who is bringing plates over to mom’s house. There’s not much I don’t know about.
10. Valuing Time. Successful couples try to remain aware of the value of time.
W: …I think you are almost forced to make better use of the time that you have together by the nature of the fact that you work.
H: …We try to do a lot of our [house] work during the week, so that the weekends are free.
To learn more about this study, find the full post on Psychology Today.
A Team at Home Makes Tough Times Better
By Janna Cawrse Esarey
A couple weeks into the Covid-19 pandemic, with schools, businesses, and fishing closed—my husband LOVES fishing—the mood in our household turned bleak. I got sighy. My husband got grumpy. And our two daughters, ages 11 and 14, got zombified by TikTok.
We needed to regroup.
But now, a few weeks in, our sweet moods were turning sour. Money stress. Anxiety about the future. Social withdrawal.
After a preliminary huddle with me, my husband called a family meeting. We needed more structure to our days, he explained to our girls, a routine that promoted health, productivity, and joy for each of us.
We made a huge rambling list of possibilities: activities we wanted to do (theme dinners, read-alouds), skills we wanted to learn (photoshop, carving), habits we wanted to develop (meditate, exercise), passions we wanted to pursue (aerial silks, dog training), home improvement projects we could finally knock off the to-do list (weeding, hang art, save the amaryllis). Some of the activities were frivolous (watch every Star Wars movie in the so-called correct order). Some were serious (read half a dozen memoirs to help me hone my writing craft). But all ideas went on the board.
Next, my husband wrote up a Plan of the Day that included various buckets. We figured if everyone could try to do something from each of these categories daily, pandemic life in our house would be much better. Heck, life would be better.
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Work/School—I rise early and write every day before heading to work to deliver meals. That leaves my husband Zooming on business while overseeing the girls’ distance learning through their public schools. We’ve told the girls their number one lesson in every subject right now is self-direction. It’s a legitimate and valuable lifelong skill; what an opportunity to learn it.
Home—Kids are often more capable than we think. I was surprised when my husband taught our youngest to iron at age five. I taught the kids to do their own laundry around that age, too. These days they’re tackling more than just the basic chores (clean bathrooms, vacuum). They’re also trimming hedges, hemming curtains, power-washing the deck. When kids contribute authentically to housework alongside adults, they know they’re part of a team.
Exercise/Nature—Where we live we can still exercise outside, thank goodness. Even just walking the dog counts as much-needed time in nature. In addition to us each trying to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, our youngest is in charge of the Daily Exercise Challenge. Our eldest won the wall-sit contest. My husband won at plank. I always win at Most Likely to Laugh Hysterically While Competing.
Skill/Passion—These buckets are often the best parts of our days. They’re self-chosen, self-motivating, and, therefore, the best way to get our kids off the screen. Or, if the skill being learned is screen-based, photoshop, say, at least they’re giving TikTok a break.
Eat—Our school district is making sack lunches and breakfasts free for all students, a huge help for us financially and logistically during this stressful time, so that just leaves dinners to plan. Normally, my husband is the chef, but now each of us is taking a turn. The girls came up with the idea of International Night twice a week; two people cook and the other two present fun facts about the country.
Morale in our home has improved. We don’t accomplish every bucket every day, of course—and we still experience a good bit of cabin fever—but we’ve had some pleasant successes and fun surprises.
Janna Cawrse Esarey is a writer, mother, sailor, and school bus driver on an island near Seattle. She is the author of the travel memoir The Motion of the Ocean and is working on a new memoir called MATE about how navigating modern parenthood is more perilous than sailing the Arctic. She knows; she’s tried both. Visit saildogbark.com where you can drop her a line.
Want to discover more about how parents are creating a “team at home” to manage the unique needs of their families, adjusted work responsibilities and time to recharge during this period of crisis? Listen to the above YouTube recording of our recent Thursday webinar.
Every few months we feature one of the pioneers that make up the ThirdPath community … Read on to learn about Julian’s Shared Care story, or watch our YouTube interview with Julian.
Graduating from college in the early 1980’s having studied social work and childcare Julian found it difficult to find work in his chosen field given the state of the economy at that time. He was newly married, had a young step-daughter and a new baby on the way. As a result, Julian took a job in building maintenance working double shifts to help make ends meet.
After the birth of their third daughter, Julian was at home with the girls during the day until he left for his night time maintenance job. Then Debbie would take over, making dinner, bathing and putting the three girls to bed. This arrangement lasted for almost 10 years until their youngest daughter reached 3rd grade.
Some would think a schedule like this was problematic, but Julian treasured these years. Walking the girls to and from school each day and attending school events and trips, meant everyone could see what an involved father he was.
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Julian remembers some of the challenges as well. To begin with there were many days when a full day of parenting, followed by a full shift at work was exhausting. In addition, money was always an issue. They rented a house to keep expenses low, and when the car died, they used public transport, not buying another car for years. But both parents new the time they had with young children was finite. Once when Julian was offered overtime at work, he turned it down. He knew the extra money would help, but he preferred to have the extra time for family.
Julian knows his decision to be an involved father was influenced by his own childhood. “My dad was not there for me in my life and that affected me. It made me want to be in my girls’ lives.” He continued, “My mother was at home with us when we were young, but eventually she became a single mom. She made many sacrifices for us. She had seven kids and she leaned heavily on the older boys, as there was just one girl. We boys were the babysitters, and we learned early that being a parent meant sacrificing.”
When asked about the impact of the decision for both parents to share in the care of their children Julian explains; “We were able to take advantage of an open door. This schedule wasn’t planned, it just worked out for us, and my daughters and I forged a strong bond as a result. If I had not been at home all those years, I probably would have had to work much harder to have those relationships.”
Today Julian is the director of a childcare center for a vibrant community church. As he reflects on his story he said, “Hopefully now I am in a position to help teach and guide parents. When we have problems in our families, we have to take a deep look and ask ourselves, what can we as a community do to help?”
Want more inspiration? Tune in to our next Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar to meet more inspiring pioneers doing work, family and leadership differently!