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!
Virtual Visits with Grandma
By Diane Mangano-Cohen
For twenty-five years I have had the privilege of being a grandmother to six amazing individuals.
Until recently I have enjoyed weekly visits with my two youngest grandchildren, but social-distancing has changed all of that. There is no more once-a-week childcare for my adorable twenty month-old granddaughter, and no more special time with my curious kindergartener-grandson.
After a few weeks of social-distancing, I realized it was time for a little creativity. I missed my grandchildren and our routines, and I knew their parents needed a break from the constant supervision.
The answer I came up with? Finding virtual experiences that my grandchildren and I could share using the internet.
To design our virtual visits, I used what I knew about my grandson’s current interests as my starting point. I made suggestions and then we brainstormed together on virtual trips to cities, museums and animal habitats. At my grandson’s request, our “visit” to Paris included showing him where Lafayette’s tomb is–he is a big Hamilton fan! I had not known that Lafayette was buried in Paris and together we learned that dirt from Boston’s Bunker Hill is in his burial plot.
I also learned when visiting one of our travel locations it’s a great way to talk about the world and local customs of the people. I share how far away the location is and how long a plane ride takes to provide some context. This is a time-intensive process, but with my own social-distancing, this is a great way to keep me busy and keep my mind stimulated.
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Some visits include art projects after watching the specific artist’s techniques, giving us both a creative outlet. Sharing our work at the end allows us more interaction. For our “Mondrian” project I used pre-cut black construction paper and crayons and my grandson did an amazing job using only Legos.
When researching a recent topic, I do a Google search by typing in, for example: “Best place to virtually see spiders.” This search resulted in a huge variety of websites and YouTube videos. I selected several videos to watch to find the one I felt would best hold my grandson’s interest. I am learning a great deal by viewing these videos to find the age-appropriate and interesting presentation, and have found the whole process very engaging.
Timing my visits with his sister’s nap means both parents have extra time to work or just be off-duty – truly a win-win-win.
Technology has been key to making this happen, and we are fortunate to have both computers and iPads available. We have used both on almost all virtual visits. I can see his face and I know when I need to re-gain his attention with a simple, “Buddy, you still there”? What my grandson needs most is company. We have conversations; but sometimes I’m just a trusted, reassuring voice while he plays with Legos, magnetic tiles or draws.
Video-visiting with the twenty month-old is very different. She tugs at my heart strings when she hugs or kisses the screen. We dance, sing, read stories, eat meals together and just look at each other.
Last night I also video-visited with my oldest granddaughter who is about to turn 25. Working from her apartment in Dallas proved to be too confining, so she is now staying in a Tiny House in the Mountains of Colorado. I also send her a daily “Good Morning” text, which I can tell brightens her days.
I’m really pleased with all the different ways my “virtual grandparenting” has evolved – and like any activity done from the heart, it has provided me with more benefits than I give.
Want to discover how to create a more resilient family – even during the Covid-19 pandemic – through rest, focus and connection? 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 . . . This month we are revisiting an interview we did with Chris Madoo and Kyra Cavanaugh.
The pandemic has taught us that many jobs can be done completely virtually. On one of our previous Thursdays with ThirdPath webinars, we discussed these ideas with Kyra Cavanaugh, author of the book, Who Works Where and Who Cares? We also invited two leaders who manage virtual work teams to share what’s made their teams so successful.
Since this webinar, Chris has been promoted, but he continues to manage his new team virtually. We’re also proud to have Chris as a member of ThirdPath’s Pioneering Leader group, and on one of our recent calls, it was fun to hear how Chris is still using these important flexibility tools today.
Tool #1: Define performance objectives. Kyra underscores, this is not just an important tool to use for flexible work teams – but for every work team.
As Marketing and Sales Leader at Marriott, Chris learned that successfully managing a virtual work team can come with a few curve balls, but through prioritization, communication, and trust he was able to build on his team’s success. It also helped that Marriott clearly defined performance standards. Productivity goals were carefully defined as a way to promote key priorities and related behaviors. Activity logs and weekly updates also kept the team on track to help drive results.
Tool #2: Capacity and resilience. Kyra explains, managing the long-term resilience of a work team doesn’t just benefit the individual team member it also benefits the organization.
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Tool #5: Communication. No surprise, the key to all of this is good communication.
Chris knew the glue that held everything together was good communication. Not only did his employees have to communicate their capacity and work preferences, they also had to communicate what they wanted to make time for in their lives outside of work. Chris also communicated what was going on in his life, especially if it was going to impact his availability. In fact, if there were life issues that would impact their ability to complete a task on time, all of them were responsible for communicating that to the rest of the team. What he noticed from all of this, is that it helped everyone build up a strong rapport with one another, which also helped them hold each other accountable for the work they were doing.
Our discussion with Chris and Kyra helps underscore how flexibility will look different in every organization, and how support from upper management will always make it easier.
When Marriott made the shift to a flexible workplace for departments like marketing and sales, the organization had to learn what it meant to manage remote staff. Chris learned that flexibility requires more trust and greater transparency. Marriott helped by clearly defining expectations. Employees did their part by clearly defining their work capacities and obligations outside of work. Together – individuals, teams, managers and senior leadership – we’re able to optimize a new way of working that benefited everyone, including the bottom line!
Thank you Chris and Kyra for leading the way to creating truly 21st century workplaces!
Want to learn more? Check out the “integrated leadership” section of our website – discover how men and women are advancing in their careers while also creating plenty of time for their lives outside of work.
A World Increasingly Obsessed with Work
To understand how we became a world so obsessed with work, you have to understand “systems thinking.” It helps identify the multiple forces that brought us to this present moment, and provides insight into how to make change.
Below are some of the “Laws of Systems Thinking” Peter Senge outlines in his book, The Fifth Discipline. We’ve taken the liberty of applying them to the issue of finding time for both work and family.
Listen to the YouTube recording to hear our powerful conversation with Peter Senge about this troubling problem, and how we can use systems thinking to create more satisfying lives.
Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants
It’s hard to develop solutions that take the whole system into account, but unless we do, real change is not possible. When it comes to work and family both sides impact the whole. To make change, we can’t just focus on changes at work OR home – we can’t cut the elephant in half – we must make changes in both arenas.
Cause and effect may not be closely related in time and space
Systems are very complex, and over time a change in one area may have unintended consequences in another. We can see this from the problem progressive countries faced when long paid parental leaves inadvertently contributed to gender inequality. Luckily, many of these countries are now addressing this problem by requiring fathers to take a certain percent of paid time off as well.
Today’s problems come from yesterday’s “solutions”
Assumptions around the need to be physically present to get work done are certainly archaic, but it may have been the only way to get work done during the industrial age. Today, the opportunities and challenges of new technologies and a global economy make it much easier to “blend” work and life. However, read on to see how today’s solution is creating problems for tomorrow.
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Today, for some people, “blending” has literally become never turning off work. We can see this in Shark Tank super-star Kevin O’Leary’s comments, when he said, “I don’t have a division anymore between vacation time and work. It’s always both. I work every day.” And that rule also applies to his employees: “Do I expect my employees to respond to me when they’re on vacation? 100%,” he says. Is “blending” the only option in today’s 24/7 global economy?
Faster is slower
In today’s global economy, some believe the only answer is working harder and faster, but perhaps there is a better way … Instead of prioritizing work over the rest of our lives (and the environment!), we believe we need to develop a new mental model that allows all of us to live life at a more human pace. We at ThirdPath call it “Work-Life Integration” — prioritizing work alongside other life interests — whether it’s caring for our children, our aging loved ones, our communities, or caring for our environment.
Small changes can produce big results — but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious
Click on the YouTube video to listen to our conversation with Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline – one of the most well-known books written about systems thinking. We explored the growing problem of “workism” – the pattern of people seeking validation exclusively through work — and how to use systems thinking to fight against it.