Caregiving and working from home do not have to be mutually exclusive. With a little planning and preparation, you will maintain your sanity and the sanity of your loved one(s).
Twenty-twenty was a year that brought about many changes in the way we receive and perceive the world. We went from going out with friends and doing things face-to-face to meeting on Zoom, an online meeting platform where you can see the person you are talking with, without the benefit of touch.
Workers were sent home to work remotely and found themselves in the position of setting up their own computer equipment and troubleshooting their own IT issues.
In addition to becoming an IT person, they were placed into the role of teacher for their kids or any school-aged children in their households.
Maybe you’re like me and had to also negotiate care for elderly parents and a young son who is blessed with autism in addition to taking on remote work responsibilities.
Being a caregiver was difficult to work around prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Now it has become downright difficult. Acclimating to a new normal while dealing with family members who have their own set of challenges can be even more – well - challenging. Especially when there are several of you all living in the same household.
Prior to being quarantined, my son enjoyed weekly outings where he and I rode around town, did some shopping, grabbed something to eat, and just shared some mom-son quality time.
My elderly parents were used to getting in the car and riding around, shopping without wearing a mask; able to hug or shake hands with people they hadn’t seen in a long time.
In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID, the company I was working for packed up my desktop computer and sent me home to work remotely. As did many companies. While I don’t have small children to teach, I suddenly found myself working from home while in close proximity to my elderly parents and adult son with special needs.
The first couple of months, the entire process was new. I woke up at the same time every morning, dressed for work and walked across the room to log into my work computer through a VPN.
It became a game to see who did the best job of not disturbing me while I worked.
Once the novelty wore off, these people were used to me being ensconced in a corner of the living room where I set up my desk and computers. They started walking in and talking to me any time they felt the need. They began calling me to “come here” at any time – not realizing the steps I had to take to log out of my work’s phone system before I could walk away "just for a minute".
Many people held high hopes the world would miraculously get back to “normal” with the change from 2020 to 2021. (Who even knows what normal is anymore and will we ever return to normal?) Unfortunately, COVID cases are rising in some areas. Vaccine distribution has moved slower than leaders believed it would. In short, we still have to follow CDC guidelines: wear masks, be diligent about washing our hands, and stay at least six feet apart.
Businesses are slowly returning to offering in-house transactions but there is still a long way to go.
Many workers are still working remotely while many parents are still playing teacher as school districts decide to continue remote learning.
No matter whether we’re living in a pandemic or not, balancing caregiving duties while working inside or outside of the home can cause you to lose your mind.
Below I have included 7 steps you can take in order to facilitate your working from home and maintaining your sanity while caring for loved ones.
1) Set some parameters – This is important. Your family needs to understand that they can’t simply walk into the room just because you’re there and talk to you. They need to understand that you can’t just drop what you’re doing on your job to take them to the store or to pay bills (Yes, my parents still pay their bills in person.)
2) Make sure they understand your work hours – And maintain those work hours. I worked from 7:30 an – 4:15 pm with 45 minutes for lunch and two 15-minute breaks interspersed throughout my day. I always let the family know when I will take a break and my lunch so that we could deal with any non-urgent issues that may have arisen since the beginning of my workday.
Also, make sure they know when you’re going to be on a Zoom or Skype meeting - any platform where you and they can be seen or heard.
3) Be firm – My Mom would come and sit down on the sofa next to me and turn on the TV. She would then proceed to ask me about whatever it was she was watching. As much as I hated having to send her away, I had to in order to get any work done. If a friend calls to chit chat, you have to be firm with them also. Gently remind them that you are working from home and that you still have a schedule to adhere to and deadlines to meet. Let them know you will be happy to contact them at the end of your day.
4) Use your DVR - I recorded whatever program my Mom was watching so we could watch it together after I ended my workday. Then we could discuss the show to her heart’s content.
5) Always circle back – It’s ok to say to a family member that you will reach back out to them at 5 pm, or after you are off. When you tell them you will get back to them, make sure you do. This is non-negotiable.
6) Remember they share the space too – Makes sure you use headphones when you’re in meetings on the computer as well as on the phone. And remember to moderate your tone of voice.
7) End Your Day on Time – This is important as well. When working remotely it is tempting to just log in at any time or continue working “to catch up” but your family deserves some of your time as well. They deserve to have you present and accounted for when dealing with them and their issue. Your mind and body deserve to know when your workday has come to an end as well.
8) Be upfront with your employer - Don't shy away from letting your employer know your situation at home. There may programs you can take advantage of to help ease the added stress of working remotely and caregiving at the same time.
Note: No need to overshare here. Simply let them know there are other challenges you face and assure them that you want to continue to be productive even while at home amongst others.
If you find yourself working for yourself and balancing your caregiving duties, all of the above tips still hold true. Here are a few additional tips that will help you maintain a cool head and keep your sanity in check:
9) You Are Running A Business – In addition, you have to make it known and understood that you are running a business and are not available to run errands at the whim of those you’re taking care of. I have had to make this point to my parents who never seem to tell me about their errands until they are ready to walk out the door.
Just because you’re working for yourself, you still have to set those boundaries and protect your time and sanity as a working caregiver.
10) Discuss your schedule – On Sunday evenings I take my planner and sit down with my parents and talk about everything they need to do during the upcoming week. I also discuss what I have going on during the week so that everyone is on the same page, especially if I have any big projects that will need my focus during the week.
11) Resist the Urge to Keep Working – As a self-employed person, you are encouraged to set office hours and stick to them. Post them if you need to. Otherwise, you could find yourself working well into the night and most of the day on weekends. This leads to burnout quickly.
12) Remember Self-Care – You have to take care of yourself first then take care of others. (You’ve heard this before.) When your tank is empty you have nothing left to give to anyone else. Get someone to stay with your loved ones so you can get away for an hour or two. Take a walk. Go to the gym. If you can’t get away, listen to some music or read a book. Find some 5-minute meditations to listen to. (Let Youtube be your friend.)
These times are unprecedented, and we all have had to make changes and find new ways of doing things - i.e. working remotely while caring for family. We have to do everything we can to maintain our sanity as caregivers - no matter what the country is going through.