I used to be able to separate my work life from my family life pretty easily–divided by a commute and hours of the day. And my care for global issues (the environment, social justice, societal issues) were always with me, but I could generally compartmentalize them during my work day. Now, all of these three spheres (personal, professional, global) are a constant part of my days. I do not “commute” to my job and let other trusted adults watch my son–an only child whom I parent solo. And I cannot “shut off” what’s going on in the world to focus only on that job or on my parenting time. All of the time is the time for working, parenting, and responding to unfolding world crises.

Please understand this is not a complaint, or a cry for help. I share these reflections, in the hope that either you will resonate with this experience and feel more seen/validated, or that it helps you understand/empathize more with your employees, your readers, your customers, or your family and friends. 

It’s like this, on a typical weekday:

  • Meeting with my team about an important project–I’m fully engaged, glad for the problem-solving and the team work. Work Sphere 
  • Son enters my office space: “But (most sentences begin with “but” these days) what should I do Mom?”… quickly organizing his two next activities. Personal Sphere
  • Write meeting minutes and prepare for a presentation. Hurriedly update a powerpoint so that I will have time to prepare a relatively healthy meal for kid and I to eat together without me being distracted. Work Sphere 
  • Receive an alert for a live press conference with our state Governor on the Covid19 response. I watch because I want to know what guidelines might be changing for us, and because I feel responsible as a HR professional to stay current. I get emotionally triggered thinking about how many people have lost activities that helped them stay mentally and emotionally healthy–like live music, sports events, church services. Global Sphere
  • Put some lipstick on and give a presentation to a large global group at my company. Work Sphere.
    (I’ve set my child up with a movie to make sure he doesn’t interrupt. I feel guilty about giving screen time in the middle of a summer day, but I have to know my work space is safe.)
  • Take intentional time with kid to eat lunch and play a game. Prepare him for the fact that I will be unavailable for three hours and suggest what he could do, and make promises about the night together. Personal Sphere
  • Two hours of meetings that I facilitate. Work Sphere
  • In the two minutes between meetings, on my way to the bathroom: “But Mom, the most important thing in our lives is each other, and our pets. And the sun, but that’s not the most importantest. You are the most important person in the world to me.” I hug him briefly, and want to tear up and lavish my love on this precious boy. But I rush back for the next meeting. Personal Sphere
  • After the meeting, I see a headline story I just have to click on “Coronavirus is being shown to have long-term health effects on lung and heart health, even in people not showing symptoms.” This makes my breath stop, and I have to push that information away to worry about later. Global Sphere
  • Son from the other room: “I’m hungry Mom!” and 8 minutes after, “The puppy ate my snack!” Personal Sphere 
  • Work block where I produce new strategies I’m proud of and excited to pursue. I wish I could turn to a colleague in the next desk and chat about the plan and get their feedback, casually. Work Sphere
  • Son pops up next to me “But Mom, why don’t we have earthquakes in Colorado?” 
  • I know he needs more of me. I show him a short animated video I’m making for work about Moving Forward Together during the pandemic. We talk about the music/narration/animations. And about staying connected with people we care about whom we can’t see in person. Global/Work/Personal Sphere
  • I say I will stop working in 30 minutes. It’s more like 60. Puppy and boy need exercise, and food. Personal Sphere
  • I sneak in some more email writing before his bedtime, and work more after–while trying to keep some time for reading or watching TV. Work/Personal Sphere

If you see yourself in this, you might identify with the sense of loss, of love, of humor that I feel. Know that I am so grateful for these spheres I get to give attention to, just as I am frustrated and overwhelmed by feeling them all at the same time. Clearly I’m not alone, as shown by this report on the mental health challenges of parents at this time. Avoiding stress is a lot about being able to focus on one thing at a time–an option not as readily available to many of us. Leaning on community for support is another key to mental health–and that is also harder these days. 

So what can we do to stay centered, productive, healthy at this time when ALL the time seems to demand ALL of our attention to ALL of the things? I’ll be posting more experience and insights for the unique times we are in. Meanwhile, feel free to comment with your advice or approaches below!

One Response to Tales of a Working Parent in 2020: The 3 Spheres of Attention

  1. Brianna says:

    Oh my gosh, I love this. I can feel the frustration, anxiety, and I can relate. I’ve had to make so many sacrifices and my kids are older! I can’t imagine how it would be with a younger only child. There’s got to be a better way. I’ve had to leave my child alone up a mountain. I’ve had to miss work or be in a panic at work. It hurt and it made me sick. I had to change my job. I don’t know what the answer is for everyone but there needs to be more community support in my eyes and that’s not something we are supposed to be doing. May we all figure this out together rather then put our kids in front of media or unsupervised. Much love to you!

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