How My Maternity Leave Prepared Me to Work from Home with Kids During the Coronavirus Outbreak

We are in a global crisis and everyone is searching for best practices on how to manage in these uncertain times. For me (and many other parents) who are fortunate to be able to work remotely, we find ourselves in the unexpected role of reluctant homeschooler—as both offices and schools close to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Many people have generously and enthusiastically shared advice on how to be productive, happy and stay connected while working remotely. I have read and even been inspired by their ideas.

But to be honest (in these early days of sheltering at home), rather than gaining flexibility I added a whole new set of responsibilities. I fully expect that the days ahead will be easier, but week one was challenging. Similar to the idealistic plans I had for my maternity leave, I felt guilty for not being able to enjoy some of the benefits of working from home.

Lower the bar. Aim for the B. My new normal of working from home, while also homeschooling my children is not the new normal I was expecting.

Here are seven lessons from my maternity leave to help manage working from home with kids:

1. Put your oxygen mask on first. Yes, stating the obvious… but you need to take care of you, your mental health and your physical health first. If you put yourself last, then you will definitely not be able to balance work commitments with family duties. Do not neglect your self-care. Whatever you need, do it every day. Make the time.

2. Shower. You will feel refreshed and renewed. Whether you shower at the beginning, middle or the end of the day… just do it. The side benefit of a morning shower is it will force you out of your pajamas and into everyday clothes. This too matters for how you show up for the day ahead of you.

3. Lower your expectations. For yourself, your children, your partner, your coworkers. This is hard for all of us. Release yourself from the Pinterest-perfect image of remote learning and homeschooling, so you can stay focused on the bigger picture of being productive at work and helping your children learn something (anything) while also limiting time on electronics. 😊

4. Do not over schedule your day. Yes, you need a routine, but it is not written in stone. Be realistic, keep the structure flexible. Involve your children to outline and agree on one. Just like having a newborn baby, where there is a rhythm to the feeding schedule… yet it is not rigid.

5. Set boundaries. You will feel more comfortable doing this as you continue to work from home. Normalizing the need to talk about our personal lives and commitments has been a great humanizer. When we speak our personal commitments into the universe, we find out that others have them too—whatever they may be and we are empathetic (see lesson #7). Most new moms find their voice and learn to say “No” often out of necessity because they simply can’t travel or participate in activities with a newborn.

6. Take breaks. Remember the parenting advice to nap when the baby naps? Well, the same holds true when you are doing your job with your children nearby. Eat when your kids eat. Go outside with them when they play. You may think you can’t block your calendar for these activities. Refer to lesson #1. You can’t afford NOT to take these breaks; they help refresh your mind, allowing you to be more creative and productive once you return to your work. So you might as well do them with your little ones.

7. Empathy is high. Many of your colleagues are in a similar situation. We are all figuring it out, so respond with grace and kindness. Similar to New Moms/Parent Groups, sharing stories lets us know we are not alone in our struggles and that is incredibly powerful.

For working parents with children at home, we need to be kind to ourselves and set realistic expectations to make remote work sustainable. Remember you are not a teacher. Your home is not a school. You are a parent. When our children watch us work from home, they are learning from us. We are teaching them more than we realize.

Join video conferences, figure out how to submit school assignments on eLearning platforms, answer emails, keep your children active and limit electronics. Get your work done and help your children learn something (really, anything, even life skills, such as doing the laundry and helping around the house).

In the near-term, while both my work commitments and childcare responsibilities have increased… I have gained patience, perspective and many new memories with my family just as I did during maternity leave.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Tracey Pavlishin is a marketing director for a global management consulting firm. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two sons (10- and 7-years-old), and her mother.