Being both a lawyer and a parent is challenging in ordinary times, but this year’s global pandemic has made it more difficult than ever. In addition to navigating the usual professional and personal life challenges, working parents with school-age children have suddenly found themselves in an alternate universe. Every conceivable professional and familial responsibility has been combined into one big ball of full-time remote working and distance learning stress.
While navigating the challenge of working full-time and helping children with distance learning can feel impossible, there are some ways to make it less difficult.
One of the most important things you can do as a lawyer and a parent is to set expectations. In your professional life, establish boundaries regarding availability and productivity. Although it may feel daunting as a young lawyer with less flexibility than more senior attorneys, provide colleagues and clients with clear windows when you will be available to respond to phone calls and emails. Let supervisors know in advance when a project deadline may conflict with school responsibilities and seek alternative assignments or request additional time.
While asking for flexibility can feel daunting as a new lawyer, clear communication is critical when dealing with a crisis, precisely what pandemic parenting is. Communicating your needs for flexibility, time off, or reduced hours will help make your work life more manageable while also fine-tuning your crisis management and workplace negotiation skills.
Follow a Schedule
As a parent, sticking to a consistent schedule is tough, even during the best of times. It is necessary to follow a schedule for managing full-time work and your child’s distance learning. When making your child’s schedule, keep your plan realistic and straightforward. Now is not the time to load up on extracurriculars and aspirational enrichment activities. Limit schedule blocks to the basics and allow for flexibility. Make sure to build in time for meals, breaks, and screen time.
Set a schedule for your working hours, too. Tell your partner and children that you will have specific times throughout the day that are off-limits, during which you must work and cannot be disturbed. Then, use that time to tackle priority assignments and communication.
Work When You Are Most Productive
While it may sound counterintuitive, eliminating the idea that you must work every minute of the workday will ultimately make you more productive.
If you are never productive during certain times of the day, stop trying to force yourself to work during those times. Be mindful of your deadlines and digital communication, and do not try to tackle significant assignments during these periods.
Instead, plan to work on your priority tasks during hours outside the scope of the traditional workday when you feel most energized. For example, commit yourself to complete the bulk of your to-do list during early mornings or evenings. Then, use your most productive time slots during the day to fill in productivity gaps. A piecemeal workday may not be ideal, but it can be sanity-saving when juggling all the things as a parent and lawyer.
Aim for Sustainability
Finally, with no end to our new normal in sight, families must find ways to make current school and work arrangements safe and sustainable.
One way to achieve this goal can be to form a “village” of people you can trust. Expanding your pandemic pod is becoming a more common practice among families who desire safety but also need the security of consistent work and childcare. This could allow you to have a trusted babysitter assist with distance learning or to have assistance with childcare during vital times when face time is required—like those Zoom depositions and court appearances. Having help for even a few hours per day can make working from home while distance learning sustainable.
Other ways to make this situation tenable in the long-term include alternating school responsibilities with a partner or adjusting workloads to accommodate at-home responsibilities.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need, both at home and at work. Working full-time while managing distance learning is not easy, but keeping these suggestions in mind can make it less grueling.