Remember those math word problems from elementary school? “Timmy has 10 cookies, but his dog eats 2. What’s left?” I’ve been thinking about them lately, because every time I try to explain my experience of working full-time during COVID-19 with a baby at home, it comes out sounding like a worksheet exercise.
Start with two adults working full-time. Add supervising, entertaining, and nurturing an infant from 6:30am to 7:30pm. Take away daycare, trips to the park, and seeing playmates. Add meals, dishes, laundry, two pets, checking on friends and family, and (fingers crossed) a shower. Subtract free time, hobbies, exercise, a clean house, and any semblance of routine. Add a constant loop of questions: What if one of us gets sick? What stores have formula in stock this week? Are we screwing up her development? Will we ever find another daycare? Is my daughter going to be ok? Shouldn’t I be better at this by now? Am I a bad mom? Multiply by 5 weeks. Add who-even-knows-how-many more.
I’m not a parenting expert, and I can’t speak on behalf of anyone’s experience but my own. What I am is an Experience Designer for TaxJar’s People Experience Team, someone whose work is devoted to understanding and impacting a positive work experience. I’m also the mother of a marvelous goofy twerp of a 10-month-old daughter. In a time of tremendous global stress, these two facets of my identity have made me privy to honest conversations with working parents both in and outside of TaxJar. We all seem to agree that having to be everything, perfectly, at once – full-time educator, full-time caretaker, full-time employee – isn’t a demand that can be met with the “right” schedule or strategy. It’s simply a super-human ask.
I’m so proud and grateful to be part of a team that embraces humanness. That recognizes that those who possess incredible talent, drive, and potential, also have very human limitations. There’s no sugar-coating this: it’s hard. It’s hard on the best days, harder on the worst, and it’s pushing working parents to their limits every day. What I’m learning through observation and experience is that the kindest thing to do right now isn’t to change the situation (that’d be impossible) or to promise you’ll make everything easier (again, tall order). Maybe the kindest thing is to simply offer a generous dose of humanity. There is enormous relief in a time like this to have something so simple but, unfortunately, so rarely offered: explicit permission. Permission to be imperfect, to be better some days than others, to feel totally spent. Permission to prioritize your well-being and those who depend on it. Permission to be human.
What has this permission looked like specifically for those of us at TaxJar caring for kids at home? These are just a few of my favorite moments from the last 6 weeks:
- Hearing our CEO say, on a company call, “parents with kids now at home, I don’t expect your typical productivity until this is over, and you need to know that’s okay.”
- Giggling during weekly “Talent Showcases,” where kids stuck at home missing practices, rehearsals, and recitals share their talents with us instead
- Hearing squeals of delight from teammates when my baby joins mid-meeting for a cuddle, or lets out a big laugh from playing in the other room with her dad
- Sharing tips, wins, vents, and lots of photos with other caretakers in our “Kids” social channel, which has become something of a virtual cheerleading squad
- Ducking suddenly out of a meeting, citing “a massive, defcon-5 level poop blow-out,” and not having it be a big deal
- Telling my manager I could make up time lost to childcare late at night and on weekends, and hearing her respond, “…or you could not.”
- Watching my daughter take her first shaky, uncertain steps, at home in our family room
I wish it weren’t such a remarkable thing for a company to tell its teams “you and your family come first,” and mean it. But until it becomes the rule rather than the exception, I’m proud to be part of a team leading the charge, and grateful to be with a company that knows they won’t always be my top priority. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job. I love being part of a trusting, whip smart, so talented team. I love doing work that inspires me. I love giving the best I can give every day, tackling juicy and interesting challenges.
I just love my family more.
And I love that that’s okay.