One day at a time: Balancing a new work structure with school and parenting

By Leah Ball, MSU StratCom student

In April, Leah Ball wrote this blog at the start of the pandemic explaining how she balances life, work, and school. Now, nearly eight months later, she provides some updates on how things are going. 

In the words of Wilson Phillips, “Hold on for one more day.” I’ve learned that’s the best approach to getting through our current circumstances – one day at a time. Admittedly, some days it feels like one hour at a time.

Around the middle of March when the coronavirus pandemic began to worsen in Michigan, I transitioned to working remotely and my husband Jesse did the same. We have a 4-year-old daughter, Aviana, who is full of energy and accustomed to burning it with her close friends at daycare. On a typical office day, we encounter a little one who’s more than ready to wind down after an exhausting day of play.

Ball's daughter Aviana

It must be a confusing time to be a toddler – to go from seeing friends every weekday, having play dates and visiting stores to browse through toys, to being confined in the house and the surrounding outdoor areas. You can try to explain the situation in a simplistic way and hope they have some understanding of why things are the way they are, but really you don’t want them to fully grasp it. She calls COVID-19 the “big germ bug” and once told me, “I wish we could just get rid of it, but that would be really hard!”

During the toddler years, nothing seems to hold a child’s attention long either (other than tablets and the like) and Aviana has never been one to play independently for long. Given our jobs are still full-on, establishing a set schedule seems impossible, too. Jesse and I both work in communications, and our days are ever-changing as we craft messaging, attend meetings, proofread others’ work and monitor the social media realm.

For me, it’s coupled with schoolwork for the StratCom program, which I started in summer 2019. I’m so grateful for our MSU faculty and how understanding they’ve been during this transition.

Throw in our usual workout routines, meals, video chats to stay connected with family and friends, and activities with our daughter, and this new scenario presents very little time for ourselves.

The past four weeks have been challenging, with a mix of exhaustion, stress, guilt and pure joy. On one hand, we’ve discovered daily methods that work in our favor; on the other hand, we have a newfound appreciation for her preschool teachers – and for the extra moments we get to experience. 

Weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aviana is generally at school running around with her friends and following the teachers’ lesson plan for the day. That’s nearly 50 hours from Monday through Friday we typically don’t see her. I see that as a silver lining in all this – the gift of time.

Ball and her daughter Aviana

In late August, she started kindergarten, which is being managed virtually by her school district. We now spend our mornings helping her navigate through Zoom lessons with her class and a portion of the afternoon assisting with asynchronous learning. So much of a child's early years in school emphasize socialization, which is the most challenging aspect of being in the midst of a pandemic - especially now that the weather is becoming less favorable, and play dates outdoors are not quite as pleasant.

If you find yourself in a similar state of mind, here are a few other things that may be useful:

  • Take breaks. During workdays, I take breaks to spend time playing, working on a craft or doing learning activities with my daughter. To make sure I don’t get sidetracked or spend too much time away from work needs, I set a timer on my phone. She becomes more understanding of the limitation with each passing day.
  • Get some fresh air. Weather permitting, I spend time outside every day. There’s something calming about a walk around the neighborhood or sitting on the porch and taking in the sights and sounds. In our neighborhood, there are painted rocks placed around for people to find, which made my daughter want to contribute and added an activity to our list. I try to focus on the positives, especially as we enter the winter months. Personally, I don't enjoy driving in the snow, so I won't miss those commutes when the snowflakes are falling!
  • Unplug (as much as you can). In the evening, I try to watch episodes of an old TV series I miss, or we have a movie night as a family. Between work and coursework, too much time in front of a computer can be overwhelming, especially if it’s in the same space.
  • Move around if your device allows. During the day, I sometimes work in my daughter’s playroom or sit next to her on the couch, so she has someone nearby. To help distinguish between the workday and class responsibilities, I also move to another location in the house. As the weather improves, a change of scenery could reinvigorate, too!
  • Bend the rules (a little). I know some are strict about the amount of screen time allowed, but as long as the day is a mix of education, time spent outdoors and other activities, during this unprecedented time, you might get small work wins in if you remain flexible on tech use.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. This situation is far from easy, and how we treat one another is especially meaningful during these times. We’re all feeling the impact and we need to exercise patience (often at a greater than normal level).

I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves and seeking out the positives each day. While it’s difficult not to dwell on canceled plans and missed opportunities, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll make it through this, especially with a community of Spartans by our side.

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