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Working Parents: Take Time and Take Stock Before Launching Into the "New Normal"

Working Parents: Take Time and Take Stock Before Launching Into the "New Normal"

It’s happening: Vaccines are becoming more available, schools are tentatively re-opening (in my area, at least), and I’m being bombarded with articles about the “new normal.” This is what we’ve all been waiting for, right? So why, now that it’s here, does it feel so overwhelming?

Well, the daffodils are blooming, which signals to working parents that it’s time to plan for summer childcare. After opting to use the TV as a 45-hour a week babysitter last year during the Summer of Fear, I have already forgotten how painful the expense of summer care can be. The affordable option in my area is the township-led camp, which was full to capacity in less than five business days due to distancing and pre-registrations.

[Related: The Cost of Caregiving Falls Disproportionately on Women]

Add to that, there’s still the uncertainty of return-to-work plans – my office has announced a summer return date with “some flexibility built-in.” Naturally, my mind runs wild with a secret algorithm that’s too complex even for Google to solve:

Hey Siri, find me a list of certified daycares within five miles of my home, or my work, or my husband’s work, offering drop-off as early as 7:00 AM and pick-up later than 5:30 PM, that can accommodate both a one-year old and five-year old, that’s within my budget.

The variables are endless. As a parent that’s had to pivot no fewer than ten times in the last year in terms of childcare, it seems too much ambiguity to handle. So, onward we migrate to and to our mom-led Facebook groups to crowdsource ideas for mixed-age kids that won’t eat our entire paycheck for lunch.

As my mind races to organize the future, I’ve also launched a side project to explore how this past year has changed working mothers. I ask them how the pandemic has altered their perspective on their work and in their life, and what positive habits they’ve implemented to give themselves even the tiniest bit of relief.

Originally, I thought the interview themes would tell me what to do next, to right the wrongs. What has surprised me is that the real power has come in helping other women simply reflect.

[Related: Give Grace During the Time of COVID-19]

So as the world starts to open up, I want to encourage you to set some time aside to start to process this past year. Bust out a journal, or phone a friend, to answer these important questions.

How have your priorities shifted? What do you want to DO about that? How has your perspective changed in the past year? What changes might you consider to bring yourself into better alignment? And finally, what are the small and large things you’ve done for yourself that have felt restorative?

These are priceless pieces of information about what practical self-care practices might work for YOU. They are the types of activities you’ll want to lean into more consistently as the world reopens.

Finally, I want to point out something obvious but that we often tend to forget. No one is going to offer us the time we need to recover from this year of burnout (unless you work for LinkedIn, who I’m in awe of right now). It’s permission we have to give ourselves.

It’s up to each one of us to draw boundaries where we can, find small, consistent ways to restore ourselves, and give ourselves permission to walk a little slower and rest more. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been able to look five inches beyond my face during this global calamity. I know that inequality has been exposed, and I know that I need to advocate for changes to our broken systems. But we “can’t pour from a cup that’s empty.”

So first, we have to rest and reflect. And then, let’s commit to rebuilding in a way that’s more sustainable, whatever that might mean to you. We’re going to need your precious energy as we reshape the landscape for women juggling careers and childcare.

[Related: The Highs and Lows of the COVID-19 Pandemic for Working Parents, and the Implications for the Future of Work]


Leigh Sauter is the Senior Director of Marketing and Customer Advocacy at Tucker Company Worldwide, where she excels at enabling communication, collaboration, and strategy execution across the organization. She's passionate about supporting women in the workplace, especially those navigating their career ambitions while raising kids.

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