Over the past few weeks, we’ve hosted a few online sharing sessions with parents who are trying to balance childcare with working from home. Over a dozen parents living in Japan, mostly with younger children (1-9 year olds), shared with us their experiences of building new work schedules, communication tactics and homeschooling routines.
As Japan’s schools continue to remain closed for the next month, we wanted to share some of these parents’ thoughts & insights, in hopes that it might help others in a similar situation.
Routine, scheduling & focus time
One of the biggest problems all of the parents we talked to faced was the problem of creating a routine that allows them to support their kids, but also allows for focus time to do their own work.
Creating routine for homeschooling
Many of the parents we talked to felt the difficulty of maintaining curriculum for their children at home. And while many schools have given homework, parents have to exercise a new kind of authority to make sure their kids get work done. The uncertainty about when schools will reopen was an additional source of anxiety, as short-term solutions and long-term solutions require a different amount of upfront investment.
Many parents are using Khan Academy and other ad hoc online resources for now, but as the state of emergency extends in Japan, they are preparing now to build more sustainable longer-term solutions.
- Children seem to learn better in groups With peer pressure from other kids and a more structured learning environment, it’s easier to set expectations about behavior. Some of the parents want to try to begin doing shared lessons over Zoom with other children, so parents can take turns teaching their kids.
- Create routine/ritual around study For a more structured environment around learning, some parents suggested creating a dedicated place and time for study if possible. Additionally, it might also be helpful to create a ritual around study, for example, standing and bowing before class, to indicate that specific rules should be followed during this time.
Maintaining boundaries for focused work time
Many parents actually realized during these conversations that some of their biggest challenges stem from trying to rebuild structures and routines from scratch--and they're still in the midst of adjusting and learning. On top of increased amounts of housework, and time required for childcare, parents are also finding it difficult to maintain boundaries for focused work time.
A few of the moms we spoke with, especially those with younger children, had more trouble working from home as their children tended to go to them by default instead of their dads. Some have had to leave their homes to go work from a nearby cafe for short periods of time to get their focus time.
Parents shared with us some of the systems that have helped them.
- External visual systems that are easier for kids to understand Many parents have said that it’s easier to say no to their children, if there’s something else they can point to that isn’t just their own voice. For example, one of our parents shared that she creates a large pie chart of the day’s schedule, with red parts indicating quiet work time, and green parts indicating play time. When her 5-year-old daughter comes to her asking to play with her or do an activity, she can point to the chart and ask them “What does the chart say?”. She said that she also tried to “respect her child as a co-worker” so when the chart said it was time, she also gave her child 100% of her attention.Another parent implements a point system for her five-year-old son, so that after he has done enough “big boy” tasks (such as quiet study time), he receives points that he can use for fun treats like watching a video.
- Create routines around essentials like meal-times & nap-time While many pieces of parents’ schedules move around a lot and are difficult to plan around, meal-times and nap-times remain relatively stable and immovable, especially for parents with younger children. These pillars can be important, dependable markers that can be used to build routine. A few parents we heard from had split childcare responsibilities between parents into morning & afternoon shifts. Another parent counts on nap-time as the one hour every day when she can get some work done.
Overcoming guilt: sharing tasks & communication with partners
Many participants felt a lot of pressure to be better parents during this time.
Many of the women who participated expressed feeling “mom guilt” about not being able to do everything--and this pressure to always be doing more makes it feel even more difficult to ask for help with household tasks.
Some of the parents we talked to who were working on new small businesses and startups felt guilty that they weren’t contributing as much financially to their households, so it was difficult to ask for support in making time for their entrepreneurial endeavors.
One of the dads we spoke to expressed his concern that an imbalance in household chores might be amplified in Japan, which has a more male-dominated work culture. This is especially true for parents with younger children, as women tend to shoulder a larger percent of the burden with breastfeeding and sleep schedules. His own child is 9-months-old and doesn’t sleep through the night, so he tries to actively take on childcare duties for the morning, so that his wife can rest.
As schools and some daycares close, parents have to work together to make tough decisions on how to divide the extra unpaid labor of childcare. More than ever, many of the women we spoke with expressed the need for supportive and proactive partners.
- Scheduled childcare or scheduled communication Parents who were most successful were using one of two systems: A regular schedule for splitting childcare (ie. mom gets 7-11am and dad gets 1-5pm) or a regular schedule for communication. A regular schedule oftentimes worked better for parents whose schedules were regularly changing due to their work shifts. One parent mentions that she and her partner regularly meet every morning to talk about their meetings for the day and makes sure they have a plan for their child’s activities during the times when they both have meetings. Another mentions that they meet on a weekly basis to look at their schedules for the next week and see what kind of schedule they can create based on the upcoming week.
- Lowering our own expectations of ourselves Many parents expressed that it has helped to hold themselves to more realistic standards. One of the parents mentioned that she had been working from home for almost 2 years and it’s taken about that long to feel comfortable and fully adjusted to it. Whether it’s the amount of screen-time they want to allow their children, the quality of the meals they’re making, or the amount of productivity they can accomplish throughout the day, it’s been important to accept that this is an unprecedented situation and to decrease the amount of pressure we put on ourselves.
Despite the difficulties many parents are facing, we were inspired to hear parents also expressing optimism and gratefulness. One dad expressed gratitude for more time with his kids, being able to realize small things like how they’re struggling with holding their pencils or chopsticks. He hopes that this can be an opportunity for him to step up more, as a parent and a partner.
Each parent is adjusting to different aspects of their changing work environments. Everyone is experiencing new challenges, at times feel overwhelming responsibility and wonder whether or not we’re doing it “right’. But we hope we can continue to share vulnerably to know that we’re not alone in this truly extraordinary circumstance, and in doing so, shape new social norms where we can make better choices for our families and for ourselves.