Parenting in shifts has been our coping strategy during quarantine

My partner and I take turns in taking care of our kids, and it's taught me even more about parenting in the long term.

Mom and child sit on bed playing

A few weeks into quarantine, my husband and I, parents to four kids under 8 (and a puppy) realized we were both on the brink of serious burnout.

Like so many families, we were attempting to work under increasingly stressful conditions, while also watching kids, homeschooling them, keeping the house at least somewhat-organized, and attempting to not let our anxiety about the pandemic spiral out of control.

We were both running as hard as we could and, with no end in sight, we decided something had to change.

"What if we had parenting shifts?" I asked. "One parent is completely in charge while the other is off and then we switch?"


My husband—who spent a decade in the military servicing as a Naval Officer—immediately recognized this concept as what is known as a "watch." Basically, for a 24 hour period, a person stands an intense, but limited, shift as the person in charge. They then get (ideally) the same amount of downtime while another person stands watch.

Genius, I thought.

And so we immediately implemented a family 'watch' rotation.

Parenting in shifts works like this in our house: We're so grateful to have an au pair (our hero!) who watches the kids between 9-5 while we work, and then one parent is designated as 'in charge' for that evening, including bedtime routine and then childcare, breakfast and set up the next morning. The "off" parent is responsible for dishes, kitchen cleanup and light organization, but not for any childcare duties for a whole 24 hours. And then, like clockwork, we switch lead-parenting when the next post-work/ bedtime shift comes around.

If a child goes to the 'off' parent to negotiate for screentime, or ask for a snack, or inquire with puzzling preschool questions like, "where do marshmallows come from?" that parent can choose to (gently) say, "Oh, I'm not in charge right now. Can you go to daddy/ mommy for that question?"

Of course, the 'off' parent is always free to decide that they want to eat family dinner together or snuggle up for story time even if they're 'off' that night. But the general concept remains.

Shift parenting is a quarantine survival mechanism for our family, but it's also taught me even more about parenting in the long term.

In the past, before we invented this shift parenting approach, I would get to the point of absolute #momlife burnout before I could even consider asking my husband if I could spend a few hours, a day, or a weekend alone. This is what burnout looked like for me, even before COVID-19: A Saturday afternoon after a demanding work week. The house is a disaster even though it was spotless Friday night. The chattering sound of "mom mom mom mom mom" nonstop. And the urge to run to the nearest dark, quiet room and lock the door. (It just can't be me.)

As for my husband, he would get to the point of total irritability before I would criticize him for not knowing how to advocate for himself—not my proudest marriage moments.

In the past, asking my husband for a break from parenting felt like a cop-out, like I wasn't mom enough. It felt unfair to ask him for time 'off' when that meant that he'd be the one 'on'—I guess I believed I didn't actually deserve time to myself, or that a "good mom" is one who is always available to her family's needs in every single way. And while I wanted my husband to also get time for himself, I often felt too burned out to suggest time for him to rest.

And that's where the long-term magic of "shift parenting" comes in.

What I've discovered in the months since we started "shift parenting" is that each of us deserves to have regular time to ourselves without guilt, without needing to negotiate, and without needing to ask for it. Having regular 'on' and 'off' times allows us to deeply and intentionally connect with our kids when we are 'on,' and enjoy guilt-free time for ourselves when we are 'off'. It's a cadence of partnership and separation that we have never had in our family before, and it's one that has freed our marriage of any sense of resentment, inequality or burnout. We both deserve breaks and having them planned into our ongoing schedule has made parenting seem more sustainable.

I now know just how important self-care in the form of alone time is beyond just giving lip service to the concept—I'm living the resilience that comes with regularly having your needs met, and also knowing that your partner has what they need as well.

The split shift has totally shifted our perspective on parenting. If you have a partner, a village, a mom BFF or a care squad, I hope you can imagine new ways of building routine and ongoing time for yourself into your new normal, too.

[Editor's note: This is a personal essay from one mother's point of view. We understand, appreciate and are committed to sharing family's experiences in all forms, especially during this difficult time. We acknowledge that there are varying levels of privilege that are detailed in these stories—we're dedicated to highlighting a wide range of these experiences.]

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Tenth & Pine: Gender-neutral and butter-soft basics for littles + bigs

In 2016, after a stage four endometriosis diagnosis and a 10 year battle with infertility, Tenth & Pine founder Kerynn got her miracle baby, Ezra Jade. As a SAHM with a Masters in Business, she wanted to create a brand that focused on premium quality, function, comfort, and simplicity.

She sought out premium, all natural fabrics and factories that shared her core values, practicing environmentally friendly manufacturing methods with fair and safe working conditions for employees. As a result, her made in the USA, gender-neutral designs check all the boxes. The sustainable, organic basics are perfect for everyday wear, family photos and any adventure in between.

Lucy Lue Organics: Sustainably and ethically-produced modern baby clothes

This family-owned and operated business was started by a mama who wanted out of corporate America after the birth of her son. Thoughtfully designed to mix-and-match, Lucy Lue's sustainably and ethically produced collection of modern organic baby clothes only uses fabrics that are "environmentally friendly from seed to seam." Their gorgeous, earthy tones and comfy, minimalist styles make the perfect addition to first wardrobes from birth through the first years.

Sontakey: Simple bracelets that speak your mind

Sontakey has been such a hit in the Motherly Shop that we knew it was time to expand the line. And since these beautiful mantra bands look so stunning stacked, more options = more fun.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less