“Mama, can I please have something to eat?”
My 6-year-old is not a big eater—I’m often begging him to eat—yet here he was, asking me for lunch. Glancing at the clock, I was surprised to find it was well past lunchtime. Closer to dinner, actually.
I was guilt-stricken at having just worked through lunch and forgotten to feed my son.
I’ll admit that in more normal times at my office, I would often get so dialed into work that I’d forget to eat lunch myself. It’s an unhealthy habit, I know, but it took inadvertently doing it to my son during quarantine to reflect on my choices as a mother, a colleague and a leader.
I started working from home in March when my son’s school closed for the year. Alongside the title “mom” and my new title of “teacher,” I’m also the VP of News and Programming at Newsy, an OTT and cable news network owned by The E.W. Scripps Company. The news industry has been turned upside down with COVID-19 and now Black Lives Matter protests. Viewership is up and professional reporting couldn’t be more important—because in the middle of a pandemic, reporting quality facts can literally save lives.
But I’m probably not breaking any news here when I say that parenting, entertaining and working are each their own job. Doing all three well is hard in normal times. Doing all three full-time —and well— during a time like this? Forget about it.
A lot has been written already about lowering our expectations of ourselves during this unprecedented time. But for me, the biggest takeaway of these last several weeks is the importance of making intentional choices—at work and at home.
I think about intent a lot at work. But too often at home, I was moving with a lack of intent, something quarantine’s merging of work and family life has laid especially bare. If I don’t plan when I will unplug, if I don’t choose to give my son undivided attention, I am likely to default to work.
So here’s how I hold myself accountable: I set calendar reminders three times a day to tell me to stop, eat and play with my son. I use that time with intention, putting my phone down and my computer in sleep mode—sometimes for just 15 minutes, sometimes for an hour at a time.
I was sitting with my son during one of those breaks watching him play with Legos, and I tried to apologize to him for having to be cooped up in the house without friends. He looked at me, confused.
“Mama, I love this time!”
That’s when I realized that with my focused breaks, he’s getting more quality attention from me now than he did pre-pandemic—even on the days when those three breaks are only 15 minutes each. No Pinterest-worthy crafts needed just undivided attention.
Before quarantine, my son would wake up 30 minutes before the school bus came and I’d shove food in his face, get him on the bus and pick him up from aftercare more than 10 hours later. Once home, we’d hurriedly commence the routine of dinner, bath and bedtime, often while I was still wrapping up work calls or catching one of our evening newscasts.
But these days I’m trying my best to prioritize quality over quantity of time. I put my phone down and focus on him. Sometimes it’s a quick stroll around the block, and sometimes it’s a tickle fest on the couch. I’m now a firm believer that 20 minutes of undivided attention is more impactful than two hours of harried, divided attention. For my family, it’s something I regret not realizing sooner, but also something I’ll carry forward.
Being a working parent is hard, full stop. Harder still under the conditions of the last several months. And I’m not trying to pretend that setting aside a total of 45 minutes in a workday for my son makes me the mother I want to be. Far from it. But my intent has made our time at home just a tiny bit more meaningful. And these days, I’ll call that a win.