closedImagine yourself on a day when your childcare or school is closed, but you still have some work you need to get done.  I’ve been there an uncountable number of times over the past decade.  And I’ll admit that figuring out how to navigate the “closed” day with as little guilt as possible still remains an ongoing challenge.  I can be doing an activity with my kids, feeling like I really should be working on that legal memo.  Or I could be trying to get through a work project, feeling like I really should be playing with my kiddos.  I’m sure you know the feeling well.

Today, I’m not talking about situations where things abruptly go awry.  (Yes, those happen too, of course!)  I wrote about managing the logistics and feelings of those unpredictable childcare loss days in an earlier post entitled Kid Sick Days + Working Parents = A Juggling Act Extraordinaire.

Instead, I’m here today writing this at the beginning of my kids’ spring break, to consider what can be most helpful when we know in advance that we won’t have childcare.  This could be a parent-teacher conference day at school, the childcare provider professional development week, or simply a regular old weekend.  A day when you know that you won’t have your regular childcare plan to rely on, but you’ll still have work to do.

I’ve got two ideas to share with you when we have these “closed” days, that have helped me not just with the logistics of these days, but more importantly, with my head space.

Forget the All-or-Nothing Approach

First, I find it helpful to move away from binary thinking.  You know, the kind of thinking where you only have two options.  Here, you might tell yourself: I could work, or I could be with my kids.  Then, when you choose one or the other, you’re feeling the constant pull toward the option not chosen.

Instead, remind yourself that while you can’t be present for both work and kids at the same time, you can indeed be present for both work and kids on the same day.  Here’s an example.  My kids had their last day of school yesterday before their week-long spring break.  I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon, as the break week is about to start.  My husband and I talked about the fact that there’s work I need to finish before we head out of town tomorrow.  So I’m carving out time this afternoon to get it done.  Yes, this means I’m going to miss my son’s soccer game later today.  And yes, it also means I’ll be able to be fully focused on him and present for the next few days when we’re away.

For the spring break week, we also decided to go away Sunday – Wednesday rather than the whole week.  Sure, we could spend a longer time somewhere, but this number of days feels manageable for our family right now.  My intention, goal, and out-of-office message will allow me to set a boundary around the time we are away.  To be fully present with my family and with the friends we’re going to see.  And then we’ll have a few days to catch up on things upon our return.

Note: I do believe that we need (and by “need” I mean require for our health and survival) longer stretches of time in which we truly unplug.  I’m most certainly not advocating “chopping up” every vacation.  There are absolutely times when splitting our days or weeks between family and work make sense, though.  There’s no need to beat ourselves up with the narrative that it has to be all one or all the other.


Seek Clarity When Childcare is Closed

A second strategy that has helped me is to seek clarity and conversation around those work versus family times and actually schedule them.  Let’s use a weekend example.  It’s a time when childcare is closed, and it happens every week.  Pretend it’s Thursday, and you know you’ve got a big project looming that’s due on Monday.  What do you do?

One option, if you parent with a partner, is to simply declare that you “have to work this weekend,” tell everyone you are completely unavailable, and hole yourself up in your office as long as possible.  Another option is to say nothing about your work commitment (or grumble loudly about it), but continue on with normal weekend plans while feeling ridiculously anxious while you’re with your family.  Then sneak away in little pockets to do the project…or stay up all night.

A healthier option, though, can be stating out loud the challenge you’re facing.  Turning to your partner and village.  And making thoughtful plans.  Perhaps after a few conversations with the affected parties, you’ll decide to skip movie night, tell your family to enjoy a film they wouldn’t watch with you there, and get some work done.  Or maybe you decide to recruit a parent helper for an afternoon.  Or finagle a play date.

An advantage of the “seeking clarity” approach is that you don’t have to stew, try to do it all at the same time, and try to manage the situation yourself.  Research the local “school’s out camps” that are open on the days your area schools are closed, so you can turn to them when you need them.  Build out your babysitter bench (and make it a deep one!), so that you have people to turn to when you need extra support.  Plan for strategic kid screen time during certain hours.  It’s all good.

Finally, remind yourself that it’s normal to devote yourself fully to work sometimes.  And it’s normal to devote yourself fully to family sometimes.  And that yes, both things can in fact happen on the same day.


Back to Work After Baby

Want more practical tips on working parenthood?  Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave

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