These are trying times. For nearly a year, many working parents have been jumping from parenting to work and back within a moment — working from home and living at work. As a result, their lives remain stuck and misaligned with their values. The author suggest that working parents should take time to revisit their values, which may have shifted during the pandemic. So, take some time to clarify what you care about now; think about changing your habits and routines to match these values; and talk to friends, family, and co-workers about your new sense of self.
You might be like many of the working parents we know who are wondering what to do because their values and priorities have shifted over the past year even as their lives remain stuck in an endless cycle of old routines, exhaustion, and guilt, and misaligned with what matters most. If you feel this way, you’re not alone.
Over the last nine months, after publishing our book Parents Who Lead, we’ve been deeply engaged with working parents as they cultivate a new sense of themselves. We’ve found that, even within the significant constraints that come with being a working parent in a global pandemic, parents can gain a greater sense of control and get closer to being the fathers and mothers they want to be.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, of course. Every family is different, and every one of us is shaped by our own families of origin and life trajectories, as well as the varying degrees of security and support we each have in our current situations. But it’s possible to make sound choices now — especially in light of all that’s different — if you dig in, and, with compassion and no small measure of courage, identify what matters.
Here we provide some concrete steps you can take, based on our decades of research and practice helping people create lives that align with their values, in the context of the pandemic. We recognize there are significant constraints on our lives over which we have no control. (For instance, you may not have a choice about whether your children are in remote school or not.) Nonetheless, there are opportunities to create greater harmony between your emergent values and what you devote your attention to every day.
Identify your values.
You may have a sense that you’ve changed since the pandemic began, but it’s hard to act intelligently on the basis of an abstract feeling. So, take some time to clarify what you care about now. We find writing these ideas is a powerful catalyst for constructive movement. Start by jotting down notes about the changes you’ve experienced. Take a break, and then revisit these notes. Aim to come up with a list of around five core values.
We’ve asked hundreds of working parents what values they want to embody now, in this pivotal and consequential moment. Many of their values are the same as those we’ve been hearing for years, but a few seem to have jumped to the top of the list.
Presence: During the pandemic, there’s no clear delineation between the different roles that we play. For many of us, work is no longer physically and chronologically separate from home and parenting. We jump from parenting to work and back within a moment — we’re working from home and living at work. It’s no surprise that it’s difficult to feel truly present and engaged in any one role when others are competing for our attention. This has highlighted, for many working parents, the importance (and difficulty) of being present in our personal relationships and in our work.
Compassion: 2020 revealed both the extent to which we are connected as a global community and the systemic inequities that persist in our society. As a result, compassion has come to the forefront as an essential value. It’s not that the working parents we talk with didn’t value compassion before, it’s simply that now they recognize that compassion — for themselves, their family members, colleagues, and community — is an essential part of living a meaningful life.
Resilience: The lack of certainty and predictability regarding what each day, week, month, or year holds for us has helped many of us realize the power of prioritizing resilience. Consciously cultivating the capacity to manage ambiguity and to rebound when we face interruptions, frustrations, fear, and sadness has become a priority for many of the parents we work with — especially as they seek to lead their children through this uncertain time.
Take the four-way view.
With greater clarity about the values you’d like to embody now, it’s helpful to gain insight into how you’re currently investing your attention, perhaps your most precious asset.
Consider the four main domains of your life: your career or work, your home or family, your community (e.g., friends, neighbors, child care providers), and your private self (mind, body, and spirit). How important is each one to you? And how much of your attention are you allocating to each domain? Do you see areas where there’s a misalignment between how you invest your attention compared with what really matters most to you and the people around you? Do the things you do in each part of your life enrich you, your family, your organization, and other people around you?
Consider the habits and routines that no longer serve your current priorities. You may not be able to change all of them, but it helps to take a close look. Our research has shown that even small changes to create greater harmony can have a powerful impact.
Talk with the people who matter most.
You may feel that the changes within you are drastic, but it’s likely they will go largely unnoticed by the people around you. Others tend to assume the status quo unless told otherwise. This includes your colleagues.
While you probably shouldn’t go to your boss and announce that you no longer care about your job, you might discuss parts of your role that you’re particularly passionate about now, or opportunities to delegate some of the work that seems less meaningful. Be thoughtful and creative, recognizing that you’ll need to find ways to articulate how such changes will make things better for your boss and others around you. It’s challenging, but doable.
Similarly, talk to family members, friends, and others about your new sense of self. By opening the conversation about what matters to you most now, you’re creating an opportunity for them to challenge their assumptions about you, as well inviting them to share more about their current values, needs, and goals. Your children, for instance, may be struggling to articulate new worries, hopes, and interests that are on their mind. By taking a leadership role in these conversations, you invite others to be part of your journey of continuous growth.
Try a new way.
After all this time, it’s natural to grow weary and want to revert to our good old pre-pandemic ways. While recognizing pandemic fatigue, it’s useful to explore the possibilities for better ways to move forward. Experiment with how you allocate your attention with an eye toward feeling a greater sense of purpose. With your values as your guide, look at how you divide household chores, set aside time for self-care, support a friend in need, invest in social causes, or connect with extended family. And check in with the people around you, too. Make sure the changes you’re considering meets their needs and values.
Don’t underestimate the power of small wins. You don’t need to overhaul your entire life to move in the direction of greater harmony. As you uncover the new version of you that exists in our new reality, it’s important to be compassionate, starting with yourself. Personal change is never easy, especially when it comes within the anxiety-producing context of profound societal change. Give yourself room to reflect, experiment, fail, and fail again. And, when we finally find our way to a new normal, celebrate the work that you’ve done to grow and adapt.