Leading & Parenting in Crisis-Based Times

Coralee Pringle-Nelson, M.Ed., R. Psych-SK Psychologist. 360 Workplace Solutions Ltd. Previously published on Lexology.

There’s no blueprint for ‘leading at home while working,’ or, ‘leading at work while home-ing.’

We are becoming a new kind of people. In the age of COVID, however, the marriage of leadership and parenting can be vexing.

For instance, one of the most unquestioned concepts in the quasi-leadership and parenting fields is work-life-balance. From a superficial standpoint, this concept is logical. Imagine one’s feet straddling a teeter-totter, shifting between family and work. One day, your foot slips a little to the left, with the family taking precedence; the next day you teeter right and stay late at work to address the unbalance. But this concept of work-life-balance rarely describes the emotional toll of wobbling between two vitally important realities.

These days the emotional toll is higher. The duality of work-and-home-life during COVID can feel like being dragged behind a horse with one foot caught in the stirrup. You experience every topical bump and depression. 

The worst part is feeling totally alone behind that horse. We experience emotions associated with the isolation, fear and pressure of no longer reaching that elusive bar of being both a stellar leader at home and at work. This separation can be hard on our nervous systems, our self-concept and our hope for the future. We’re having relatable, but not shared experiences — because we’re not doing it together. 

A second historically-used leadership concept is developing routines and habits to attain goals. For parents, school attendance has always been an unquestioned routine that meets the goals of child development, and in exchange, you achieve your goals at work. This essential structure was initiated during the industrial revolution and has gone unchallenged, until now. On the surface, the routine is rational and works well when pivotal structures are in place. Structures like schools, sports and leisure, childcare and the physical workplace allow the dance to occur. Under the spell of COVID, however, these structures are upended and considerable emotional energy is needed to right the home ship.

As a fellow-sojourner on this uncharted path, I humbly offer some solutions for better lives at work given that some modern leadership concepts may no longer apply to our reality: 

1.    Don’t be burdened by platitudes that don’t work for you. If your work-life-balance is laughable, then lower the bar. If you can’t currently develop a routine, avoid gutting yourself with unrealistic pressure. Do your best in your daylight hours, with the people in your purview (small or large) and the tasks on your desk (or kitchen table). Despite the physical separation, we are in this together and feelings of overwhelm are being felt across the leadership globe. Breathe. It’s our new normal.

2.    Accept the unpleasant emotions you feel without giving into their behavioral manifestation. Parent-offspring-relationships can be particularly affected during unrelenting close contact; it’s easy to become reactive with the strain of numerous leadership roles. Remember you currently don’t have the full backstop of structural supports. Acknowledge with self-compassion and humility that this pandemic-world is not yet figured out, and no one is really the expert right now.

3.    Embrace any meaning that arises during your experience. Viktor Frankl stated in Man’s Search for Meaning, “a man who knows the why for his existence will be able to bear almost any how.” We are in a defining moment of existential import; unearthing ‘meaning-making’ can unlock the capacity to live in the present and function with daily intention despite altered structures and social connectivity. 

4.    Reach out for professional support if you’re feeling stretched. You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental health condition to be triggered by current anxieties. Here, another statement by Frankl rings true, “an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” You may never have sought counseling support before, but given the circumstances, you might find an emotional weight is lifted. Mercifully, communities are enhancing telehealth services offered by licensed helping professionals. Encrypted and secure online platforms exist to connect you with service providers.

5.    While these are serious times, because we’re human, we can excavate humour in the mundane, bizarre and unexpected. The ability to experience amusement despite our situations can assist us through this tumult. For example, last night I asked my son to change into his pajamas and soon realized he had never taken them off during the entire day. When these moments of hilarity come, don’t suppress them. Welcome and amplify them. Let your endorphins soothe and nurture you. 

In sum, when leading and parenting during these crisis-based times, remember, you are fundamentally human, and you will weather this tempest. It’s what leaders have done throughout the ages through every conceivable human crisis and tragedy. We were built to innovate and overcome.

Coralee Pringle-Nelson, M.Ed., is a registered psychologist in Saskatchewan with a special interest in supporting agencies and organizations who face distressing events. Coralee leads 360 Workplace Solution’s Distressful Event Response which can help leaders to maintain team and organizational equilibrium during and post crisis. 

Confidential consultations are available.Contact 360 Workplace Solutions Ltd.