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Should parents lower the bar while working from home?

With the growing coronavirus outbreak, millions of parents in the U.S. are being asked to work from home while also caring for their children. Balancing the two may seem like an impossible task. But one writer says that this is the perfect time for parents to change their expectations. NewsHour Weekend's Zachary Green spoke to author and parent Kimberly Harrington about lowering the parenting bar.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Juggling both work and parenting can be trying under the best of circumstances. Being a parent and suddenly working from home – with your kids studying at home, too – well, that's another story. With millions of Americans suddenly finding themselves in that position, NewsHour Weekend's Zachary Green sought some advice from writer Kimberly Harrington who has worked and parented from home for the past 11 years. Her latest piece for New York Magazine's The Cut is titled, "Now is the perfect time to lower the parenting bar."

  • Zachary Green:

    Could you just start by telling us a little bit about what it was like for you when you first started working from home?

  • Kimberly Harrington:

    The biggest mistake I made when I started working from home was trying to just replicate what it was like to work in an office. It was right at the height of the crash in 2009. And at the time my kids were three and five. So when we're you know, we're in an office, we have a structure, we're with other adults, we kind of know how things are gonna go. We don't schedule a workday depending on when everyone's in a great mood or is like really well rested or had breakfast. Really what I learned was I had to really structure—as much as possible, structure what I was doing around what were gonna be the best times of day for them, when they were gonna be rested, when they were going to have a little bit more energy or a little bit more ability to focus.

  • Zachary Green:

    So how do you balance working from home and parenting from home, especially now when—I don't know what the situation is with your kids, but I know my kid is now home every day.

  • Kimberly Harrington:

    Is there a balance is a great question. I don't, I don't think balance is possible. I don't think most parents would think balance was possible even before this happened. Sort of the gold standard of stories in our family is when I had my kids at home. And I was in a massive conference call for a Super Bowl commercial presentation. So really, professionally, one of the most important calls I've probably ever been on as a—as a writer and a creative director. And my kids at that point really knew the rule that, you know, you don't interrupt me unless someone is bleeding. And I heard at one point in this call, this massive scream from the other room and my daughter coming in with a Post-it and the Post-it read, "He's bleeding." And then I had to try to stay on the phone and walk out, look at my son, who—basically they were horsing around on the couch and he got a knee in the nose and ended up with a bloody nose. And I had to basically look at him and go, "Not bad enough." And I just backtracked down the hall and continued my call. So, oh, yeah, yeah. I've been there.

  • Zachary Green:

    So my wife is a teacher and a lot of her students' parents are writing to her with their concerns about how they're gonna be educating their kids during this time when the schools are all closed. What would you tell those parents based on your own experiences?

  • Kimberly Harrington:

    I think it's really important to realize you can't instantly be school. Even in good times before this all happened, parents in this country felt really overwhelmed. And I think what parents really need to remember is it's unrealistic to think that you're going to suddenly be able to do another job that you're not trained for. Even the teachers I know can't balance all of this. And I think what really immediately overwhelmed parents was this idea that we had to replicate a seven to eight hour school day. And, you know, I think if you get a little bit done and you're able to have the afternoon off, that's a very reasonable benchmark.

  • Zachary Green:

    Any words of advice or comfort you could give us right now as we're all sheltering in place?

  • Kimberly Harrington:

    I think the really big thing to think about, and I have to remind myself of this all the time is feeling grateful to still be making money while being at home. And that's not an option for a lot of people right now. It's—there are a lot of people on the frontlines doing pretty brave, dangerous work right now and putting themselves at risk. That's a great place to focus your gratitude and put it—it helps put it all in perspective, I think.

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