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Self-employment and parenting during COVID: Dealing with guilt.

Juggling homeschooling and self-employment during the lockdown comes with emotional challenges on top of practical ones.

The 20/21 Winter COVID Lockdown comes with school closures, adding to the already long list of challenges the self-employed are facing during the pandemic, such as not having the option of furlough or lack of governmental support.

Sarah Hesz, co-founder of Bubble explains:

"Whilst employers are beginning to realise the support that working parents require, there is no such safety net for freelancers. Even the fact that non-registered childcare is not tax deductible demonstrates how slow the government has been in realising that childcare is a vital part of the economic infrastructure. Many self-employed parents are being forced to turn down work and step back from their careers with no guarantee of what will be there when they finally can return to the work they love."

But, even if you’ve mananged to get past the pragmatic concerns of time, concentration, attention, making more meals and snacks every day than you’ve ever done before, and an endless list of questions - one of the most common concerns for many parents who are trying to balance homeschooling with working from home is: guilt.

A feeling of guilt for not doing enough, not being able to give the kids enough time, not being able to bring the lessons to life more, not spending enough hours a day on lessons, not being able to keep them focused, not being able to do the best work, not being able to be responsive, not having time for yourself…

As if the challenges of being self-employed and homeschooling weren’t enough - giving ourselves a hard time about it too seems like additional and unfair burden to have to deal with.

We spoke to members of our community to understand their experiences of parental guilt during the pandemic.

Rachelle Denton, a freelancing parent, feels like parenting, work and guilt too often go hand in hand:

"I think in its essence juggling guilt is intertwined with the life of a working parent. There is very little guilt free work! Logically and rationally you do know you need to work to support your children, to give them a comfortable life. You may also know you're a fulfilled adult for having work, or that you are setting a good example in role modeling the reality of life and the need to work, perhaps for women it's the ability to work, or for many seeking work that is aspirational/helpful for society/valuably contributing to the world. However with our children rational doesn't matter in a moment of emotion. I do feel sore when my son asks if I can play and I say I need to work, even though my partner can be there for him. It took me a long time to acknowledge that I always felt guilty, doing childcare OR working. Each felt neglected.”

This tension comes from just how much we ask of ourselves - provider, parent, worker, friend, partner, and as Rachelle highlights, if you are always feeling guilty, no matter which task you’re focusing on, it’s clear that we’re being unfairly hard on ourselves.

When reading resources on the topic of dealing with guilt - almost every single article writes about making peace with the mistake before being able to move on, acceptance of the error, and then progressing forward.

But none of this advice works here: we haven’t done anything wrong.

These feelings of guilt aren’t coming from a mistake we’ve made or something that’s our fault, we haven’t done something bad that is deserving of these emotions, but rather a set of challenging circumstances outside of our control. What is being asked of parents is more than impossible.

That you’re feeling guilty for not being able to do more rather speaks to how well you’re doing at parenting - if you're worrying about your children’s education or the impact it is having on their development and mental health and making you feel a little sick in the stomach, that is an entirely normal and healthy reaction to the situation we’re in right now.

Research into guilt and parenting even suggests that guilt might have some positive aspects - it may serve to reduce impulsive actions, it requires empathy of us and to see something from an external perspective. Feeling guilty fundamentally shows that we care, and it’s causing us pain - which it is.

Mat Aldao, another member of the Leapers community explains how he copes with the feelings:

"I deal with guilt in the sense that most kids didn’t spent much time with their parents, specially with parents that have perm jobs (wife worked 9-5 everyday before the pandemic) so happy that we get to have lunch everyday the 3 of us. Also that we’ve really learnt how to play with our kid and understanding (hopefully) in most cases what does it take for a kid to really have fun, paint, discover daily objects in heuristic games.”

This type of shift in perspective helps us see the situation from a different point of view - to see positives in challenges, or simply to be kinder when reflecting upon the situation - the sort of advice you’d give to a friend tends to be fair gentler than the voice we speak to ourselves with. It can help with the pain.

Rhiannon James has been able to send her daughter to school - which comes with its own emotions:

"My daughter has been able to go to school since Christmas as I qualify as a critical worker. This has made such a difference to both our mental well-being as well as practically allowing me to work - with no other adult around, it would just not be possible to try and work as well as maintain focus on what a four-year-old is doing. I was worried about the risk of exposure to my daughter in school and didn’t really know the best thing to do. I think this time I have attempted to feel less guilty about the things I cannot do. We are only human and it is not realistic to be fully present in either role when homeschooling and working.”

This acceptance of circumstance, whatever your approach has been - whether to manage homeschooling, to send children to school, or to look towards childcare and support bubbles - feels closer to the final stages of grief, which many of us are experiencing during covid, the change from one reality to another, and accepting that this is the way things must be right now, which again comes from recognising that things are not our fault, but a matter of circumstance.

The biggest risk of letting the guilt take over, however, if it makes us push ourselves too far, do too much and we end up burning out - and this ultimately prevents from being a good parent at all. Mariann Gyorke explains:

"The worst thing about feeling guilty for me is that I completely neglect myself: the guilt drives me to do more work and more childcare. So I tell myself that if I don’t take time off for me I will not be able do either, and this helps with reducing the guilt.”

If the guilt forces us to push ourselves to breaking point, our fears become true - and we cannot do the things we’re most worried about not doing well. If there’s one thing to try and remember is that giving ourselves a break, emotionally and physically, means we are able to continue being good parents - good enough. And that’s all anyone can ask of you.

With all that said - feelings of guilt still get in our way - so what are some tangible ways of dealing with the emotion?

1. Remember, you’re not guilty of anything.

Parental guilt can often be a sign of being too hard on yourself. Try to recognise how challenging our current situation is, that what you’re being asked to do is beyond normal, and feelings of guilt might actually reflect positively upon just how much you care about doing your best. It’s natural to feel like this, and is not a symptom of failure.

2. Unpick the feelings.

Spend some time writing down what aspects of the experience are making you feel guilty, try and make a list of discrete parts of the feeling. Once you have the elements of the guilt, identify which are within your control and which are not - this can help with reaching some acceptance some of the current situation.

If there are aspects of the experience which you feel are in your control - what would an improvement look like for you? Is there something which would make the guilt go away, or even if you changed things, do you think the guilt might feel the same? It may be that actually you can tackle some aspects of the feelings individually.

3. Pivot your perspective.

For each of the aspects of where you’re feeling guilty - is there another point of view you can take or look at the challenge from? As with Mat’s example - he’s seeing this as an opportunity to spend more time with his children, even if it means less productivity for both child and parent. What advice would you give a friend if they were feeling this, or struggling with different aspects? You can even go as far as writing a letter to yourself, from an outside perspective - as if you were writing to someone else. How would you gently encourage them to be kinder to themselves?

4. Find your “good enough”.

No-one needs to be a super parent at any times, yet alone now - but often, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than whatever the situation allows. No matter how amazing we might be doing, there’s always ‘more’ we could be doing - which means you never feel good enough. Try setting a ‘good enough’ baseline, so you can at the very least have a threshold where you can give yourself a break - and be reasonable. If you wouldnt ask someone else to hit the same standards, moderate your own level of expectation. Good enough changes as the context does - and right now, it needs to be in the context of everything else which is happening.

5. Feeling supported is not failing.

If you have access to support, whether it be a support bubble, childcare, a partner or someone locally within covid safe practices, taking up the opportunity is not failure - but a critical part of doing what's needed. Taking a job to feel secure, taking furlough during employment, sending kids to school if you're a keyworker, finding a childminder so you can focus, or even reducing your hours, is not giving up or giving in - but rather is helping you to do a good job as a parent.

6. Put your mask on before helping others.

Most importantly - looking after yourself means you're more able to look after others. This isn't just physical rest, but emotional rest for yourself. Giving yourself a break by being gentler when setting your own levels of expectation. When you feel more accepting of the fantastic job you're already doing, it starts to feel more like you're doing a fantastic job.

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Huge thanks to the members of #littleleapers for sharing their experiences of parenting and self-employment. Join the conversation.

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Parenting and Freelancing during COVID

COVID is challenging enough for the self-employed, but those of us who are also parents are facing a unique set of challenges. We've been collecting a range of resources and articles to support self-employed parents during lockdown.

Browse More

Resources

A handful of useful resources for self-employed parents.

Bubble
a platform which offers childcare and flexes around parents' needs - which is great for the irregular schedules of freelancers.
Doing it for the Kids
amazing community of freelance parents supporting each other
The Freelance Parent
regular newsletter and community group focused on self-employed parents
Frolo
single parenting community, with focus on emotional well-being and connection
Action for Children
coaching and support line for parents who want to talk to a professional
Gingerbread
charity supporting single parents

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