With seemingly no end to the COVID-19 outbreak in sight, many companies are continuing to operate remotely this 2021. This set-up is particularly difficult for employees with children — parenting and working are hard enough on their own, but now many have to do them in tandem. And according to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it is women who are shouldering the additional load of juggling work responsibilities, distance learning, and family life on a daily basis. This can make working mothers more susceptible to physical ailments as well as mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress.
“It’s important to support a work-from-home (WFH) mom’s mental health because studies have shown that a parent’s mental well-being directly influences a child’s mental wellness,” points out Mia Domingo (@theparentinprogress), a psychologist and organizational development consultant. Past research tells us that children exposed to parental stress, anxiety, and depression are more likely to experience mental health problems themselves, in addition to developing an increased risk of learning and behavior problems. So by helping parents now, we can protect children’s futures.
In addition, it will be harder for a person with a mental health concern to be happy and reach their full potential, whether it’s as a parent, a partner, or an employee. “Work performance is affected by three things: ability, motivation and environment,” says Mia. “So if an employee has a mental health concern, that can already impact their ability and motivation to perform.”
If you are a friend, loved one, team member, or manager of a WFH mother, Mia suggests the following ways you can support their mental health during this challenging time in their lives:
For friends and loved ones:
- Let them know that you are there for them. Check up on your mom-friends regularly. “Ask them simply, ‘How are you? What can I do to help? I’m here for you.’ Then, actually follow through if they request something,” suggests Mia.
- Anticipate their needs. “WFH moms are so busy trying to get everything done that they don’t think about themselves or what they need,” says Mia. “Sending them meals they can just reheat will be a big help to them because it takes cooking out of their list of responsibilities for the day. If their family is part of your quarantine bubble, offer to take care of the kids so that they have time to catch a break or run errands.”
- Avoid mom-shaming. This means bullying (sometimes inadvertently) other moms for their parenting choices in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) aggressions sprinkled into conversations. Specifically, we should not shame a working mom for ordering takeout because she is too busy working-homeschooling to cook, or parking her child in front of the tv so that she can focus on her virtual meeting.
“Instead of giving advice, I wish we complimented parents more.”Mia Domingo @theparentinprogress
“We think we are giving unsolicited advice, but it’s actually coming off as a criticism rather than something constructive,” says Mia. “Instead of giving advice, I wish we complimented parents more. Parents are already so hard on themselves and balancing so many different roles– the last thing they’ll want to hear (or respond positively to) is how badly they’re doing.” She suggests we do these instead:
When you message your parent-friends, include some words about what a great job they’re doing and how happy or loved their kids look.
Empathize. If a friend confesses that she is feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or tired from all her WFH responsibilities, don’t say “Of course it’s hard, you’re doing this instead of that.” Instead, say, “That must be really hard, I’m here if you want to talk,” or “What support can I give you?”
If you really feel that your advice will help, use “I” statements i.e. “This is what worked for my family, it might help you” instead of “Why aren’t you doing it this way?”
For managers and work colleagues
4. Acknowledge their efforts and give feedback. “Ask how they are from time to time,” advises Mia. “It would also be helpful if you can give feedback on their performance, especially when they do well, to boost morale. And if there are performance issues, discuss those with them right away and work together to find solutions.”
5. If possible, offer a more flexible work schedule to give your employee time for homeschooling and other family responsibilities.
6. Respect work-life boundaries. “Make sure your employee takes their full lunch break, and be mindful that they end their work on a reasonable time. And even if they are working from home, let them rest on weekends and continue to offer vacation leave benefits,” says Mia.
7. Regularly communicate what mental health benefits or resources are available to them, such as employee assistance programs or wellness programs.
If you think that a loved one or colleague is feeling stressed or overwhelmed and you’re not sure what else you can do to help, encourage them to reach out to MindNation psychologists thru bit.ly/mn-chat.