Being ‘Mr. Mom’: Perspectives from the Counselor’s Couch

A man taking to a therapist.
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“My brain is like oatmeal. I yelled at Kenny for coloring outside the lines! Megan and I are starting to watch the same TV shows. I’m liking them. I’m losing it!” Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom

There was a time before my twin boys were born I dreamt of being a stay-at-home dad. Long were the days when I wanted to quit my job and be like Eddie Murphy in the movie Daddy Day Care. I just wanted to be with my boys, go for a jog as I push their stroller, and visit theme parks and take selfies with the boys and the famous mouse from down the street. My wife said I wouldn’t last two months, much less one day as a stay-a-home dad. These boys required a lot of attention. I thought all little munchkins did was sleep. No one said anything about the nonstop crying. Fast forward to almost three years later, and daddy day care has a new name…Mr. Mom!

For over a month, the new norm in my house consists of my wife teleworking full-time, with limited breaks, from a corner office we created in our bedroom. Meanwhile, I began my second job as Mr. Mom (not to be confused with Michael Keaton), while finding gaps during the day and evening to do my other work. Who would have imagined in the year 2020 a pandemic would cause the country to shut down and force many Americans to be furloughed or work from home? Many are suddenly confronted with the challenge of juggling other responsibilities like caring for their children, helping with their schoolwork, and doing other house chores.

Many pieces have to come together for telework to function, and lots of companies and experts are sharing ways to be productive. Based on the research I’ve compiled, I have narrowed it down to four important components needed to be productive while working from home: 1) creating a structured daily routine, 2) setting rules and boundaries for telework, 3) having more social connection and less isolation, and 4) managing overall health and well-being.

Creating a Structured Daily Routine 

So what does being structured mean to you? If you’re a planner like me and like to check off boxes, then having an agenda, to do list, and setting a work routine at home are vital to making this work. Treat working from home as another day at the office. You wake up and start a routine before starting your workday.

What does your morning routine look like? If you experience chronic anxiety and are looking for a holistic approach to alleviate their daily worries of today’s unknown challenges, I challenge you to incorporate a guided imagery exercise daily that combines deep breathing exercises while visualizing a place i.e. the beach, forest, or a mountain top and play soothing sounds of nature. As you practice mindfulness, focus on your breathing as you inhale and release. You can also do it with someone else, even if it’s virtual. Some also combine prayer with deep breathing exercises into their daily morning routine. Studies have shown that incorporating breathing exercises and mindfulness helps concentration, lowers heart rate, and lowers blood pressure.

Also, create a schedule that mirrors a typical day at the office. Your work schedule may be from 8 am to 5 pm, with two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch. Be sure to have a similar schedule, and allow time for walks and stretching. You may be tempted to start later, so challenge yourself to stick to the same routine each day. Be sure to share your routine with your loved ones.

If you have kids, consider modeling a structured schedule for them as well. My wife and I enforced a strict 1 to 3 pm “nap time” that mirrors the boys’ normal school schedule. Even if they don’t sleep, they know they can play while I can get other things done like sneak in some work.

Consider breaking the day into blocked segments. Our boys are highly stimulated and need to do something different every moment of the day. There’s a block for using their fine motor skills in which we create objects with play dough or draw pictures. Another block is dedicated to physical activity. We invested in a bounce house and inflatable pool to get their wiggles out. Before the workday begins for my wife and I, we try to go for a long walk with the boys. Throughout the day we read to them their favorite books, sometimes twice, thrice, or twenty times. It’s a bit redundant, but at least they’re practicing skills like memorization, recalling, and reading comprehension. These are some examples on how to model structured routines to your children.

Setting Rules and Boundaries for Telework 

Along with a daily routine, it’s also important to set rules and boundaries for teleworking. Communicate your rules and boundaries with friends and loved ones. It demonstrates you took time to share the blueprint for teleworking. Keep in mind that telework isn’t for everyone. It requires discipline and being mindful that just because you’re home and free to roam around and change your schedule, setting boundaries for yourself is also necessary.

A boundary for yourself might be to refrain from working in your bedroom. If the bedroom is the only space you can work, then avoid your bed as a workspace, as you can get into the habit of taking naps. Perhaps the living room is the only place to work. The couch is just as enticing as the bed. Plus, there’s a TV set in front of you with your favorite shows just a press of a button away. Right across from the living room is the kitchen, which gives you access to the refrigerator and the pantry filled with junk food. The kitchen has not been a healthy friend for me and telework. If I’m not digging in the pantry, I’m taking orders from my boys as they insist on more of the same snack over and over while playing Toy Story 4 on TV for the fifth time today. (Speaking of rules to follow…) Do you get my point? It’s easy to fall into this habit if rules and boundaries for loved ones and yourself aren’t implemented.

Another important key to note is protecting your time outside of work hours. Honor your hard day at work by enjoying time with those you live with, cook a new meal, going for a walk and enjoying the amazing evening weather. A healthy home boundary is leaving your work in your designated space. It will be there when you return tomorrow.  

More Social Connection, Less Isolation 

Many times, when I’ve worked from home or studied for a major exam, I’ve made the mistake of isolating myself all day, without taking breaks or communing with loved ones or the outside world. I assumed the more I worked or studied, the more I could complete, but I noticed the more isolated I became, the less likely I could recall information, and the more irritable and depressed I became. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD., a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University found as part of a meta-analysis that health risks increase due to a lack of social connection, and that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. Significant evidence also showed that loneliness and social isolation lead to premature death.

The bottom line is even though we’re living in a time of social distancing, that doesn’t mean we should stop connection with our community. I’m encouraged about how people are finding ways to stay connected via virtual platforms. Now more than ever, we’re seeing innovative options like virtual classes for cooking, art, and working out, along with virtual games where friends and family can play from different parts of the country. Churches are having virtual worship services and Bible studies. With more companies having virtual meetings, we’re seeing increased collaboration and communication among work colleagues.

In my family, Facetime is a place for my boys to show Gigi and Pops (grandma and grandpa) their new dance techniques, either tap dancing or break dancing, while belting out “Let it Go” and “You’ve got a Friend in Me.” It’s always good for a therapeutic belly laugh!

Managing Health and Wellbeing 

Finally, what are some things you’re doing to manage your overall health and well-being? I have noticed some people on social media competing in virtual fitness challenges as a way to stay fit and healthy during a time of social distancing. Many people are trying new things without worries of making mistakes. If you’re teleworking and are staying disciplined with your work schedule, there may not be time to socialize or try new things during the day. I’ve learned the importance of working in blocks throughout the day, especially when my wife and I are working and, our toddlers are running and wrestling throughout the house.

For instance, my wife would work the first two hours from 8 to 10 am, while I play Mr. Mom with the boys. So while she’s working on litigation responses, I’m changing diapers and asking the boys such questions like, “When are you going tell us when you need to use the potty chair?” or “Which one of you scribbled on the walls with the purple crayon?,” as they blame each other. We then try to switch from 10 am to 12 pm. We’ve recognized the importance of flexibility, especially in my wife’s case when she is dealing with legal matters that have deadlines. If you’re in the same boat, then you feel our pain. Give yourself grace if you’re juggling many responsibilities at this time.

I began blogging because it was an outlet for me, as well as others. It was something I always wanted to do and would find excuses to keeping setting aside. What better time to work on something you’ve put aside? What hobbies bring joy, peace, and comfort to you as a whole? Also, what skills and talents do you possess that can be shared with others during this time?

As a parent, I know how difficult it is to wear multiple hats and hope that my boys will be kind and loving to each other, us, and others around them. Being Mr. Mom isn’t easy, especially when parenting two amazing boys, and also be a husband to a lovely and forgiving wife, while making time to telework. My wife reminds me that this moment in our world is temporary, and that I shouldn’t expect my boys (or myself) to be perfect. They’ll make mistakes, just like me, and I shouldn’t place unreasonably high expectations on any of us during this unusually trying season. This is a learning opportunity for all of us.

One silver lining is telework has given us the opportunity to see our boys reach interesting developmental milestones. I can’t believe that at just the age of 2 they are eating chips and salsa, and one of our boys is trying ice blended coffee. Our creative oldest twin—by thirteen seconds—is also thinking like a teenager. The other day, he drew pecks and a six pack (of abs that is) with a washable crayon on his chest and belly. I’m not sure where he learned this but my wife says the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. (Whatever that means…)

Each day, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow from teleworking while being Mr. Mom and watching my small boys develop to little giants. I’m reminded of a proverb that children start off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6). Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire (Proverbs 29:17). With each long day that passes, I try to count the good of this extra time at home. My wife and I are even starting to watch the same TV shows, like Workin’ Moms and Tiger King. I’m liking them. I’m losing it!

It’s not all rosy, in fact, it can be quite bumpy. But with a little planning, and a lot of grace, we can get through this. We are all in this together!

Guest columnist Kelly Londono
Guest columnist Kenny Londono, MS, LMFT is a Clinical Psychotherapist at the AdventHealth Wellness Center Celebration 

Lifestyle Clinic.

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