Open up your go-to news site and you’ll see it. An outbreak that shows no signs of slowing down. Death tolls on the rise. Elected officials debating. Alcohol use up. Domestic violence increases. Children hungry because they’re not at school. Parents stressed because they’re trying to help teach their kids. Elderly dealing with loneliness in isolation. Worried about friends and family. Mounting job losses and the fear of losing the one you have. Unable to hug friends and loved ones.
There is no shortage of bad news. It’s everywhere and no matter how you try, you can’t get away from it. One way or another, we all are affected in some way. It’s tiring and in some respects, I’ve grown numb to the news.
I’ve kept kind of tight lipped with talking to my project teams about struggles I’ve had at home during these times, especially as it relates to helping my kids with school work. But after a call Friday with one of my teams, I realized:
IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK!!
As we were talking, I could hear little kids voices in the background. My co-worker apologized because his kids, 6 and 4, were hungry. Those voices kept getting louder and louder. Suddenly, BOOM! What I imagine was a door flying open, these little ones burst into his room and yelled “DAD, WE NEED LUNCH!!”
Suddenly, you could tell he was muted. I was imaging the stress and urgency of the conversation that was taking place.
When he came back on the line, my team member apologized to the group up and down for the intrusion. Between two kids, a wife who had to go to the office (supply chain for a hospital, so you can only imagine the number of hours she’s working), helping with school work and having a job of his own, it’s been very stressful month.
He apologized again and I told him not to worry. I told the group I have two boys and have been trying to help them with schoolwork. I’ve been struggling big-time with keeping on top of my middle schooler’s assignments. He gets real “snippy” with me when I ask how his work is progressing and we have frequent arguments about getting things done. My elementary-aged son gets his work done right away, and then wants to play online games, Tik Tok or watch Pokemon (what the hell is a Pokemon anyway?). Balance that with making breakfast, lunch, refereeing fights and playing with them, a day gets away from you quick. Plus, my wife is in banking operations, so she’s on calls all day and doesn’t want screaming kids in the background.
That was the first time I’d mentioned anything about what’s happening at home. One by one, each team member brought up their struggles. Though some struggles were similar, each were different. It was OK not to be OK for a few minutes, and that felt great!
My team member felt better as we talked and I told him to go get his kids lunch. I’d take notes and let him know any follow-ups later.
Let’s be honest, this quarantine time is a real mental game, full of ups and downs. We long for our pre-pandemic lives. We want our kids back in school. I long for going to my favorite restaurant for one of their classic burgers and whiskey sours. My wife wishes we could go with our friends to play trivia every Tuesday and give them hugs at the end of the night. I want to participate in the two racing events in May that I’ve trained for, but have been postponed.
Being vulnerable is a good thing because it makes us relatable. Acting like everything is normal (especially now) is a disservice to your team. I found it was OK to talk about struggles, because my team members all have them too. Knowing what they’re experiencing can help me in my support and interactions. For example, I don’t schedule meetings with this group over lunch time. That would cause undue stress for those making lunch for little ones.
Support your team members. Maybe they’re having the same struggles as you. Maybe their struggles are completely different. But ultimately, they may not be OK!