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7 lessons working parents learned during the pandemic

7 lessons working parents learned during the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has upset many people's lives, but few groups have felt the disruption more than working parents.

Accountants and finance professionals with children have had to balance tax filing deadlines, client engagements, and management responsibilities while working from home, often with myriad interruptions from kids and pets.

How to juggle this pandemic work/life balance was a theme at the 2020 AICPA Women's Global Leadership Summit, which was held online 11 November. Accountants and finance professionals on a panel and on roundtables talked about their parenting and professional experiences.

7 parenting lessons learned

Here are seven tips from accountants and finance professionals at the summit, all parents, for handling work and family during this difficult time:

Communicate with your kids. This was the advice given by Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, vice-president of finance for 1st Financial Bank USA in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, in the US and founder/CEO of consulting firm Origin Evolution LLC. Stevenson is also the mother of three boys, ages 7, 17, and 19, and has been challenged this year to help three children in various stages of their lives. All have struggled in different ways, she noted.

"Pre-COVID there was a fairly linear boundary between when I was in professional mode and in parent mode, and now it feels that this boundary doesn't exist," said Stevenson, who led a roundtable where conversations centred around parenting an adult child.

During this arduous time, it's important to understand how your children are feeling, she added. "We didn't do it until a little bit later in the game and could have avoided some heartaches with the kids.”

Embrace this time, and don't nag so much. Kristin Fraser, CPA, audit partner and managing partner for KPMG's Providence, Rhode Island, office in the US, is the mother of a high school senior. Her daughter, now looking at colleges, has struggled this year with the challenges of the college search process and the limited ability to visit campuses, Fraser said.

It's important, she stated on the panel, to take a step back and realise the emotional state of children and to keep the parents' "nagging component" in check.

Fraser also values the time she has been able to spend with her teenage daughter and encouraged others to appreciate these stay-at-home months with their kids. "You're not going to get this time back," she said.

Create a schedule. This year Scott Bailey, CPA, CGMA, a partner at accounting firm Carr, Riggs & Ingram LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the US and the father of a 10-year-old son, learned the benefits of a daily routine.

Bailey said his family had to be "very intentional" about where they spent their time, since their son feels isolated from his friends. It helps that Bailey's firm offers flexibility to employees and encourages workers, including parents, to take days off to recharge.

"We discovered very early that we all needed a schedule, especially when everything was in full lockdown," Bailey said of his family. "We also had to plan out when we were not going to be doing things [and] take time to breathe."

Divide and conquer chores. Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, CPA, CGMA, vice-president of finance and HR at the International Legal Technology Association in Chicago and the mother of a 1-year-old boy, led one of the infant-toddler roundtables. Five other women joined Pittelkow to discuss managing schedules, building support systems, and helping other new mothers in need.

Pittelkow now works from home, which she considers a blessing. "It has made our bond stronger," she said of her family. When she needs to unwind, she talks about her workday with her husband and spends time with her son.

Pittelkow and her husband share household chores to make their lives easier during this period. Her advice to others: "Divide and conquer with your family members and members of your support system," she said. "My husband does the laundry and dishes, and I am in charge of making food and paying bills."

Find your happy place. That was the insight shared by Amy Cooper, CPA, an accounting instructor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the US and a leader of the early elementary (K-2) roundtable, where talks ranged from self-care to future work schedules once the pandemic subsides.

Cooper's children, ages 9 and 11, are attending school remotely this year, and the transition for them has been tough. "It's hard now in Alaska because it's getting darker and colder," she said. "We're a lot more limited in what we can do."

Cooper is back to teaching on campus, but when not, she is often interrupted by her children, who are doing their best to cope. Her family has initiated some fun things to do together, including decorating early for Halloween and allowing one person in the home to choose shows or movies to watch at night.

Her tip to others: "Find a way to give yourself grace," she said. "We are all living in a world that is unknown with lots of uncertainty. Celebrate the small moments with your family and do things that give you joy."

Communicate with supervisors. Jessica McClain, CPA, controller for Brand USA in Washington, D.C., and the mother of a toddler, with another baby on the way, has had her hands full this year but has relished one thing: "I don't miss my commute," she said.

She also is grateful to her bosses for giving her flexibility when daycare was not an option. "Our boss has been understanding of the situations we're in with the pandemic," she said.

Her advice: Speak with your company's leadership early, "depending on what your situation is at home", she said.

Cut yourself some slack. Erin Roche, CPA, CGMA, a team leader for Elliott CPA Group Inc., in Santa Rosa, California, in the US, led a small middle school roundtable, where she and another accountant discussed keeping children productive and the pros and cons of working from home.

Roche, a mother of two girls, ages 11 and 13, said there's no clear distinction between work and home and that giving her daughters direction and managing occasional disruptions have been her greatest challenges.

"The temptation to get sucked into technology 24/7 is really there and keeping the boundaries has been something we've had to deal with," she added.

She offered this insight: Nobody is handling things perfectly during this time, so don't beat yourself up if not everything goes smoothly. "Our dog is the one who is happiest," she said. "Now that she has her people here, she makes frequent appearances."

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, an FM magazine senior editor, at Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com.