Skip to main content

Working from home in lockdown as a single parent – a social worker’s strategy

Ali Sea found accepting support, letting go of guilt and even dancing occasionally have helped

Published by Professional Social Work magazine - 9 February, 2021. Share your COVID-19 experiences here.

Working from home in lockdown presents different challenges for different people. I recently read an article in Professional Social Work magazine that offered a series of tips to help social workers.

They included taking it in turns working and looking after the kids with your partner. Another was to use a spare room as an office space.

But these bits of advice made certain assumptions – firstly that you have a partner and secondly that you have a space to convert into a home office.

For some neither is an option. As a single parent myself, working from home during lockdown has been challenging and I have had to develop my strategies to get through it.

Firstly, I decided to accept all the help that I could when it was offered. After the first lockdown, when family offered to form a childcare bubble with me, I decided this would help not just me but the kids.

I was reluctant as my parents are in their 70s and I was worried about the infection risk. However, after a day of trying to sort out an emergency bed, culminating in a phone call with a distressed family member who had been assaulted by her adult child, while two children rolled around in a ball in front of me tearing strips out of each other, I decided I needed to accept the help that was on offer, not least for my sanity. I also use the key worker school places on offer, which has helped us all as a family.

Secondly, I have had to work through and let go of guilt. Guilt for asking for help and increasing the risk of infecting family members. Guilt for taking the school places and for sending my children to school when many of their friends weren’t there. Guilt I couldn’t do all the shopping for family members.

Shopping is a nightmare already, with one child with special educational needs who has to touch absolutely everything and lacks impulse control. I still get waves of guilt about what I should and shouldn’t be doing to help others, and I have to remind myself that as a social worker, I am doing what I can to help vulnerable people in our society.

Thirdly, arranging my working day has been vital. I have scheduled lunch breaks. When the kids have been here (and a lot when they haven’t), I have put my speaker on in the garden and jumped on the trampoline for half an hour, skated around my estate on my roller boots, gone for a run or a bike ride, or danced around the living room.

The lack of movement when working at home, compared to going into the office and other locations, has had an impact on my mood. I still eat lunch at my ‘desk’ and I use my scheduled break to get away from my computer and release some endorphins. I need to MOVE!

Fourthly, arranging my environment has been great. I don’t want to sit in one place all the time. I sometimes want to sit at my dining table, other times I want to sit on the bed (arranged so no-one in a video call can tell where I am!), sometimes on the sofa.

I went on Freecycle and got a computer chair, a desk and a keyboard. In the office, we have responsibility for cleaning our own hot desk at the end of the day, washing up and tidying the kitchen, and a cleaner comes in the evenings.

At home this is my responsibility, and I class tidying up the mess I make in my home when working as part of my working day. I see this as being kind to myself. Whatever we like around us that makes us happy we can incorporate into our working area. I painted a picture to put next to me and put plants around me.

Lastly, one amazing thing I can do at home that we can’t do at work is I can blast the tunes when I’m not in meetings. This brings a big smile to my face.

I was having a really low point last year and I asked my friends to send me a song that makes them happy. I played them all throughout the day. I’m not ashamed to admit I got up and had a dance too. You can’t do that in the office!

Ali Sea has been an independent social worker since December 2020 and was previously a manager for an adult social worker team

Do you have experiences, thoughts or feelings of social work during the COVID-19 pandemic you would like to share? Click here to find out how.