I have to be honest. I know this pandemic is awful. Just, truly awful. Nobody will debate that.
For my practice, COVID could not have come at a worse time. After over 15 years I left a very stable position at a hospital to open my practice full time – just a few months before COVID hit. I was very careful and planned out my exit a while before doing so. But I still had some underlying fears about being successful and surviving on my own.
After all, being a single parent to two young kids, I felt an enormous amount of pressure and responsibility. I simply could not fail. Everything was on me. Everything.
The Sudden (Virtual) Reality of an Online Practice
So you can imagine the intense panic I felt the moment I realized my office building closed due to COVID. With this, my entire practice suddenly shifted to my home and went from almost 100% in-person sessions to being a 100% online practice. Certainly, I had an occasional phone session with a patient when there was a situation that came up last-minute. But, these were far and few between.
Similarly, I had done maybe a handful of virtual visits with patients up to that point. But, these were very rare and not something I felt very comfortable doing.
I worried about what would happen to my ‘new’ online practice. Would patients even want to continue therapy if they were only able to see me online or speak over the phone? After all, this was not something they were used to either.
Just as I was letting the reality of all of that sink in, another shock comes. Not only was I forced out of my office and made to work from home. My kids’ schools were closed and they too would be home with me. Going to school all day.
Only, I still had to work. I still had all of the responsibilities to make sure my practice was successful enough for the three of us to live. Yet, I now also had the additional pressure to make sure that my children were successful in school.
I realized I had competing needs. My online practice for survival. And, my kids and their school for their education.
I know many, many families were also thrust into this situation. Having to work from home, yet also told that they’d have to be there for their kids while they were online for school. I know I was not alone in this unfortunate circumstance.
The Guilt of Moving to an Online Practice During COVID
Yes, it was a very bad time in the first few weeks of COVID. I had no idea what it really was. I had no idea what I was doing with my time. All I knew was that 3 of us were crammed into a very small condo with no backyard. And we were all on the internet, which was causing it to crash more often than not.
I felt an immense amount of guilt whenever I went into my room to work. Due to the nature of our business, I had to have a place where the kids could not hear my sessions. So, noise-canceling earphones and a sound machine allowed me to keep my kids from hearing me and my patients. But, it also made it so that I had no idea what was going on with them.
Now, granted. My kids are in junior high. So, in that, I was thankful they were not of the age where I had to be with them 24-7 and unable to be left unattended. However, the guilt I felt for working long hours in my room when we were stuck inside and had nowhere to go for weeks on end was awful.
Needless to say, the transition from life as we knew it to pandemic life was rough.
Transitioning to an Online Practice – and Online School
Now, months later, after many, many ups and downs, here is what I learned about how to still have a thriving online practice – even as a single parent. I’ve also learnt to balance out time with my kids while keeping them on track with school:
You’re Not A Teacher: Get Help
I realized that my kids did need some help and guidance to make sure they were actually learning the material presented to them online. They also needed structure to keep them on-track with their assignments and studying. But, I knew that I did not have the time or ability to go through each of their multiple classes each and every day. I simply couldn’t learn the material well enough and quickly enough to help them with their assignments. Nor did I have time to log onto their schools’ website and make sure they were on-track with every assignment and test.
I initially felt guilty for admitting this to myself. But, in all honesty, there is only so much time in the day. And, there were two of them, one of me, and a lot of things to do.
This was a priority, so I made sure my kids got an online tutor to help them stay on track. It was a huge relief for all of us. Whatever they felt confused about from class got cleared up and learned in tutoring. And, I felt a huge relief knowing that someone else was making sure they weren’t falling behind or missing assignments.
Having a tutor can also free up some time for you to see patients or do some much-needed paperwork. When your kids are with their tutor, you can rest assured they are getting the help they need to succeed. And, you have the time you need to do the same for your practice.
Shift Your Perspective and Ditch the Guilt
For as much guilt and pressure as I was putting on myself for not being able to “do it all” – be the perfect mom, perfect therapist, have the perfect home, etc. – I realized that I needed to stop.
I was not purposely ignoring my children. I did have to work. They just happened to be home 100% of the time. So, they were going to see me working. There was just no way around it.
Once I started to take the blame off myself for not handling the situation we were in “perfectly”, I shifted my thinking. I went from being hard and critical on myself to being kinder. And, once I did this, the entire way I saw our situation shifted in a much more positive direction, too.
I told myself I was still home with them. Just in the other room. I was not neglecting them – I was providing for them.
And, I was also providing them something else: a role model.
All that our kids learn is not just in the classroom. They are also learning by watching us.
Once I focused on that, I started to see this time differently. Not as a stressful burden, but as a gift; as time that I could use to instill some values. Where I could try and demonstrate work ethic.
Shifting my perspective on the entire situation allowed me the freedom to spend time working in my practice without guilt. And also allowed me to really appreciate that we were spending so much time together. Not since maternity leave were we all at home, together so much. Usually, we were rushing around from place to place, trying to get to school on time, or dinner on the table before having to head out to an event for the evening.
In all reality, I was actually spending much more time with them than I had been when I was working outside the home and they were in school. I was able to really see that I was doing anything but neglecting them now.
So, allow yourself to see the positives in this situation. What opportunities are you able to have in this situation that you never would have had before?
By shifting your perspective and ditching any guilt you may have for not being able to do the “impossible”, it really does help. After all, you did not ask to be in this situation. And, you really are only one person.
Embrace the virtual
Really. Do it. When else in your life will you have the opportunity for you and your kids to be virtual?
Rent an Airbnb somewhere you have never been. Or, if you are lucky enough to have family or friends that have a vacation home close by, ask them if you can use it for a few days. Now, of course, make sure you have wi-fi, or that won’t work.
In the beginning of all of this, there were no options. Nobody was going anywhere.
But now? You don’t have to go far to just get a change of scenery to change things up. You’d be surprised what getting out of the house for a few days does for your mood and mental health.
Anything that allows you to “double-duty” your time is worth it!
When I thought about how much time it took me to drive to the grocery store, park, walk into the store, pick out my items, stand in line, purchase, and bag them. Then, get to my car, drive home, drag my bags into the house and unload them, I realized I could be home getting so many other things done if I just did grocery delivery. Instacart, and other delivery services suddenly became a no-brainer.
It would save me at least an hour, if not more. Even considering the heftiest of delivery charges with tip, the cost of the service wouldn’t even come close to what I could make in an hour to see another patient in that time.
But by joining yearly memberships, most delivery fees were waived, only leaving me to pay a tip.
Regardless, even if I did not see a patient in that time, it was well worth being able to have more time with my kids or be able to do all of the laundry or dishes.
The bonus I found out about Apps like Instacart was that they don’t just do groceries. Target, CVS, Staples delivery all came in handy at times when my printer paper and ink cartridge went out.
This year certainly wasn’t what anyone expected. And, for any parents out there balancing their private practices with kids being home from school, it may not be the ideal situation. But, there are some things to do to make the best out of it.
For more tips on how to work from home, read this blog.
Or if you’re a single mom like myself, and needing some help when it comes to growing a successful private practice, check out this blog.
I also have recently launched my own Podcast, “Behind the Bite” if you’d like to take a listen.
Cristina Castagnini, Ph.D., CEDS, is a licensed psychologist and is recognized as a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist by the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP). She graduated with honors, earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology from The University of California, Santa Cruz, her Master’s Degree in clinical psychology (with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy) from Pepperdine University, and her doctoral degree in counseling psychology at the University of Southern California. Find out more here.