Updated: Aug 23, 2021
My daughter began her Spring break—and possibly, her Summer vacation—last Friday afternoon.
My younger daughter's daycare has also decided to close their doors amongst the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-essential businesses are closing, and working from home is necessary to keep companies from going out of business.
This leaves us all with a new normal to embrace: Working at home with children.
How can parents do it? Well, I think that most parents are going to try their best, especially because everyone with children is in similar situations. There really isn't another option.
I already work from home, so I've already had to experience times and situations where both of my daughters are home. Not even a month ago, my daughter made a jailbreak from her dad, broke into my office while I was on a conference call, climbed on the guest bed that sits behind me and proceeded to do a summersault off the bed. In the process, she knocked over the nightstand, broke the lamp shade and shattered the lightbulb. Thank goodness there is a mute button (which I always have on regardless if the girls are home or not). The good news is that we all made a full recovery from her wild stunt.
Now that the girls are at home full-time, we've had to embrace the chaos and simply do our best to make our new lives even more awesome. To help other families in similar situations, I have compiled a list of things that has help us avoid total combustion:
1. Communication is Key
Tell the people you work with what's up. Continual communication with both your coworkers and managers is important when you are working from home. With my kiddos at home full-time now, the babysitter unavailable, and my husband going back to work this Friday, we have no alternative for childcare. My attention will be divided and I want to be clear with the team what to expect from me. I will get a full 8-hours of work in, it just won't be during a normal 9am-5pm period.
Everyday, I check-in with my coworkers to give them my work priorities. Being aligned with your team can help communication flow. In the past, I have also emailed my top weekly goals with updates as progress has been made. I've also given them my personal phone number and we are calling/texting as needed throughout the day.
2. Embrace the Chaos
I love to have a clean and organized house. But, I've had to accept that I can't live that reality right now. Two kiddos under five and two parents that work full-time make it impossible to keep up with everything. The good news is that I have discovered a few tricks to help my sanity.
The other morning, while I sat on a conference call, my daughter thought it would be a great idea to take her cereal off the table and bring it into the living room. Let's just say it didn't make it very far. In her little voice, she tried to interrupt and tell me what she had done but I was concentrating on the conversation in front of me.
Milk and cereal covered the floor in large, sticky splotches.
If I did see her dump the cereal on the ground while I was on the call, what would I have done differently? Probably nothing. I still had my work call regardless if the spill happened or not.
I pretend my house doesn't exist until my work day is done. Every evening, I will set a timer and clean up. I've found the timer (and my wine) to be a great motivator to get what I can done and not over invest myself in the mess. Getting the whole family involved in the game also helps (ie. my daughter will race me to see if she can pick up more legos than I can before the timer runs out). Remember, the weekend will comes on every 6th day and you wont have the kids home forever.
I've also learned that I can be proactive. I spent some time this week removing things that I know would drive me bonkers: markers, paint, open cups of water, legos, etc.
My least favorite thing is one of my tiny humans asking me for snacks while I am in the middle of a call, so I hatched a plan: create a grab and go snack station for the girls.
In the evening, play the song: "I want to break free" by Queen while drinking wine, preparing lunches, and getting your coffee ready for your morning. You will enjoy yourself so much more.
Our backyard has also become a special place to play, so I've tried to isolate the mess. I just have had to remember to pick up the dog poop (especially after my daughter tromped it through the house last weekend).
3. Collaborate with your Partner
My husband is a paramedic. He works nights. I work days. There can be weeks where our schedules don't align, and I am on solo mom duty for long periods of time. That is why we have to keep our schedules up-to-date as much as we can.
Because of our weird scheduling alignment, my husband will ask me what my week looks like and I, in turn, will let him know if I have client calls early morning when he is normally sleeping. To help me stay on track, he will sacrifice a few hours of sleep so I can take client calls uninterrupted. This approach doesn't work all of the time, but it helps alleviate any scheduling overlap we might have. We both just need to be open to the communication.
When he's looking to pick up overtime, he will ask me first, which I am grateful for. If I have a meeting or appointment or a deadline, he will work around those things. If you and your partner are both at home, walk through your agenda's for the day and shift off as needed.
4. Keep a Schedule with the Kiddos
Ha. Schedule, what schedule? My TV has become a part-time baby-sitter. As I was working on a power point this week, I discovered the magic of the split screen with my daughter. She wanted to watch Mikey Mouse (who she is currently calls Chucky Cheese). So, I plopped her on my lap, started an episode and kept working. I knew that this trick would only keep her occupied for 20-minutes, but I didn't have to get up and I knew exactly where she was. I call that a win-win.
Schedules are really tough to maintain, but they can also be helpful. Schedules can also help you have a sort-of idea of what to expect during the day. Look at your schedule first to discover what your priorities are first and then build their schedule around that. I've been seeing a lot of schedules built around the small human(s), which is awesome. But, as a working parent, you have to pay the bills and buy the food for the small human(s), so take a stab at looking through the schedule from a different perspective.
If you have a deadline looming and you need a dedicated period of silence, pull out your secret weapon then. Sometimes, it might feel like you are throwing spaghetti against the wall in order to see what works. And the activities that you do have planned might not work. Just don't overthink it. I have a rough idea for what will keep them preoccupied for the longest period of time and I will keep that in my back pocket as needed. For my girls, that is often a big giant pile of food and some combination of playing outside, TV and/or coloring.
5. Working with Babies at Home
When my youngest daughter was born, my husband was in paramedic school. In the mornings and evenings as he studied, he would find a comfortable space, get everything that he needed and would hold our daughter for hours (or until she was ready to eat or be changed again). At one point, we even moved her bassinet to stay in the living room full-time. Having her at arms reach really helped us out a lot.
As I am sure you are aware, babies sleep a lot, so do what you can to keep things fluid and match their pace. I am sure you've heard the saying: sleep when they sleep? In this case, work when they sleep —within reason, of course. Communicate with your team as needed. It's better to over communicate rather than keep quite.
6. Pumping? Keep at it.
Keep your tatas on a schedule—event if it's part-time. If you are on a conference call, double check you are on mute and that your camera is turned off and start up the pump. Pumping during meetings at home can be wonderful because you will now have open times in your schedule.
On the flip-side, pumping helped maintain my milk supply and if I had any extra milk, I would always save it. This helped especially if I was stressed.
If you are worried about your milk supply at all, drink plenty of water. There are great teas and cookies that can help support your milk production (they were really helpful for me on work trips). And if you are worried at all, reach out to your pediatrician or lactation consultant for help. They can be great resources during significant periods of change.
7. Take Care of Yourself
I will be the first to admit that I worked in my robe not once, but twice last week and I also forgot shower. Thank goodness that none of my calls required a camera. I may have even forgotten to brush my teeth. EW. Honestly though, my goal in this life isn't to be gross and smelly, so I do try my best to take care of myself.
Here are a couple of things that can serve as self reminders:
Get Dressed In the Morning -Taking ten minutes to get dressed in the morning might be the differentiator you need for getting yourself outside to enjoy the sunlight while you eat lunch.
Find Your Workspace - Clean up and preset the area you plan to workin.
Eat Food and Drink Water - I have to remind myself to drink water more times than not. If I drink my water, I will immediately get up and get a new glass, which is helpful for taking breaks.
Take Breaks - Allow yourself to get up, stretch and have the breaks you deserve. You will feel better and be more focused.
8. Compassion and Kindness go a Long Way
During a customer call this morning, I overheard children playing loudly in the background. It could just as easily have been my girls giggling, running, fighting or crying. It was a comfort to me knowing that a majority of parents are currently in the same situation. Regardless, if you have kiddos, understanding, compassion and grace will go a long way for anyone at this time.
Be kind to yourself and be kind to the people you are interacting with every day. We are all in this together!
Do you have a great WFH hack with the kiddos? I want to know! Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.