In light of recent events, aka the COVID-19 Pandemic, many of us are entering into a new working from home arrangement. Some already have our kids at home with us or we are preparing for our kids to be at home in the near future. We are also told to be less reliant on our “baby-sitters”, our kid’s Grandparents which means more of us are likely to be juggling the two “jobs”. It is extremely important to make this model work because many of us still need an income, or to ensure our jobs are still functioning when this is all over.
For many of you who may not have had the luxury of doing this before, I have been navigating this ‘working remotely from home with kids’ thing for the past year and a half. So, I thought I would share a few things I have learnt along the way with you.
The reality is slightly different to what I ever imagined. At 2 and 5 my kids certainly don’t sit there happily entertaining themselves while I catch up on a few hours work (who would have thought?!). At first I had good intentions, thinking of a great activity (or food) that will keep them occupied for a bit or knowing that my son usually sleeps for 2 hours and I can do some work then, easy right? Nope, I quickly learnt that plan was doomed to fail.
I will admit I have also been the first to offer a Tim Tam or cupcake as bribery to let me finish this important phone call, or one last email. That quickly ended when they worked out they could get a Tim Tam if they bug me enough while I’m on ANY work phone call. Kids catch on quickly.
My job is based around deadlines and there is nothing more frustrating than having a deadline I am trying to meet while working from home with kids. It’s annoying to be halfway through a great point in a grant application only for your kid to come complain they’re hungry even though you fed them 15 minutes ago. Then I get frustrated and snappy, which makes me feel terrible. So, in order to avoid getting to this point, this is what worked for me:
Take it week-by-week, day-by-day. Look at what needs to be done this week and by when. Plan your week to fit in what jobs you will get done on each day. With the kids around it helps to work out when is the best time for you to work. So, for example, my kids are more easily occupied in the morning.
I found it a good idea to time-block my day so I knew when to spend time with the kids, when to cook dinner and when to work to reduce my stress and anxiety. It also meant I could actually be present when I was with my kids and not thinking about the work I should be doing. Planning will also help you sleep at night as all those thoughts running around in your head should hopefully be down on paper. Make sure you also schedule some time for self-care for you too!!
Now you should know also that this plan is not always going to go to schedule and should probably be called more of a guide, which brings me to my next point.
I know this kind of contradicts my above point but it’s important to know that sometimes your plan will not happen the way you think it will and I am sure parents out there will understand this already. Working from home with kids means you will need to adopt a “go with the flow” mentality.
You may find yourself getting frustrated and annoyed because you are being interrupted every two seconds and are only half focussed on your work and half focussed on the kid’s needs. Well take a deep breath and don’t be afraid to say “ok break time”. On top of everything else as parents we need to remember this is such a scary and uncertain time for our kids, they are likely to need some extra attention right now.
So, my advice is, if you need to hit snooze, park the work to the side and go outside and play with the kids for a bit, DO IT! I usually find the kids are happier to entertain themselves after this and you can go back to concentrating on work for a while. You can always rejuggle the half an hour you missed later when they are sleeping. Taking this time out will be more productive as I can guarantee once you can focus on your work again, you will get it done quicker.
Warning – Be prepared to finish your work, get that deadline met and feel that sense of accomplishment and then . . . turn around to find your house completely trashed from your kid’s daily activities.
I once came out of the study thinking the kids were occupied for half an hour and found my daughter had tipped water all over the kitchen floor and was slipping and sliding on her stomach as she was pretending to be a penguin. Another time my son had crushed up biscuit all over the arm of the couch because it looked like a dirt road for him to drive his match-box cars over.
*Deep breathe*. Although I wasn’t exactly impressed with the mess, both my husband and I agreed it displayed good imagination, it didn’t take too long to clean up and they were occupied while I got my work done – win-win!
A reminder to all the working and non-working parents to try your best to keep your sanity and if you are in isolation we may need to get inventive because it’s still so very important to look after you. Use your support network of close family and friends, get on good old FaceTime and choose your stress relief of choice whether it be chocolate, tea, a bath, wine or all of the above and de-compress after a long day before having to do it all over again the next day. No one can function well when stressed and anxious!!
When all else fails just do what works for you, plan but be prepared to be flexible, prepare for the carnage on some days and take care of you. I am not going to lie and say I don’t have my snippy moments while working at home with the kids, it’s hard not to. I am still not opposed to the cheeky Tim Tam if needed for the realllyyy important deadlines, either for you or the kids.
So, to all you parents out there entering the working from home scenario (and possibly home-schooling too). We got this. We will get through this. And never complain about making a school lunch again.