As a self-employed writer who left the corporate world six years ago, I consider myself pretty well-versed in the art of working from home. But even with experience, I was blindsided by the reality of juggling two kids, homeschooling and everyday to-do’s on top of meeting client deadlines. For many moms and dads, becoming a remote employee has been a jarring and chaotic experience, but I have a few tricks to share! Now that we’re fully entrenched in this brave new world, here are some ideas to make working from home (with kids!) work better for you.
Set Up Separate Workstations
The first thing we did when quarantine life began was designate workspaces for myself, my husband, and our school-aged kids. While it’s tempting to work from the bed or the couch, I’ve found that creating clear-cut boundaries makes a world of difference and have always worked at a desk. Between the four of us, we use three desks and the dining table for homeschooling and work. If space is an issue, even having an assigned seat at the kitchen table can allow everyone to switch more easily into work/school mode. And if you’re lucky enough to have your own office (or keep your desk in the bedroom like I do), closing the door can help communicate that Mommy’s at work — in other words, please do not disturb.
Make Room For Them In Your Workday
Kids thrive on inclusion and involvement; it helps them feel safe and seen. The same goes for your workday, so why not allow them to participate once in a while? Whether it’s a cameo appearance on your Zoom call or a chance to cross an item off your to-do list (literally, with a pen!), they’ll love getting a peek at what it means for you to “go to work.” One highly unconventional tip that’s worked for us? Getting a paper shredder and enlisting their help! Between junk mail and the mountains of paper that come with school territory, there’s always plenty to shred. If and only if they’re old enough, give your little coworkers a stack of paper to carefully shred on your behalf. Don’t leave them unsupervised, of course – they can shred in your vicinity while you work. Just be sure to take out any staples beforehand.
Take Turns Working, If Possible
Toddlers and younger kids require a lot more hands-on time than grade schoolers, so if you have a partner, consider dividing and conquering the day (and be sure you have your childproofing solutions in check!). Plan for chunks of time when one of you is in work mode and the other is in kid mode. This way, the parent on kid duty can take them out for a walk around the block during the other parent’s important calls, or help them with some of their schoolwork. Your partner gets solid work time while you get quality time with the kids, and vice versa. We’d call that a win for everyone.
Schedule Family Recess
We all need to let off steam during the day. Kids take breaks at school and you take breaks at work. Quarantine life should be no different! Set alarms and plan for family recess time at least once a day. Go outside if you can. Check out our piece on how to get more active with kids – most of these tips still work in a socially distanced world. A quick game of hide and seek can do wonders to lift everyone’s mood! There are plenty of digital options for making recess more fun for the family too. Think 15-minute kids’ yoga and fitness classes you can do together on YouTube or through apps like Peloton, which connect to the TV. Recess can also be as simple as watching a fun or educational show together. We’ve been enjoying Lego Masters on Fox and Brain Child on Netflix (my kids are 9 and 6, so something calm like Curious George might be a better option for the younger set)!
Relax Screen Time Limits
This collective experience of being home 24/7 and wearing masks in public is just as stressful for kids as it is for parents. Chances are, they’re missing their friends, grandparents, and everyday routines even more than you are. With the right parental controls in place, devices can provide a much-needed mental escape for kids, just as your phone may do for you (though we can all agree that checking the news is not a fun escape these days!). I’m certainly not advocating handing them a tablet or allowing them to play video games for 6 hours straight. But if a little extra screen time helps you get in an hour of uninterrupted work, go for it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so please release any guilt or societal pressure regarding screen time. Your family, your rules – now is the time to tune out all unnecessary noise and opinions from anyone else.
Plan Virtual Playdates
Speaking of screen time, a sweet friend recently texted with a lovely, unexpected offer: her 12-year-old daughter would be happy to Facetime with my kids to play games, draw pictures together, and keep them occupied anytime I might need a break. It was such a thoughtful gesture, one that I had somehow never thought of before: virtual babysitting! Don’t be afraid to reach out to older cousins, grandparents or relatives to see if they would want to do the same. We’re willing to bet they’d be delighted to help entertain your kids from a distance so you can work in peace. The same goes for planning Zoom playdates or story hours with friends. Think of it as quality time (ok, quality screen time) with the people they love and miss the most, plus the gift of uninterrupted work time for you. Another win-win in our book!
Order Grocery Pickups to Save Time
Efficiency is key to a successful work day, and this includes delegating groceries these days. Saving an hour of food shopping is a saving grace when trying to finish a project on time. Pre-quarantine, ordering grocery delivery via Amazon Prime Now was my crutch during particularly busy work periods. Now that we’re distancing ourselves from stores, delivery is no longer seen as an indulgence. In the past few months, I’ve started ordering groceries online for contact-free, curbside pickup from local stores (in our case, Ralphs/Kroger and Whole Foods). It’s as easy as parking the car and popping the trunk! Many pickup services are free for now, and Whole Foods has a $35 minimum for fee-free grocery pickups through Amazon Prime. The only downside? Not being able to tip the wonderful employees shopping on my behalf. I especially love being able to update my shopping cart after reserving my pickup time at Ralphs! Grocery orders have been a godsend in maximizing my productivity, and as a mom who works remotely, I’ll continue to rely on them well after stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Keep Plenty of Snacks on Hand
How many times have you been interrupted by a snack request today? True hunger levels aside, snacks are a delicious distraction for kids when you need five minutes to finish a meeting or wrap up a deliverable. If they’re old enough to walk over and ask you for a snack, they’re old enough to get it themselves. Keep bowls of their favorite foods within easy, visible reach – say, peeled tangerines on the coffee table or baby carrots and sugar snap peas on the kitchen counter. Designate a drawer or section of your pantry as the snack zone and keep it stocked with things like granola bars, pretzels, fruit squeezers, and anything else they like to eat. Even one less snack request per day is one more email sent on time.
Reframe Your Perspective
We’ve been thrust into uncharted waters and expected to survive without any training at all; it feels a little like being thrown in a pool before learning how to swim. Reframing my perspective has been very helpful, as I’ve realized that positive attitudes are contagious too. We’re not simply working from home with kids. We’re trying to work from home with our families in the same space during a global crisis — that’s a far more accurate way to describe the current situation (there are many variations of this concept floating around online). Let go of any ridiculous pressure to do anything other than survive this time, hopefully with some humor and grace. Personally, I feel fortunate for the extended time at home with my family and know I’ll miss it when it’s gone! We’ll likely all look back on this strange and surreal experience through a softer, more forgiving lens when it’s no longer our everyday life.