There is a reason most people don’t usually work from home with their children: it’s hard. But it is possible and you may even come to enjoy it. I want to share my experience of how to make it happen, as thousands are forced to work from home and their children can’t go to school.
The great thing about the moment right now is that it’s an opportunity to be with our families and strengthen our bonds. And it’s also a time when everyone is going to be pretty forgiving of circumstances and not mind too much if you have to work after-hours, or you get interrupted while talking to the big boss.
By now you may have already learned that television does not work. This isn’t Saturday morning, where your kids have gone without morning TV all week and it’s a special weekend treat. This has been days on end. They are bored. You’re anxious. And it all feels like a powder keg.
The first thing you need to know is that you have to change your mindset: You are no longer a working parent. You are a parent who works (when they can). Here are tips that have worked for me:
Special time. I have listed this first for a reason: it works. I learned about special time from the book Listen by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore, and it has transformed my life as a parent working from home. You spend about 15 to 20 minutes in uninterrupted, unled child time per child. Announce special time, put your phone on airplane mode, set the timer, and let your child direct what you do. Do not think about work or who you need to call when this time is over. Be fully present for your child — they will notice and respond. Now, I can 100 percent guarantee your child will pick an activity that drives you bonkers. But bear with it! When you first start doing this, you may have to repeat it a few times throughout the day. After a week, depending on the child’s age, once a day usually suffices to fill that Cup O’Needs.
Self-engaging activity. Don’t overthink this or scour Pinterest. This can be painting a rock, a kiddie pool filled with water and Dawn soap (do not underestimate bubbles’ allure at any age), a shovel and dirt, or schoolwork. This will give you time to check your email, and do some non-essential stuff. Mostly plan on being interrupted during this time. Don’t give a kid an activity that requires parental involvement or supervision since that defeats the purpose. Let him or her explore and self-learn, and maybe work from your phone so you can be outside.
Family time. Doing something together as a family (not watching TV) is just as important as the first two steps. But it also is a way for you to get some down-time and enjoy your kids. After all, you had them for a reason, right? Popular family-time activities for us are walking, gardening, playing soccer, chipping golf balls, foraging, and building easy projects. This should be somewhat goal oriented and for an hour or two. Do not try to work during this time, but you can be “on-call,” waiting for someone to get back to you.
Television works, sometimes. If you have accomplished special time, engaged activity and family time, then this step will work for about two-to-four hours from my experience. And you better use those hours for some real, get-shit-done work. No social media. Get all your big stuff done now. If you do not have a partner to help you, this is the most valuable time for your work. It’s also important to set the rules before turning on the TV. So Kid A gets to watch X for the first hour, Kid B gets to watch Y for the second hour. Take the remote with you. Let them know that if they start bickering, TV gets chucked to the curb. It helps if you have a crazy look in your eye when you say that.
Your partner. If a partner, family member, or other caretaker is also at home, then you need to demand uninterrupted work time (in the nicest way possible). You take four hours, your partner takes four hours. You’ll strike a balance that works. During this time, lock yourself in a room. You can only be interrupted if someone needs to go to the hospital, and honestly, even then they shouldn’t bother you unless they need your insurance card. Your partner, in the meantime, can do special time or some non-essential work while the kids are engaged in another activity that he or she planned.
After-hours is sometimes unavoidable. You will find that sometimes you have to work after everyone goes to bed, if only to organize or delete emails. That’s OK. You gave your kids a wonderful, fulfilling day without you constantly checking your phone.
Uninterrupted time? Great, don’t do dishes. If your partner is watching the kids or if the children are sucked into TV, do not do dishes. Do not fold laundry. Do not tidy up the living room. Use this time to be good at your other day job. This is one of the harder tips for me to follow. Just think of that mess as that obnoxious office worker with too much perfume and a loud voice that carries across the entire building: you have to get your work done despite her.
Time for you. Similar to your kid needing your undivided attention daily, you need your own time at minimum for 15 minutes and without your phone. Time in nature is my go-to. Exercise is also great you-time. Don’t think about work or the kids. You could do this after-hours, but I find it’s nice to take the break midway through the day so you don’t feel like all you did all day was work and deal with children (which, yeah, is what you are doing).
You will work longer hours. So instead of coming in at nine and leaving at five, you will likely work 10-hour days as you bounce back and force between children and your job. But that’s OK because now you don’t have to sit in traffic for an hour each way, right?
Lindsay Street is a policy reporter for Charleston City Paper and its sister publication, Statehouse Report.
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