4 steps to surviving working from home while parenting

As I wrote in my previous post, this year has put many of us into a strange situation. Yes, many people have been working from home before 2020, and have been very successful in doing so - including combining working from home with parenting. However, for the rest of us this has been quite a big change.

Obviously, with schools being open things are not as dire as they were in spring. However, some of us are limited in the afterschool care; others are faced with their child staying at home if their class is told to self-isolate; and in general, having no divide between family and working life can be quite challenging. So in this post I will share some ideas on how to make the best of combining parenting and working from home (and not to lose your sanity while doing so).

If your children are with you at home while you are doing work:

Step 1: Adjust your schedules to each other.

Observe your child's energy levels throughout the day. Are there certain times during the day when they can concentrate more, when they play by themselves? Are there times of the day when they need a nap/really need to go run around in the park? Do they get cranky if they have not had snack in a while? For our kids, mornings definitely have a higher probability of some independent play happening, so this is when I try to do most of my work that requires concentration, or schedule my most important meetings.

Make sure to note to yourself whether there is a certain time of the day by which your child absolutely needs to get outside/run around/release the energy - try to give them an opportunity to do so (play active games in the yard/garden/park, do some exercises at home together). And try avoiding as much as you can scheduling work that requires uninterrupted concentration or meetings at this time. If you have not already done so, speak to your employer, and explain to them your circumstances. It is important to make them aware of the extra responsibilities that you have; offer a few options of how you can reschedule your work around your parental responsibilities. Of course, this is not always possible in all instances, however even small adjustments in your schedule might make a big difference.

Step 2: Create some new rules.

I am sure that this situation sounds familiar: you sit down to write A Very Important Email or work on That Very Important Project - and suddenly your kids absolutely need your attention 100% on them (Look! Look what I've got!! Play with me!). And out goes your focus and concentration, you are begging your child to give you "just 10 min to finish this", they don't listen, and you are struggling to finish (or just even start) whatever you were going to do. Does this sound familiar? Why are they doing it?!

Well, the truth is, if your child isn't used to seeing you working at home, they might be somewhat jealous that their parent is absorbed so much into something that's not them. And it's not only that - we all play roles, and often the role that we play at work is not quite the same as what they see at home. It's all new and strange to them, so naturally they want to see if they can bring their good old parent back by (sometimes literally) dragging you out of your "working mode".

One of the ways you could deal with this is by establishing some new rules. Acknowledge they need your attention, and tell them you'll spend certain amount of time doing their favourite activity with them (playing Lego, trains, doing arts and crafts, reading books, playing a board game), but in exchange for that they need to let you concentrate on your work for a certain amount of time. Explain that you would love to play with them, however your work also needs to get done. In my experience, if you continue arguing with them that you need to do something right this moment and cannot play with them, you will spend more time arguing and won't get anything done (as your concentration will be gone and frustration will be pretty high) - instead of which you could play with them for a bit, and then focus on your work. This works especially well if you establish the rules beforehand, and remind your child about them before you start your work day.

Step 3: Honesty and empathy

This is a very important step. Be honest with your child (and with yourself!) about how you feel. Let them know if you are feeling tired or frustrated and ask for some understanding. You can explain in simple terms why you are feeling that way. At the same time, ask them how they feel if they are starting to misbehave, and acknowledge their feelings. Try to put yourself in their shoes, see the situation from their perspective and try to understand them. Speaking for myself, I would say that during the what seemed like endless days of lockdown this spring, I became more open and honest about my feelings with my kids, and at the same time I learned to see the situation from their point of view. This helps to "catch" a lot of dramas at the early stage, and helps us diffuse conflicts and tantrums.

The next step is for all of us - those who work from home with children and those who have some form of childcare available to them - in fact I think it is quite important to all of us.

Step 4: Get out and about!

For anybody who has begun working from home full time this year, spending 24/7 in the same environment can be pretty draining. The one thing that has changed so much this year is that far too much of our lives have been moved online. For those of us who used to work in the office, all of the interactions, chats and meetings with our colleagues and often even friends have been moved to Zoom, Teams, Skype and Facetime. Gyms and yoga studios are now offering online classes. Online workshops, classes, support groups - you name it! The problem is that it is quite hard to cope with being in front of the laptop in the same environment the whole time, not many of us can truly enjoy it. You end up spending your whole day at home, followed by the evening activities with the family, and so your world can become pretty small!

Some of us might feel a bit stuck in this routine and miss human interaction outside of our family. The way to combat it? If you can get out out of the house - then do so at every opportunity! Do you enjoy grocery shopping but get groceries online these days? Get outside and go to the supermarket - for some of us it is quite meditating. Did you get into a habit of ordering everything from Amazon? Perhaps check out your local shops in the neighbourhood and see if you can get some stuff there instead.

Make a habit to get out of your house for lunch - quite a few places are still open for takeaway. Even if it is too cold to sit and eat it outside, use that hour to go for a walk around your neighbourhood. Eat your lunch NOT in front of your laptop. Read a book, or a magazine, just something that is not on the screen. If you are up for it, see if there are any support groups, classes or play groups around your neighbourhood (and if you are in Leyton, make sure to check out what's on offer ).

I hope that some day very soon things will be back to normal, but in the meantime I hope these tips and ideas will make your life a little bit easier.

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