If you had told millions of employees working out of office cubicles at the start of the new year that within a couple of months they would be packing up and leaving their fluorescent-lit spaces in exchange for a home-based office, you may have received a sarcastic smirk or two.
Smirks or not, several months later, that’s where we are.
And by all appearances, many people will continue to be in that situation for the unforeseen future. Google and other companies have recently announced that their employees will be working remotely through at least the Summer of 2021.
COVID-19 has created an unprecedented situation that nobody saw coming and it’s sent shockwaves around the world. It has forever influenced the way that we do business from now on in more ways than one.
Working from home with kids is a significant challenge
Working from home with kids is one of the most significant challenges for many parents.
And for good reason.
Many schools have indicated that they will not be opening up in the Fall of 2020 for students to attend in-person. That means that millions of parents will be forced to continue working from home and make sure their kids are getting an education at the same time.
I have been working from home with kids since late 2019, here is what I have learned.
It’s not normal and that’s OK
It’s OK to realize and acknowledge that nothing about any of this is normal by modern standards.
Until recently, less than 20% of the workforce in the US worked remotely full-time. Kids regularly attended school between August and May. The unemployment rate was at record lows. You could go to a store and not be surrounded by a throng of people all wearing something over their face.
None of that is normal. And much of it will not be part of the so-called “new normal” that you routinely hear discussed on the air waves.
Life did not change significantly for everybody
It’s important to note that not everybody’s life changed significantly as a result of the pandemic. For many, life stayed very much the same, albeit with a bit more risk involved in their daily routines.
During the pandemic, my wife continued to have to go to a physical office. Being considered an “essential employee” in the financial industry, her life did not change much.
But my life changed significantly.
I had already started working remotely part-time, but I still went into a 6 story office building a couple of times per week. That all changed when the pandemic hit and they shut the entire building down and have kept it shut down for the past 5+ months.
I started working from home full-time at that point and the kids were right there with me. No school, no daycare. I was working from home with kids in the house right there with me. It was our “new normal”.
I quickly learned a few things, but one of those things took longer to learn than the rest.
When significant changes happen, relationships can and will be tested
Making breakfast, lunch, and dinner, changing diapers, cleaning up, washing dishes, and being a teacher to a first-grader all while working full-time is an incredible amount of work.
I was suddenly a stay-at-home dad who worked full-time.
And it quickly became stressful.
Tempers can flare, frustrations can set in and flaws quickly surface to the top in both you, your children, and your partner.
And if you’re not careful, the flaws can become the focus.
That does not even begin to address the issues between partners when one is working remotely and the other is not.
If the partner who is not working from home does not have a good understanding of what the person working from home is going through and vice-versa, it can create tensions that can quickly become a problem.
Here are a few things about relationships under stress that I have learned over the past few months:
- It is important to focus on relationships and make a conscious, intentional effort to spend quality time with each other over the “quantity” of time.
- It is important to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand what they’re going through and the stress that they are dealing with.
- Just because you are at home with the kids does not mean that the time spent is beneficial for you or them. It requires an intentional effort to give that time value.
How to make the best of working from home with kids
As with all things, there are upsides and downsides to finding yourself in a completely new experience working from home with kids in the picture. These are a few of the things that I have personally found helpful in making the best of both the ups and the downs:
Have a set schedule
Structure is essential for kids at home, especially when the adult in the house is not readily available at a moments notice.
Establish a set amount of time that you work. Preferably in “blocks of time” that you can set aside where the kids know that you are unavailable except for emergencies.
Depending on your job, this could be a 30, 60, or 90-minute block of time (I wouldn’t recommend more than 90 minutes if your kids are under the age of 10) where you set a timer that they can easily see that indicates how much time you have left in your work session. At the end of that time period, you get up and go help them with anything that came up during that time frame (snacks, diaper changes, drinks, etc).
If your kids are younger, it’s important to have set nap times that you try to stick to in order to establish a set routine.
A set schedule is important to have in place when you’re working from in general, but even more so important when kids are involved.
Have a designated work space
Even if it is a closet that you clean out, a specific desk or shelf area that you set up to be “your space” or a dresser that you convert to a desk (like I did), you need to have a designated workspace.
This space would preferably be behind some kind of door that can be closed (if needed) so that you can have peace and quiet when in meetings or on phone calls.
You can take it a step further and have some kind of sign that you can place outside the area that tells your kids if you can be disturbed or not.
This is essential when working from home with kids because you need to set up clear and concise boundaries that leave no confusion. If the sign says you’re busy, then you’re busy and should only be disturbed in the event of an emergency.
Create and execute a meal-plan
You can get so wrapped up in everything else that will consume your time each day that it’s easy to forget about food. Until your kids are glaring at you wondering when you’re going to put food on the table.
This is a great place to get your kids help in preparing food for easy meals like breakfast and lunch if they’re old enough and are able (I do not have that luxury just yet).
If you’re like me, your kids may be old enough to grab some fruit out of the fridge and rinse it off, but they can’t make macaroni and cheese or deal with anything hot just yet.
So for me, it’s important to have a meal plan scheduled for the week, do a grocery shopping run before the week starts to make sure I have everything I need (meals, snacks, drinks, etc) and ready to roll.
Some things can even be done in advance to prep so that you do not have to spend a ton of time on it during the week with all other madness going on.
I recommend a slow cooker, instant-pot, rice-maker, blender, freezer bags, and any other appliance or kitchen accessory that will make your life easier.
Pro Tip: Use tin foil on your pans whenever baking or cooking, whenever possible, so that you can just remove the tin foil and throw it away without having to worry about washing those dishes. HUGE TIME SAVER!
Establish a rewards based system
If your kids are old enough, you may want to work on creating some sort of rewards-based system that incentivizes them to be at their best behavior and be huge helpers throughout the week with chores, cooking, cleaning, etc.
It doesn’t have to be significant, but something that will encourage them to get involved and be pro-active in helping you run a tight ship around the house and keep their eyes off of the numerous screens clamoring for their attention all hours of the day.
You can turn the working from home with kids experience into a very rewarding and teachable experience that pays dividends in the long run.
Screen-Time is OK but there are alternatives
Look, it’s a pandemic. The number of opportunities to get out and about are limited, especially during the work-day when you’re tied up, so give yourself a break and relax.
It’s OK that your kids are getting more screen time. It’s going to happen.
If you are concerned about screen time (I understand entirely), there are plenty of opportunities to pick up some kits, books, crafts, and other things that they can do to learn and have fun at the same time.
Whether it’s learning to code, building a raised garden bed, or testing out scientific theories and principles with kits and experiments, there are plenty of engaging activities for kids of all ages to participate in during a pandemic while their parents work from home.
Let your kids be kids
At the end of the day, kids need to be kids. And a pandemic or a work-from-home parent doesn’t change that. If anything, it’s more important than ever.
So it’s ok to just let your kids be alone and figure things out on their own.
Let them have the space they need to entertain themselves. Let them build castles out of blankets and chairs. Let them play in the dirt and dig a hole in the back yard.
Kids are creative and resilient so let them be kids – they’ll be better off because of it.
Just because you’re working from home with kids doesn’t mean it needs to be a dull, boring or even strict environment. If anything, it should be just the opposite.
Hey you… remember to have fun
And for you…. Try being more like a kid sometimes 😉 Have fun. This is a new frontier for all of us and it is unprecedented.
Nobody alive today has ever dealt with what we’re dealing with as full-time working parents in 2020 and the rules have changed and will continue to change.
Enjoy the uniqueness of it.
It’s a once in a life time experience.
A stay at home dad working from home with kids.
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