When my son was born just over ten years ago, I left my office job and set up as a freelance worker. For the time being, this suits our family. Although my income levels are completely unpredictable from one month to the next, I can usually pull in some extra pennies. We also end up going on nice trips, which we wouldn’t be able to afford if we were just relying on my partner’s income. The downside is that I have to constantly juggle work with looking after my 10- and eight-year old. Their school days are short, school holidays are long, and it’s tricky to meet my deadlines at the same time as keeping the kids occupied. So I’ve developed some strategies that help me work from home with kids. I thought I’d share these.
The current Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic means that schools around the world have closed, and people are self isolating. Lots of parents might end up working at home with kids. It’s going to be a big challenge, but I hope these tips might help a little. Please let me know if you have any more to add!
If you can, change your working hours
One thing that I regularly have to do is set my alarm for an unholy hour, to give myself an hour or two of working time before the children wake up. Of course, if you have babies or very young children to look after, this might not work. Until a couple of years ago, one or both of our children were up at 6am – and I would NOT have relished the prospect of rising at 4am. Now, however, I often get up at 5/5.30am so that I can get a jump on the day, to send emails or meet a deadline. Ditto with working in the evenings. I try to do a lot of my admin tasks in the evening, because my mind’s too tired to focus on anything too difficult. But friends of mine who are night owls like to get big chunks of work done after bedtime.
This strategy won’t work with all jobs. But if you have work that you can quietly do at a keyboard, rather than having to be present and switched on during office hours, try to get as much of it done before or after the kids are in bed. And if your child still naps, make the most of that time!
Plan a schedule of activities
In order to be able to work with as little interruption as possible, you need to make sure the children are occupied. Thankfully, a few of my friends in the world of blogging have put together ideas on ways to entertain the children while they’re off school.
Some of the activities they suggest need more parental involvement than others. It’s impossible, eg, to play a board game at the same time as taking a conference call. But you might just about be able to get away with sending the kids off on a treasure hunt round the house while you answer a couple of emails. If you plan a few activities for the week, you can launch into them when the time comes. If you have older children you could even set up an activity station, with safety scissors, card, pens and – if you’re feeling brave – paints and glue. Then you can let them craft away when they begin to feel bored.
For inspiration, check out this feature by Monkey and Mouse on 10 ways to entertain and educate the kids when school is closed.
Set up some structure to your day
When you work from home with kids it might be tempting to just all stay in your pyjamas till late morning, and let the routine go out of the window. In the past, I’ve done this. It felt fun for the first few days, but after a while we ended up feeling ratty, gross and stressed-out by the end of the afternoon. We needed a routine to help us feel ‘normal’.
If your school shuts and sends remote learning for your child to do, it’s good to set aside a regular time slot for them to do their schoolwork. That way, you might be able to avoid some arguments. Mornings are schoolwork time, and that’s that.
Children (and adults) often have more energy in the morning, so as well as doing schoolwork, it’s a good idea to try and get some fresh air in the morning. Of course, if you’re self-isolating, it might not be possible to go outside. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden, or access to outdoor space where they won’t come across anyone else. But if you can get outside, try to do something active – bounce on a trampoline, race across the lawn or work on a gardening project.
In the past, I’ve found that afternoons are a good time to let the kids kick back. Let’s face it, if you have to work from home with kids as part of a national emergency, then you’re likely to need to plonk them in front of a screen for some of the day. And afternoons are a good time to do this. The hour or two after lunch are a time when energies dip. While the children are safely occupied, you can touch base with your office – or even try and have a ten-minute power nap, if you’ve done a lot of work very early in the morning, or been working late the night before.
Manage your own expectations, and those of your kids
You might be used to working for a solid few hours, from nine am until five or six pm. That’s extremely unlikely to happen when you work from home with kids. You’ll have interruptions, when the children decide they want a snack, or that they want to show you the special picture they just drew. If you have more than one child, you may need to step in to sort out a squabble. I’ve found myself on the verge of tearing out my hair in frustration. Unfinished tasks can stack up, while the kids pester me with requests and dramas. But it’s completely normal to feel like that. If you’re working from home because of Coronavirus COVID-19, it’s an extreme situation, and things will go back to normal eventually. You won’t be able to work as efficiently as usual – and, for the time being, that’s ok. It has to be.
On the other hand, there will be times when you cannot have the kids interrupting you. Most of us have seen the clip of the reporter whose toddler and baby burst in on him while he was being interviewed on the BBC news. That’s the sort of thing you want to avoid. So, if your children are old enough to understand, try to set some agreements with them in advance. For instance, if you go into your bedroom and close the door, they know that this means you’re taking an important call and they must not disturb you. If you can get away with it, try not to have too many of these moments in the day. This way, when the ‘no entry’ sign is on the door, the kids are more likely to obey.
Communicate with your partner to share the load of working from home with kids
Research from the Office of National Statistics shows that, on average, women do 60% more of the household tasks than men. This includes childcare. Regardless of whether you’re in a heterosexual or a same-sex relationship, it’s important to discuss with your partner how you’re going to make sure the childcare responsibilities will be split evenly if you need to work from home with kids unexpectedly. I like the idea of a timetable, where each partner takes it in turns to be in charge of the kids for an hour or two. Then, if you have a piece of work that you need to focus on, you can try to get it done when your partner’s taking a turn at looking after the kids. Alternatively, you could take it in turns to have a whole day of uninterrupted work time, while the other partner fits in their work around parenting.
Factor in some me-time
It’s stressful when you work from home with kids, so don’t forget to look after yourself. As I said before, try not to beat yourself up if you end up not being as productive as usual. Equally, don’t go on a guilt trip because your kids have had lots more screen time than usual. These are extreme times, and it’s ok to let yourself, and the kids, do things that you wouldn’t under normal circumstances.
In the past, I’ve tried to jump onto the pc at every opportunity, to catch up on work while the kids weren’t around. While that’s ok as a short-term strategy, it’s no long-term solution. Keeping an eye on your mental health and wellbeing is just as important as meeting those deadlines.
The main thing is, to care for yourself as well as the people around you. Factor in some time to curl up with a good book, take a long bath, give yourself a manicure….whatever makes you happy and relaxed.
These are tips based on what’s worked for me. Have you ever had to work from home with children? Do you have any tips to add to these? Please share them!
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