Tips for Working from Home with Kids.
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Being a working parent can be tough. I’ve been at it for almost 8 years and mostly feel like I’m half arsing it all over the place on a good day. If I’m doing well at work you can believe there’s a bunch of stuff at home that is stressing me out, and vice versa.
We’re encouraged to find a work-life balance, but the thing about finding a balance is that the scales are very hard to get level. We can spend a lot of energy trying to find the sweet spot, the perfect division of tasks between providing for your family and being there with them, but in the author’s very humble opinion, this changes almost on the daily.
So here we are in the very early stages of lockdown thanks to a global pandemic that has hit us swiftly, and one of the biggest challenges we face is keeping the pieces moving while we wait and see how this will affect us individually and collectively.
If you’re working from home and you still have young children, then life is going to become even more challenging than it was already. Over the last 8 years I’ve learned a few things about staying kind of sane while juggling work and wains, so here are some of my top tips. I hope you find them helpful.
Keep a Routine
I’ve read a number of parenting books by this stage and there’s a common theme among them that states kids do well with a predictable pattern to their day. Give them a few days of staying in their PJ’s until after lunch and watching more TV than you’d care to admit, and then start them on the new household routine.
Start with getting up at the same time each day and getting ready as though it were a normal school day – breakfast, teeth, getting dressed, making beds etc. What happens next will depend on what you can manage. Read on for ideas.
Divide and conquer if possible
If you and your partner are both at home then you can split the day, Parent 1 amuses the children while the other works, then switch when you need. Having both parents trying to work at the same time will just wind up with both of you getting interrupted and consequently frustrated.
If that dreamy shared parenting scenario is not accessible to you then try the following:
You have to give them some attention in order to get anything done.
Sounds arse backwards I know. But hear me out.
Kids are bottomless pits when it comes to attention and affection. I’m sure by now most parents know that children will behave badly even if it brings negative attention from their parents because in their little kiddo brains, any attention is better than no attention. If you want to be able to work (relatively) uninterrupted for blocks during the day then you have to adopt a system of reciprocity.
Here’s what I recommend: start the morning as if it’s a school day and then instead of going to school, take them outside and get them moving.
Throw a frisbee, take them on a bike ride or a walk (at a safe social distance during this time please!), play poison ball on the trampoline, jump rope – anything. If you’re exceptionally keen you can even get some exercise yourself and try a home workout with them (if you have low tolerance levels for interruption and/or you take your exercise seriously I would not recommend this).
Chinese medicine says that children are yang by their very nature – meaning they need to MOVE (and outdoor exercise stimulates a healthy immune system). If my kids don’t get outside to burn some energy every day then they invariably wind up playing a little game I’ve dubbed: “How Can We Fight and Fuck Shit Up?’ Which seems to be highly competitive.
Get them moving vigorously for 30-45 minutes, then when you get back home give them a snack (because you know they’ll be asking for one the minute you open your laptop) and tell them you’re setting a timer to do some work and they have to entertain themselves until the timer goes off. Let them watch TV or set them up next to you doing a jigsaw or something.
I also find a little reverse psychology comes in handy here: “I bet there’s NO WAY you’ll be able to amuse yourself until this timer goes off though.”
How long you can set the timer for depends on the age of the children. A normal attention span is 3 – 5 minutes per year of age. So, an 8-year-old with a good attention span could potentially yield 40 minutes of minimally interrupted work time – depends on the kid, depends on the day.
Learn to start working in 20-minute blocks.
At the end of your work block it’s time to do something with them again. Help them finish their jigsaw, play a quick game, read a book etc. Then put the timer back on. Repeat for the workday. Insert lunch and snacks.
Mandate individual activity time
It’s wonderful when siblings play nicely together. It’s also about as rare as rocking horse shit. As any parent knows, we spend half our time refereeing.
After lunch, split them up for some individual activity time. They can be in the same room, just not doing the same thing. This gives them a break from each other and means that you shouldn’t have to stop what you’re doing to red card anyone.
Remember the Four Burners
There’s an analogy that likens your life to a stove, with 4 burners on it.
The names of the burners may differ from person to person, but they represent different aspects of your life. Let’s say:
Exercise and self-care
The idea is that you can’t have all 4 of these burners cranked up to supernova at the same time.
If you’re a self-employed single parent with 3 kids, then your FAMILY and WORK burners are going to be cranked up pretty high, this means the other 2 are going to get neglected. Beating yourself up because you don’t get up at 5am to do morning pages and journaling and meditation and a workout is not helpful. If you manage a 10 minute online yoga class twice a week then you’re a freakin’ legend.
If you’re looking after your kids and working from home, you probably aren’t going to be getting on top of the laundry pile, keeping the place tidy, or running as a serious contender for the new season of MasterChef.
Hats off to you if you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. Beans on toast is a good dinner. Give yourself a break.
Good, Better, Best
Following on from the above, I learnt the following from entrepreneur Natalie Hodson. It’s based on the notion that even small action is better than no action, and a day will usually fall into one of the following categories:
BEST case scenario is that you got your scheduled work done, your kids were cooperative, you managed to put the laundry away and cook a family dinner. You even had the energy to have a conversation with your spouse after the kids were in bed (shocking I know). You successfully balanced it out and everyone was happy.
BETTER would be that you got most of your work done, the kids were not too hard to get to fall into line, you were a bit late to get family dinner organised so you fed the kids separately (contrary to popular belief this will not turn them into axe murderers) and even though you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to, you did OK.
GOOD your kids didn’t want to co-operate, and you got hardly any of your work done. You only had the energy to make toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner. But you still got some work done (even small action is better than no action) and kept your kids alive – count it as a good day.
Remember that the thing little children want more than anything is just to be near you. We’re all looking for silver linings right now, and I think getting to spend some extra time with your kids while they still think you’re cool is definitely one of them.
Found this helpful? Have other ideas? Please leave a comment!
If you know anyone who might like these tips, please send them the link. We’re in this together Parents! (Albeit from 1.5m away from each other at all times for the foreseeable future.)