How to Work from Home With Kids (Without Losing Your Damn Mind)
Working from home presents a unique parenting paradox. On the one hand, it’s nice to be closer to your kids, but you also need to be productive—and they won’t let you send a single email. In related news, nothing guarantees they’ll loudly freak out like your need to be on an important call.
But these are strange times, and as social distancing continues to curb childcare options, an increasing number of parents now find themselves juggling work deadlines with nap schedules, homeschooling and incessant snack demands (why do they always want a snack?). We tapped the smartest parents we know for tips on how to work from home with kids and set the whole family up for success.*
Why is it so hard for our kids to let us work at home?You know the move—your toddler completely ignores you, absorbed in her play, until the minute you need to hop on a call and that’s when she goes ballistic. Or your previously independent kid (who barely even waved goodbye to you at school drop-off) has now suddenly regressed and wants to be around you all the time. What’s going on here?
“It is hard for young children, and even older ones, when parents work from home, because home is their place of comfort. It is where the family is,” says “toddler whisperer” and renowned child psychologist Tovah Klein, Ph.D. “When a parent works from home, the child feels rejected, as in, ‘My parent does not want to be with me.’”
Another reason your kid might be acting out? Her routine has gone out the window and she may be a little freaked out by what’s happening in the world right now. But the good news is that kids are surprisingly resilient and highly adaptable. Meaning, it’s possible to keep the whole family sane while social distancing and working from home. Here are eight tips that can help.
1. Communicate with your teamThis isn’t the time to pretend like everything is normal. Be upfront with coworkers and managers about what is going on. That includes being clear about any times where you’re unable to video chat (say, because you’re nursing your 6-month-old) or if a conference call is likely to be interrupted by a screaming toddler (which, let’s face it, could be at any moment). Talk to your employer about their expectations during this time and keep them up to date with any issues or challenges. Given these unusual circumstances, they should hopefully be understanding (and honestly, they may even be in the same boat).
2. Establish a routine
“The first week that my husband and I both had to work from home after our 9-month-old’s daycare closed was total chaos,” one mom tells us. “We were both trying to figure out how to manage our schedules and ended up just passing our son back and forth throughout the day, which meant that neither one of us got any work done.” The solution? Sit down over the weekend and make a plan for the week ahead that (if possible) includes bigger chunks of time to focus. “Now, he’ll take care of the baby in the morning and I’ll take over in the afternoon—and we both work at high speed during nap time.” This doesn’t have to mean creating a color-coded, Insta-COVID-perfect schedule where every hour of your mini’s day is filled with stimulating activities. But coming up with a basic plan will help give your children a sense of stability in these weird times (for older kids, try modeling their day according to their usual school routine) as well as help you make the most of your day.
3. But be flexible
These are unusual circumstances, and while having a plan is certainly helpful, know that things may not go smoothly every day. In fact, they definitely won’t. But everybody is doing their best and trying to figure this thing out—be kind to yourself and remember that even though this may be stressful, what you’re doing is essential to keep people healthy and safe.
4. Enlist help if possibleYour childcare options may be limited at this time, but maybe you have a partner at home who can help out or an older kid who can babysit your youngest for a few hours? And depending on the age of your child, you can also arrange virtual playdates to keep them occupied with grandparents, friends or even teachers. They can chat, read to each other, sing and dance—anything to give you a couple of minutes to catch up on emails.
5. Go outside every day (if you can)
Your kids will go nuts if they stay cooped up indoors all day—and so will you. Unless local authorities have said otherwise, try to go outside for some fresh air every day (making sure to keep a safe distance from other people, of course). This will help everyone blow off some steam as well as give the family a much-needed change of scenery. If your work schedule seems too packed to take a break, see if you can take a call on the go or bring your laptop out to the backyard.
6. Use screen time strategically
First of all, don’t beat yourself up if you give your kids a little more screen time than normal (or more than the Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of one hour per day from the age of 2). “The high-level takeaway in terms of kids and screen time is that everything should be watched in moderation,” says Lindsay Powers, author of You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids: A Judgment-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting and founder of the viral No Shame Parenting movement. “You should also make sure the programming is age-appropriate, and you should do your best to interact with your kids while they’re viewing it,” she adds. Meaning that if you’re firing up the iPad on Monday so you can get a head start on the week, try your best to balance it out with less screen time on Tuesday (or over the weekend). And here’s a pro tip: Use screens at whatever point in the day you need your kid to be distracted the most (say, your 3 p.m. meeting with the CEO). Another way to feel better about giving your kid some extra screen time while you’re trying to work? Curate their playlist. Plenty of educational shows will entertain your son while teaching him something, too. (Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood happen to be two of our faves for the toddler set.)
7. Ditto for nap time
“I’m lucky in that most of the time my 2-year-old will take a daily two-and-a-half-hour nap,” says one mom, revealing that she uses that time to work on projects that require the most focus. But even if your kid decides to go on a nap strike, scheduling some quiet time every day (like playing with Playdoh and a bunch of molds next to you) can still give you the opportunity to concentrate on your work. (Maybe.)
8. Wear your kid if she’s small enough“Using the baby carrier, I can keep my daughter entertained for about 15 minutes while standing in front of the computer and bouncing back and forth, and then another 20 or so while walking around the house,” one mom tells us. “I make coffee, put away dishes, do pretty much every conference call and even get some emails done in that way while she’s awake.” We knew that thing would come in handy.
9. Cut yourself some slack
You’re working two jobs now, so it’s OK if the laundry piles up or if you give the kids mac and cheese for dinner three nights in a row. And even though you’re busier than ever, try to take some time each day to do something for yourself—go for a run, take a bath or heck, try a two-minute breathing exercise. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of those around you.