How to Work From Home When You're in Lockdown With the Kids
By: Meaghan Hadwyn
This took three times as long to write as it should have. As it turns out, having quiet time to work and focus was something I took for granted during the pre-pandemic days. Now my working-from-home hours are filled with the sounds of a six-year-old who is tired of online learning, missing her friends, and bored during online class breaks.
Virtual school sounds like an easy, laid-back style of learning. Kids get their beloved screen time in quantities they'd never be allowed under normal circumstances, and parents get to work from home and enjoy the whole family under the roof.
If only that were true.
Instead, younger children struggle with focusing during the virtual-school day, and parents are struggling to keep up with their work as they try to make sure schoolwork is being done, video calls are joined, and that their child isn't asking the teacher when they can hang up for the third time that morning. Older kids are bored, miss hanging out with friends, and feel anxious about what is going on in the world. On top of it all, they are now seeing their parents’ work stress firsthand.
Balancing a household, helping kids learn during online school, and keeping a career running is a challenge that has been mega-magnified by the pandemic. So I've put together some tips from parents who have found ways to make it a little easier.
1. Stop constant interruptions by creating quiet cues.
When I worked at an open-concept advertising agency, it was loud and distracting. Then came the magic of headphones. Not because I could drown out the sounds, but in that workplace, wearing headphones was synonymous with: “I’m in a good work groove, so please don’t interrupt me unless it’s necessary.” A similar approach can work when you’re at home with the kids. Based on your work set-up, plan some “I need quiet now” cues. Whether it’s a shut door to the home office, having your headphones on, or a little sign in the doorway, create consistent cues that tell your kids you need to focus and can't be interrupted. Once you've decided on your approach, explain it to the kids (probably repeatedly). It may take some time for them to get used to it, but be firm and consistent. Repetitions and reminders will turn it into a habit. It won't work all the time, but the uptick in quality work time will be worth it.
2. Treat your workday like a school day.
When working outside the home, there were breaks that actually felt like breaks. Now taking a breather from work has turned into making lunches and putting together snacks. Instead, go back to the school routine. I know, I know. Making lunches in the morning is one of the worst things about packing the kids up for school. But, when you’re trying to do it all on a weekday, this will help. In the morning, pack everyone's lunches for the day and fill up the school water bottles. Once you're done, put it all in a spot in the fridge where kids can easily reach to get their own snacks and lunch. That way, you can spend your lunch time, you know, actually eating your lunch, or if it helps your workload, focus on some work deliverables without having to stop mid-task and put together meals for the whole family.
3. Balance boredom with self-service entertainment options.
With virtual school, running around at recess or hanging out with friends between classes has been replaced by turning off the computer and telling the adult nearby that they’re bored. To prevent yourself from spending time doing the whole “But-I’m-Bored” brainstorming, you can use a little time on the weekend to create new activity ideas for school breaks. Pull out a couple of old puzzles, break out the age-appropriate art supplies, print off a mindful worksheet (like our free ones available at otherlifelessons.com), and create an Activity Station or Activity Box at your house. When class is out of session, but you're still focused on work, the kids can easily find a way to occupy themselves that you'll feel good about. At the very least, you can point at it when they are whining about wanting something to do.
4. Be kind to yourself.
While it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the day-to-day work and home responsibilities, you also need to accept that you can’t do it all. No one can. No one is. Everything we knew about life has been upended. We don't always have answers for our kids, and at times we can feel frightened too. It can be overwhelming, and sometimes you feel like you're failing on all fronts. But you’re supporting your family during a worldwide pandemic. You're doing your best, and that's all you can do. So let the laundry sit another day, make a frozen pizza for dinner, turn off the computer at 5 p.m., be honest and open with your co-workers about expectations, and let go of the pressure that's weighing on you to have the same standards or time you did before the pandemic.
There's no magic fix to suddenly make working from home during a pandemic and trying to juggle online school, grocery store runs, and everything else that needs to be done in a day. But there are some things you can do to give your children a little more independence and you a little more opportunity to breathe in a day.
Meaghan Hadwyn is a CDI Ambassador and the co-founder of Other Life Lessons, a small Canadian publishing company. She’s also the author of the award-winning honest children’s books Life’s Not Fair, Sometimes Someone Dies, Why Mommy Works, Sunshine and Screen Time, Don’t Be a Quitter, and New Baby Sad Mommy. A portion of book sales is donated to CDI. For more information, visit otherlifelessons.com