Having to work from home with kids is a task the world isn’t very good at yet. It’s a bit like work, but with more mess, more screaming and a small zoo running wild around your desk, pressing your keyboard, chewing your notebook.
Here are some tips put together by our staff to make sure it’s more WFH than WTF.
Inform your colleagues
Much of the stress when you work from home with kids comes from worrying about what your colleagues must think of you. But one of the few upsides to a shared struggle (as opposed to a personal one) is that everyone is going through something similar. So just be open and honest.
Be clear about your schedule. Block out your calendar so our colleagues can see that you’re running between 9 and 10, or on kid duty between 3 and 5. Tell your boss about your new timetable. No one will begrudge you, as long as they know when to get hold of you, and what to expect from you, when.
Plan with your spouse and kids
Of course, the best laid plans often go wrong, especially with a spouse having a surprise conference call, or children having a surprise sugar fight. So it’s vital to communicate with your family when you’re working from home with kids.
Share your work and home calendars with each other, and make visual timetables with the kids that give them a routine. That same routine will allow them to wait for Mummy Time because they know it happens between 4 and 6, or look forward to Daddy’s Maths Olympics because it happens before lunch. Which means less time spent negotiating, and more time focussed on work.
One thing at a time
Don’t work and watch the kids at the same time, or you might end up with a front window like our copywriter’s.
When you’re with the kids, you’re with the kids. And when you’re working, you’re working—preferably in your own work space that should feel, to the children, like entering the Temple of Doom.
But we know that’s not always possible. And some activities allow children to work alongside you in relative peace. These should be activities that require only 1% supervision—drawing, writing, colouring, reading, or educational apps.
The trick is to set them up properly. Spend a few minutes getting them going on the app, or deciding what to draw, or predicting what will happen next in the story. They’ll go further on their own after that. And so long as they’re mirroring your behaviour, you’ll be fairly productive.
Equally, get them involved in the housework you do. This will allow you to attend to cooking/folding/cleaning while satisfying their need for attention. Just remember to make it fun (and allow it to take longer as a result), or they’ll never do it again. You won’t regret it.
Nap time and quiet time
Nap time is a wonderful moment of peace where you can really motor through some work. If your child is too old to nap, establish the rules for ‘Quiet Time’: how long it lasts, what they can do (write, read, draw, build in silence) and what they can’t do (ask for snacks, interrupt you, throw cars through windows). Make this as much a part of your day as everything else.
It’s your playtime too
Even the most loving parent can resent the time spent with the kids. It can feel like time stolen from your work, or from your own playtime later that night. But that feeling only makes it worse: you’re neither working, nor giving the kids the attention they need, nor enjoying yourself.
Commit to having fun during your kids’ playtime. When you close your laptop, mentally put it away. Throw yourself into whatever your kids are doing, or whatever you have planned, and you’ll get as much fun out of it as they will. Dance like a bear. Growl like a tiger. Waddle like a penguin. The rewards are delightful. And you might even come back to your work feeling refreshed.
It’s okay to let go
The hardest part about working at night is the tension between what you want to do (Netflix) and what you have to do (spreadsheet). The trick, as any Buddhist will tell you, is to let go of your desire—because it’s the desire that hurts. Make peace with the fact that you’ll be working: turn the music up, grab your favourite drink, get comfy, and get stuck into your work.
But you can also let go of your standards a little bit. When you work from home with kids, you’re doing something almost impossible: you’re parent, babysitter, teacher and breadwinner all in one. For the first time ever. So don’t expect perfection in any one of those fields. Do your best, and then rest. Which brings us to the last point.
Look after yourself
You’re more use fit and healthy than you are as a stressed out shell. Prioritise your well-being. Many of us are bad at this, because we think that looking after ourselves is self-indulgent. But with so much resting on your shoulders, you need to make sure those shoulders are broad, well-rested, and well-fed. So be good to yourself: your world depends on it!