I work remotely, clocking in around 50 hours a week on average as as a consultant, professor, and director of a program for professional learning and a director of educational resources (both for Jewish educators) for two different online programs affiliated at a university.
I have three young children, the baby is home with me and my three and four year kiddos go to school from 8:15-2:45 each day.
This arrangement is both wonderful and difficult.
I kept each of the kids at home with me until they were about a year old, and then found part time childcare for them as they became mobile and differently needy as I couldn’t balance all of their needs and my professional commitments while maintaining my sanity. While I do have occasions to leave the house for work- I carefully curate my commitments. The choice that I’ve made to organize my life in this fashion isn’t for everyone- but I think a significant chunk of the population will find themselves in a work-from-home with kids at home situation soon, without the privilege of making that choice for themselves… so I wanted to offer a few of the insights and ‘hacks’ that I’ve discovered over the past few years to offer as suggestions for the consideration of folks who are.
Create safe and separate spaces for each kid.
Wherever your kid is going to be- make sure that you can reasonably walk away without fear of the child hurting themselves or the items in the space in a serious way. There are some great resources about creating a ‘yes space’ here: Creating a ‘yes’ Space for Babies and Toddlers and here: Instead of No, No, No… (4 Tips for Keeping Your Baby Explorer Safe) (insights applicable for kiddos who are past toddlerhood, too). Create distinct spaces for each of your kids, as applicable. We set up a ‘solo space’ for ours for one kid at a time which is really helpful if a child wants to be able to focus on a project without interruption (especially if it is a tower they don’t want a sibling to knock over) or if a child wants to use a material that isn’t safe for all the children in the house (I don’t want the baby getting a hold of her sister’s crayons or beads) or if a child isn’t willing to share or having a tough time being gentle (it could seem like a penalty box- it shouldn’t be- so frame this last option carefully). Spend time in these spaces with your kids.
Gates are our friends.
After significant testing of various child-containing options- my favorite is this baby care play pen because it is sturdy and easy to re-configure as needs change. I also like this portable play yard, if you have a baby and like to go in and outside frequently’ easy to clean (and made it so that I could put baby down without constantly trying to keep her from eating copious amounts of bugs and grass).
Be very clear with your kids that you want to spend time with them and that they are a priority for you.
There will be times that you have to say ‘no’ when your kids ask you to play or watch or whatever- so make sure you say ‘yes’, too. Set aside time for them and tell them what you are doing and why. If I know I have a task that will require some of my time- I might sit down at breakfast and have a conversation where my part goes something like:
I have a lot to do today! I want to have a chance to do some painting with you, ‘T’ and I know you have been working hard building castles with magnatiles lately, ‘S’, so can I watch you create a castle?…..I will need to make sure to spend some time prepping dinner- can you help by slicing the tops off of the strawberries?….I also need to talk to a colleague at work about an important job coming up…while I do that, would you like to go outside and play or take out the play-dough?…”
This will take practice and routines take time- but invest in setting them up and I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
Categorize your tasks and responsibilities based on the level of attention they require.
Sometimes, it is part of my professional responsibilities to moderate a discussion board, or read an article from an academic journal, or design an image for use on social media. These are all tasks that I can reliably complete using my apps on my phone- and if I’m interrupted while doing them, it isn’t a big deal. Others require my full attention to their detail (independently) or involve other people by phone or videochat. When I look at my calendar, I make sure to organize my tasks and my time carefully- so I don’t ‘waste’ the precious time I have when they are all sleeping (I often wake a few hours before they will so that I can get the bulk of my work done before the work of mom-ing begins for the day) with a task that I could do while I sit outside on my phone while they are playing relatively independently (though I need to keep my eye on them). Of course, refer to the previous point to make sure that you designate time to be fully present with kids, too- or this will be less possible.
Think through and talk through this process with your partners in working and parenting- because finding ways to ‘take turns’ or get creative to maximize your efficiency.
There is a big learning curve to figuring out how to optimize this scenario- and it will evolve as your abilities, your kid’s needs, and your responsibilities shift- because those are never stagnant.
Be honest- in a developmentally appropriate way.
Kids typically want to help- so find ways that they can meaningfully contribute to your efforts (even though it might sometimes slow the process).
Get some ‘rainy day’ activities at the ready- for my kids, it works best when I keep them a surprise. I ordered some glittery play dough today, I have a few new puzzles that I keep handy for when the need arises, and I will make sure that I set up interesting ‘provocations‘ for them to discover throughout the day.
I am fortunate that I came to these insights on my own terms, with the support of a spouse and the privilege of having flexibility and time to figure this stuff out. Now that the coronavirus is forcing folks to stay at home and manage their work life while many schools are closing- I am particularly grateful that I had that option, and I hope that some of these ideas can spark useful ideas and strategies for your family to explore.
I might come back and add some more to this piece later- but the baby woke and soon I have to go get the kiddos…because the struggle is real!
Share comments, questions, or concerns with me ([email protected]) and I’ll do my best to address- I feel so terrible and anxious about this whole scenario…this feels like maybe one small way I can contribute to the reducing the scary consequences we’ll be facing in the coming days and weeks- so thanks for reading and truly I appreciate it if you help me help you :).