2020 has seen our lives change. For some for the better, and others, well, not anything to write home about.
Slowly, we are getting the hang of the new normal. That new normal has meant the lines between our jobs, chores, and kids' homework are now blurred or non-existent.
We have all heard it, working from home will give you the ultimate work-life balance. In theory, that is a fulfilled fantasy, not so much in reality.
Like most parents today, you have just joined the remote workforce. For your kids, it's Yay!
Those lucky little rascals!
They can easily adjust to change as if nothing happened. But for you, it's time to think about how things will now fit in together. On the up-side, you get to devote more time to your family. But how will you stay professionally productive with kids around?
Your new normal includes learning how to play Lego, at least so that you can invest some quality time on your kids whenever you need to. You also have to find a balance between being a great parent and employee of the year or a successful entrepreneur.
It's not going to be easy.
Those among us who still have our jobs intact are either back to their 9 to 5 or stuck at home trying to figure out how to fit into their new work schedule, whether blended or purely remote.
No matter which angle you look at it from, remote work without child care can be hard.
It can be frustrating when you spent all the energy you could master last night finding the perfect art to keep your kids busy today so you can beat that pressing deadline only for them to finish it in 2 minutes. Now you got yourself some cleaning to add to your already tight schedule.
Working at Home with a Baby
So, you are dealing with a little human who will not comprehend instructions, and sharing your schedule with them is not even part of the problem.
If you can't find someone to take care of your baby as you work, is it easier to resign and take care of the baby until he/she comes of age?
Looking after a child that is below 1 year old while you work is possible, and here is how:
1. Naptime. Until your baby has celebrated their first birthday, take advantage of all those moments they like to snuggle and slowly drift into slumberland (there are many of those) and complete most of your assignments. You get to focus on your work without feeling guilty since you will be able to give your baby full attention when he/she is awake.
2. Work on the baby first. A well-fed and rested baby is content and is likely to lay down smiling at you as he/she plays with his/her toys while you chat away on your video call.
3. Invest in a baby carrier. A baby carrier will be the answer to your prayer all those moments you have wished you had the powers to multitask. You see, with a baby carrier, you can strap the baby allowing the baby to stay close while keeping your hands free to continue working on your laptop. If you are standing and swaying while at it, the baby will calmly drift to sleep, and voila! You can now get more work done.
Can Parents Work at Home and look After a Child?
With some creativity and implementing the tips below, you will enjoy being around your kids more.
Think Outside Your Schedule Box
For older kids below 18, you will increase your productivity by 60% if you divide your day into chunks of work time and personal time. Have realistic expectations that you might not always manage to check all the activities on your to-do-list by the end of each day.
Batch your work into three:
• The most important tasks that you must complete
• Those tasks you would like to complete by the end of the day
• The tasks you would like to complete if you find the time to
For the most important tasks, get creative and schedule them for after-bed-time or at dawn when you are most likely to get your quiet space. If you are a night owl, you are in luck because you can get a lot late into the night.
If you have another adult in the house, don't shy away from asking for help. Consider having a split schedule where both your work schedules will allocate time to spend with the kids as the other person is getting their work done.
Match Your Routine to Your Current Family Situation
Your current routine may have worked just great for the past several years, but it's time to upgrade. Keep and improve on the activities that still fit your new situation and drop those that don't, like meeting friends over coffee. Instead, brew some coffee in your house and hop on a video chat.
Don't change part of the routine that requires you to brush your teeth and dress up for work, especially if your job involves video calls once in a while.
Kids also thrive when accustomed to routines. A routine will give you a better chance to work through to your break without many interruptions if any.
Screen time can come in handy if handled as a routine rather than a free-for-all activity. Having a dedicated but limited screen time can allow you to get a lot done in quiet because the kids will be more engaged knowing their screen time is limited.
Get a Dedicated Working Space
A dedicated working space does not necessarily mean you need to break the bank. Work with what you already have. Your dining chair can work well as a desk chair, and a counter will do for a desk.
A dedicated working space, whether it's a room in the house, a desk or just some space in the living room will communicate "stay away unless it's an emergency" every time you or another adult is in that space.
Accept that Your House will be a Mess Most of the Times
The earlier you accept your new reality, the easier it will be to maintain your sanity and stay productive. Accept and allow your kids to be kids. They will make a mess, and you can't spend all your time cleaning after them.
Wouldn't you rather be making money?
We all want a clean house. The problem is, once you start cleaning a little, you automatically set up a domino effect likely to give you unending cleaning tasks. By the end of the day, you have a clean house but no billable work to show for all that energy spent.
Let Your Boss and Colleagues in on What's Going on
It's hard to stay professional while taking care of kids all day long. But it will be worse if your boss is not aware of what you are dealing with, especially if your work delivery is affected.
To remain productive, sometimes you might require to make some changes to your work schedule. If that has to happen, don't jump into it before your boss has cosigned on it. The idea here is to be proactive and to have a clear plan of action.
Any interruptions that may happen as you work, for example, during a zoom call, will be easy for your colleagues to understand if you let them in on your situation well in advance.
Incorporate Visual Hints
If you do not have an extra pair of hands in the house to keep the kids away when you need to keep your head down, it's time to get creative. Come up with silent hints that communicate minimum interruptions such as:
• If you don't have access to a real home office with physical walls, create a specific area in the kitchen or living room where you will consistently work from. That will become a visual cue to your kids not to interrupt you at the times when you are seated there.
• A masking tape on the floor will help mark boundaries of your make-shift "home office". and hint to the kids to stay away.
• With the help of your kids, come up with signs for your busy time. The usual thumbs up (for yes) and thumbs down (for no) will be easy to work with here.
• Noise-proof earphones will not only help you focus on your work but will communicate "no interruptions allowed" when on and "it's ok to talk now" when you put them down.
• A stop sign at the door of your home office will let the kids know when interruptions are not welcome and when it's ok to engage you.
Give yourself a Break
Breaks will help you gather the energy you need to focus better on the remaining job and be more productive. When kids are involved, those breaks become even more valuable since they will give you time to bond with the kids.
Assist with homework, play with the kids or just feed their curious minds. Apart from boosting your productivity, you will have fewer chances of getting a burnout.
Take breaks at intervals. After every twenty-five minutes of focused work, take a mandatory 5 minutes breaks using the Pomodoro Technique.
Learning from Examples: How our Co-founder, Ruxandra Stan Does It
Source: Personal gallery of Ruxandra Stan
Ruxandra is a mother of two: Alex, a four years old boy and Karina, a four months old baby girl.
Although it seems that kids tend to be chaotic when it comes to spending their time and forget to eat when they play – children respond very well to routines so for me it works wonders to have certain routines with my boy while working from home. Knowing that he can play with mommy for 10 minutes when the hands of the clock point in a certain way, makes him more understanding when it comes to letting mommy work and concentrate for the rest of the 50 minutes of that hour.
Another ally is anticipation. I tell him our schedule for the day, often represent it in a drawing so he can visualize the course of the actions – first we play together, then mommy works and you play alone, then we eat, then we go in the park etc.
Setting up a "work bank" for the kid/-s like painting or an exciting activity that might keep him/ them busy while you work next to them.
Organizing myself to undertake those tasks that require the most concentration either when the child is taking his afternoon nap or when I know it is the lowest probability for him to interrupt ( either it is his tv hour, either the moment in the day when he plays the most by himself)
Another way to reduce as much as possible the number of times a child interrupts you is to assure that he can manage by himself necessities like: drinking some water if thirsty (has his bottle/ glass of water within reach), eat a snack if he is hungry before lunch, can go to the bathroom (depends of the age of the child) etc.
The thing it helps me the most, not only when it comes to work from home and supervise my children in the same time is always putting myself "in their shoes". This way I am aware of their perspective and I have realistic expectations when it comes to – the amount of time a child can play by himself or the capacity of a child to understand the importance of my work. This way I can speak in their language and find ways to keep them busy, helping them with ideas or giving them alternatives if their ideas are too loud or too "creative. But of course, in the end, no recipe can work with everybody. It comes down to the relationship built with one's child and his level of autonomy and responsibility.... and age!
Wrapping It Up
Being a working parent is not easy, but having to do both full time and simultaneously is harder.
When it comes to getting the right balance between work and family, there is no one-fits-all formula. Look for what will work best for you and your family and implement without comparing or feeling guilty.
Don't expect perfection. Instead, let everyone concerned know your current schedule, throw in a little creativity, and it will not be as hard as you would otherwise expect.