It’s 2021 and if there’s anything we’ve learnt during the past twelve months it’s that working from home with kids is hard.
But, before we dive right in – let’s backtrack a little.
There are two types of working from home – the type where you have a good support system around you: childcare, school or relatives helping out. And then there’s the pandemic version of work from home, where we have to be everything to everyone at all hours and on all days. Work-life balance? What’s that, now?
Saying it’s all unicorns and butterflies negates the efforts of many mums and dads who’ve had to work so hard to keep their families – and work – afloat. It’s not easy, but here are some tips to make it more doable – while still retaining your sanity.
1. Wake up before the kids.
Of course, please ignore if your kids are insanely early risers. If not though, an hour or two before the kids are up asking for snacks and whatnot can help set you up for a productive day. Give yourself 10 minutes for a quiet coffee and to jot down a simple to-do-list. If your day is anything like mine, it’s probably the only time where you can hear yourself think.
2. Have reasonable expectations – and prioritise.
Remember clocking in 60 hours at work? Yeah… no. You want your to-do-list to set you up for success. Nothing beats the feeling of crossing off every item on your list, but this isn’t always possible. Prioritise your tasks and tackle the most urgent items first. That way you won’t have the stress of it weighing you down as you stop for some playtime or to sort out lunch.
3. Work around the kids.
In an ideal world, we’re working in longer stretches and clocking off early. But the world is far from ideal and most of us are working late into the night. Make the most of nap time if your kids are still young. I also find bathtime a lifesaver to get some urgent things in. The toilet lid makes a decent seat – as does the step stool the kids use in the bathroom. Needless to say, ensure that you’re always at arm’s length when kids are in the bath and never leave them alone.
The car can also be the perfect office. Moving vehicles work a special magic on most babies and toddlers – the best naps take place in car seats. With most areas in Malta covered by WiFi, you can easily park and work anywhere.
4. Set up snack and play stations.
I never actually counted the number of times the kids call out “ma”, “mummy”, and the toddler’s latest addition: “mamey”, but I’m sure the figure’s bigger than Qatar’s GDP.
Sometimes it’s a snack or water, other times it’s to fetch a toy, break down a fight, or wipe a butt. Bottom line is – we’re needed often, but a little bit of prep beforehand goes a long way (you’d still need to wipe bums and make sure they don’t kill each other, though). Consider setting up little baskets with some fruit and snacks as well as a water bottle. Little stations around the house with a prepared play environment can also keep them occupied for a while. A puzzle next to the sofa, for instance, Legos on a blanket, or Play Doh set up on a toddler table.
5. If there are two adults in the house, work as a team.
It’s difficult to be productive if the adults aren’t on the same team. So, if there are two of you in the house, make sure that both are aware of what needs to be done. Taking turns to work if your hours are flexible can be a solution, as does a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to the day’s chores.
6. Say yes to all help.
The pandemic has made this awfully difficult, but even a cooked meal left on your doorstep goes a long way. So, if you’re offered help, the magic word is ‘yes’! Need we say more?
7. Accept that there’s no specific schedule that works perfectly.
I’ve been working from home with kids for four years now – way before the pandemic, but I don’t feel any wiser for it. Truth is, in these last four years, my personal life changed drastically every few months – from a mum of one, to pregnant with another once my daughter started pre-school, to at home with a newborn, and now online schooling a relatively calm 5 year old and a toddler I sometimes mistake for a hurricane.
In this season of life, schedules are fluid. They depend on a lot of variables that are completely out of our control. The second I think, “I got this”, after a relatively productive week, one of the kids gets sick, or the washing machine breaks down and isn’t fixed for a week.
So the number one tip is this – give yourself grace. You’re already doing so much. We can’t be everything to everyone and that’s just a fact of life. Once I came to terms with this, everything flowed better. Some days, work is super productive and Netflix works overtime; on other days, work is done in 10-minute snippets, but the Barbies get played with and someone says “you’re the best mum ever”.
Remember, you might not always feel like you’ve got it all together. But really, you’re doing amazing!