When I realised 9 days ago that we would have the kids at home for two weeks my heart sank a little bit. One of the reasons I send my kids to a childminder/preschool is not just for their own benefit, but for mine too. I find it hard to switch off my Mummy mode and get into work mode when the kids are at home. I find it frustrating not being able to work in the way I want to and feel guilty when I do work and they need me.
It took a few days to realise that a) we needed a routine and b) that I make this work during the school holidays and I can adapt that plan. So, we’re on day three of learning at home and day ten of not leaving the house with a 7-year-old, 4-year-old and an almost 1-year-old. Here are my tips on how to work from home with your kids.
Manage everyone’s expectations about working together
The biggest challenge we’ve had is sharing the same space! So a few days into this self-isolation, when the government shut the schools I called a family meeting. I said that we could make it work but that we needed to work as a team. I told them that there would be good moments, terrible moments and times they would feel bored and frustrated and that that was ok.
Lay down some boundaries
For the girls, we talked about daddy working and how he would not come down and would close the office door if he was busy and that meant do not disturb him. I told them that I would need to work too but would be around for them as my priority. We talked about what her learning might look like and what she was expected to do.
I also had to privately manage my own expectations and set my own boundaries. These included
- Going to bed early if I needed to
- Relaxing my boundaries on how much social media I go on (as an extrovert I’m craving interaction right now)
- Understanding that I wouldn’t be able to work in the same way as I do know and that it was ok. I prioritised client calls and emailed them all to let them know what was going on
- Cultivating awareness of how much support I was able to provide to others as I fell straight into rescue mode
Communicate with others
Finally, in terms of managing expectations, talk to your boss if you’re working from home whilst being employed. Especially at the moment with the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Communicate your needs and your plan for how you’re going to get your work done. This is not only good for you but also opens the door for others to have these conversations too.
Create space for working
We are lucky enough to have an office space and so during the 9-5 hours my partner works, he goes in there only popping out for food and drinks! He can close the door and whilst it doesn’t soundproof the kids’ squeals and (all day long) singing, it does provide some privacy. This is a big improvement from sitting at the kitchen table. I too work in there when it’s my working time eg to record my podcast or videos or to call clients. Essentially, whenever I need peace and quiet!
It’s important to make a space to work so that the kids can understand the boundaries. In my opinion, unless there’s no other option, it’s not fair to take up the family space for working, unless you’re willing to be interrupted constantly.
With the older kids off school for the foreseeable future, they too need a space. We don’t have space for my eldest to work privately right now (because we have an office!) so she’s using the kitchen table. This has added benefits that I can support her (and the other two) as required.
This week, as it’s been nicer weather and especially as we’ve been confined for 10 days we’ve been into the garden as much as we can because the sun makes everything better!
Get creative with your schedule
I am fortunate in that I can manage my working day and work when I like. This was easy to create balance as I worked on the days the girls were in childcare/school but now that’s all out of the window. In our family meeting, I said that I’d work during nap times and evenings where possible but I needed them to be quiet if I had to work in the day and we came up with some ideas on how they could do that.
The reality is that I get very little work done whilst they are awake! I had already added my blogging app to my phone so that I could work anywhere and at any time. The same with all my documents and spreadsheets. I use any downtime if they’re playing together without fighting to post on social media or to schedule a post or write a paragraph of my blog.
A flexible routine
The other option I have is working weekends, this is true for my daughter whilst she’s learning at home too. Who says you have to work 9 am-3 pm Monday to Friday? We all try and work best when we are able to focus ourselves. For us, it’s first thing in the morning and so our schedule goes a bit like this:
- Mummy runs (once self-isolation is over!!!)
- Get up, dressed and breakfast
- PE lesson with Joe Wicks/Yoga
- Eldest does school work whilst Mummy does nap time
- Mummy works during naptime whilst the other two have an activity (we all share the kitchen table)
- Baby wakes and tags along as Mummy tidies up, makes lunch, plays etc
- Free play
- If baby naps again then Mummy does any other work/house admin/reads with the middle one
- Dinner time
- Bedtime with Daddy
- Mummy works/rests/refills her cup!
There are no set times because I have found for us, it sets us up to fail. So although we have a schedule and routine, it’s super flexible and it has to work around the kids. Luckily for me, our school sent home loads of ideas and activities and my eldest adores learning and so my biggest task is reigning her in! Her middle sister wanted to join in too so we are doing reception level work to get her ready for school in September (I hope!). I’m also a firm believer in letting them get bored! I have found that all my children play better together when they’re bored and have to use their imagination.
Plan in some breaks
Similarly to working at home with your partner, it’s helpful to have a break from work/school where you might play or chill out. I find that having a snack in these breaks also helps! In addition, making time for yourself is important. Schedule in some time just for you – this feels particularly difficult in these challenging times but it is so important so that you can be the best parent/boss/employee that you can be.
Remove all expectations about what you might achieve
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 movie, Hermione turns to Harry and tells him that they need a plan before they rush off to Hogwarts to find the next Horcrux. He turns to her and says
Hermione! When have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose! – Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2
Honestly, I feel like this is me when I try and plan anything with respect to working from home with anyone else in the house! So my advice is to remove all expectations, aim low and even then, don’t beat yourself up if all hell breaks loose! If you have tasks that have to be done, prioritise them and get them done and celebrate your achievements.
Focus on weekly goals instead of getting stressed out about achieving all of your daily ones. You might break down tasks into ones that are quick and don’t need much brain poser and those which need deeper thought. Remember too that any action is better than no action.
Talk to someone
I would not have survived these last few weeks without the support I have received from my tribe. I’ve been in daily contact with my besties to support and to vent my frustrations. I’ve done more video calls than I have ever done before and I feel like my relationships are even stronger than before. I had a revelation on day 5 of self-isolation as to how I could help others. So in my LinkedIn groups, I have created two safe spaces. One for people who need support around their anxiety about the coronavirus and so am doing daily mindfulness ideas. The other is for working mums who are struggling to work from home and be a mum/partner/house manager etc. It has been amazing to hear others’ experiences and realise that we are all in the same boat and we will get through this together.