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April 26, 2020

How To Juggle Parenting And Working From Home

Shift Team

A toddler straddles his mother's leg while at her desk working on a laptop.

Juggling Two Full-time Roles

Let’s take a moment, put down our glue sticks, kinetic sand, volcano making gear, lesson plans, etc.

(I’m at risk of spilling my third coffee onto my laptop with all the multitasking I’m doing, so I’m going to set it down at a safe distance before I get into things here …)

Alright, now let’s reflect for a second on the whirlwind of the last six or so weeks. How did it go? Have you and your family settled into it? 

When the clinic first went virtual, I was just coping and trying to adapt to the daily changes. I tried to stay inspired, I attempted some of the three million children’s learning activities circulating around social media. At some point, I ran out of ideas (and enthusiasm) and with all the interruptions while working from home, I realized I should probably address the growing mountain of emails in my inbox. 

One of the (many) challenging aspects of being at home with your child while social distancing is that you’re essentially juggling two full-time roles at once: stay-at-home parent and work-from-home employee. It’s very hard to step away from being in the role of a parent when your children know you’re at home. Now that your home life and work life are so intertwined, the simple truth is this: you are going to be less productive than you were in the office. This is doubly true for single parents and those without help at home. 

As parents, already prior to the pandemic so many of us were exhausted trying to manage working while keeping our kid(s) fed, educated, and entertained. Many parents are now facing the daunting idea that this dual responsibility may not have an end in sight. Adrenaline got many of us through the first few weeks of this new reality, but as we settle in many of us are starting to wonder how long we can keep this up.

So, how do we sustain ourselves through the potential months ahead working from home? Here are some strategies.

Parenting Tools

Keep a schedule that fits for your family and work situation

Your schedule and routines while working from home will depend on several factors— your job, your parenting approach, how much support is available, number of kids, their ages and personalities, and whether you have help available.

Maybe you and your family thrive on a set schedule that is prepared and posted somewhere, maybe each day is so different that you need to go with the flow and take it as it comes, or maybe your family falls somewhere in the middle. Whatever your schedule looks like, know that there’s no right or wrong way. What fits for one family is unique to that family. Try your best to avoid comparing what you’re doing to someone else’s situation (especially when it comes to social media posts).

Let go of internal pressure and be gentle with yourself

There are amazing lists making their way around parenting circles right now, from tips on how to homeschool to ways to keep kids stimulated while inside. These resources are useful if you feel motivated and it fits with your parenting style. That said, an unintended consequence is that these suggestions can put pressure on parents to recreate their child’s school or daycare environment, which can lead to feelings of guilt. 

Many parents working from home right now simply do not have the mental capacity, interest, or time to do this. You don’t need to be their school teacher– just be mom or dad. Gently remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you’ve got. 

(P.S. If you are a teacher, major props to you! How do you do this every day!?)

Take a moment to connect authentically together

Thankfully, children do not need lesson plans from their parents. Instead, children are hardwired to need emotional connection with their parents. This, you can provide.  

Throughout the day, take a moment to focus on being present with your child. It can be 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes—whatever you can offer between your work or other parenting responsibilities. Making an emotional connection means tuning into your child’s internal world. This can be done by engaging in conversation. Really listen to what they have to say and reflect back to them about what you heard. Ask how they’re feeling and/or share your own feelings. You can connect non-verbally, too. Give each other a nice, long hug, and a bit of dedicated cuddle time.

These small moments of connection will help your child feel seen, loved, and therefore more grounded and ready to separate from you when you need to get back to your work.

Stick to the basics when engaging in an activity together

You have so many demands on you as it is. Feel free to stick to the basics: reading books, free play, conversation, and going outside. Take it moment by moment.

If your child is resisting a math lesson or educational game you had planned, take a step back and kindly remind yourself that teachers will likely have to make adjustments to curriculum when our kids return to school or pick up where they left off. Our children are all in the same boat—there is no need to pressure yourself to stay on top or get ahead of what they would be learning in school.

We are in unfamiliar territory during unprecedented times. What we do know is that we can just let kids be kids during this time. Stick to the basics. 

Make a list of activities that they can pick for themselves

This Menu of Choices from Artful Teaching. Joyful Learning. is a fantastic example of giving your children options for free play while you sneak in some work time. Use this one or create your own. 

Strategies for Getting Work Done

Create a visual boundary for your child.

Your child will need a very clear signal that when you’re working you’re not to be disrupted. For example, make a sign on your desk or a stop sign on your door, or if you’re living in an open space, make it something you wear, like a special bracelet or hat.

You can create the sign together and as you’re doing so, explain to them that this signal means quiet time for mom and/or dad. (E.g. “When you see this sign on the door, it means I’m working and won’t be able to talk to you. I will need to be alone and have no interruptions.”)

Be empathetic about how hard it must be for them and offer them the menu of choices to pick from while the sign is up.

Develop a fun way for them to tell you that they’re thinking of you while you work

My 4-year-old daughter actually thought of this herself! While I was working, she would slide little love notes and little pictures under the door whenever she was thinking of me. Eventually she told me she wanted to make a little mailbox outside my office door to drop the notes in, so that’s what we did. It’s so heartwarming and fun for me to open them and share my reactions with her afterwards when I can.

Create a playful method for your child to communicate to you when you aren’t able to answer right away. This can help reduce interruptions while allowing your child to feel connected to you. The “mailbox” itself can be anything– a shoe box, a folder, a bag, a basket. Leave it by your door or on your desk if you’re in an open space. They can also drop off treats, little toys, or any small items from around the house that they want to share with you. Find a good time to go through the items together afterwards. 

Identify short but optimal time periods for you to be doing work

By now you may have noticed that you’ve had to adjust your expectations around how much work you’re able to get done at any given time. You may have to break down your workday into short, focused periods (e.g. 45 minutes) and pepper these periods between parenting. There are also a couple optimal times of day when you are able to have more productivity. For example, you might need to wake up an hour earlier in order to do some work while the house is quiet. Or perhaps the best and only undistracted work time is when your child is napping or eating.

See if you’re able to integrate these short, optimal periods into your daily routine while maintaining flexibility and accepting that whenever children are around, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. (A lesson you’ve been learning since they were born, right?)

Screen time

There. I said it. You have permission to use screen time. There are awesome educational channels and links to cool learning resources readily available, if that’s your thing. Or not—Netflix works, too!

… It’s okay to offer some screen time. Just do it. You need it to finish off that one item that you couldn’t get to today without any interruptions. No judgment.  

Alone time

Take at least 5 minutes a few times a day to be alone, away from your screen, and away from your kids. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Hide in the closet. Go take some deep breaths outside. Lay down on your bed. Just take some time to reset and get a moment’s rest.

It’s hard to imagine having to do this for months. When you find your mind wandering to how long you are going to have to live like this, gently come back to the present and remind yourself that you can only do what you can for now. What you are doing today is good enough. You’ll do this one day at a time. 

There is some good news in all of this: you are not alone. Most parents working from home with kids are also at a lower capacity to be productive. We’re in this together. What we parents need right now are compassionate and realistic expectations for ourselves. 

This article was written by Victoria Ho during their time at Shift Collab.

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