Please forgive me if it seems like I’m cutting right to the chase! I’m a work-from-home dad and my kid only has 34 minutes left of his shortened Friday Zoom schooling, which means that I only have 24 minutes of writing time as I need that extra 10 minutes to take a shower.
Does the above scenario sound familiar? Do you find it hard to meet deadlines and answer emails in a timely manner? Do you sometimes bring your computer into the bathroom, lock the door, and do work while sitting on the edge of the tub just so you can have 5 minutes to finish the thought you were trying put on the digital page? If the answer is yes, then you might be a work-from-home parent.
The thought of working from home, on the surface, is an incredible prospect: no commute, no office politics, the ability to take a nap without judgment. It’s an alluring scenario. Unless you’re a parent. Being a work-from-home parent is a whole different ballgame. Now add in the COVID-19 School Shut Down Debacle of 2020 and we’re talking the difference between a Little League Game and the World Series.
No matter how many kids you have, what ages they are, the challenges you will face while working from home as a parent are difficult and relentless and may cause you to question all of your life’s decisions that eventually got you to this place. But I’m here to tell you that you can do it successfully while still keeping a modicum of your sanity and you may even learn that you can now handle the pressure of any high-stress job with flying colors.
OK, I only have about 19 minutes left so let’s get to it!
Before I get into the different challenges associated with different age groups, I just wanted to give you a little pep talk on what I consider to be the holy grail of work/parenting: S.C.H.E.D.U.L.I.N.G.
Now, before you bristle at the word, I am and have always been terrible at scheduling. I have never kept a date book nor have I ever been good at writing things on calendars. That skill is just not part of my DNA. My best attempt at keeping track of work tasks is a mountain of illegible Post-it notes haphazardly strewn over the entire surface of my desk. But with the advent of the iPhone, I and others with scheduling deficiency have no more excuses. If you have something to do or something due, speak it into your phone, set an alert to remind you and move on. This is your life raft.
Schedule everything. Look at your day and find the moments that you could have even 15 minutes uninterrupted. Use those moments to focus solely on your work.
Technology is our friend
And how do you get guaranteed precious work minutes? Do you come up with amazing activities that will occupy your children’s time with homemade brainteasers or arts and crafts created from the mind of a loving parent? Or do you buy them an iPad and lock them in their room for an hour? Actually, my answer is both.
An iPad can be your friend. We all worry about the screen time we now have to give our children due to online schooling. I feel like my kid goes from screen to screen to screen and never gets any exercise other than the occasional bike ride I make him take with me on days when I’m not completely overwhelmed with work.
Am I a bad parent? Maybe. But not because of this. You can be a good parent while using technology to your advantage.
Kids get addicted to games and television shows just like adults. The goal is to skew what they get hooked on. Introduce them to good and productive games. Find apps that will challenge your child’s mind and occupy their time, and maybe teach them some useful skills along the way. That way, you can score some much needed work time and eliminate that nagging feeling that you are being a bad parent. There are plenty out there.
Sorry. The kid just needed some help with math. I can’t remember what I was talking about so let’s just plow ahead, shall we?
Multi-tasking is a tool, not a goal
As a parent who’s working from home, you have to learn how to multi-task because not only do you have to keep on top of your work while providing everything for your baby, you also have the daily household tasks: cleaning, meals, shopping, etc. Look at the week ahead and prioritize. And have a conversation with your spouse. If your spouse really wants turkey meatloaf with a balsamic glaze on a given night but your schedule only allows for 15 minutes of cooking time so you’re thinking that Pizza Hut is a better option, have the conversation. Don’t multi-task so much that your parenting suffers, your work suffers, and your meatloaf tastes terrible, because then, no one wins.
Multi-tasking is a great skill but no one gives out awards for the amount of items that get completed at once. Always focus on the most important things first. Use it as a tool not a goal.
14 minutes left! Onward!
Age by age tips
Working from home with a newborn: Babes in Workland
Working from home with a newborn or infant, your day is going to look much different than a work-from-home mom with older kids. Not better or worse, just different. You can’t occupy your baby’s time with apps. You have to be there when that baby needs you. No exceptions. But this is where scheduling comes in.
Look at your next day’s schedule the night before. Focus on what can be done during naps first. Then look and see if you have any meetings scheduled. Can they be done over the phone as opposed to Zoom? Great. Plan to go for a nice stroller walk during the meeting, maybe even get to a park that has a swing you can push your kid in while you talk. Any work left over, figure out how early you’d have to get up before your kid or how late you can stay up after your kid to get it done and just plan accordingly.
Working from home with a baby is stressful. Knowing how and when you will have time for certain tasks helps you to eliminate some of the stress that comes from the question: How will I possibly have time to finish all of this? You will see the time laid out before you.
What about those inevitable days when your kid refuses to nap? Great question to which we have some answers, but I only have 10 minutes left.
Toddlers are the worst
If you are working from home with a toddler, congratulations! You have the worst work-from-home situation out there! Toddlers can’t be bribed or reasoned with. Toddlers don’t even know why their body is taking them into the kitchen. They just go with it.
Not all toddlers are built the same, however. Some 2 year-olds love hanging out in a secured, gated play areas for hours on end. To parents of those toddlers, I salute you. My former toddler didn’t like to do the same thing for more than 10 seconds at a time. I wish I were exaggerating. “You don’t like the playpen? OK, how about the backyard? Done with the backyard? Let’s go to the front yard!” I was in constant motion.
Simple games at this age can help. I can’t tell you how many times I used the game “put all of these blocks in that bin” to buy myself 5 minutes.
TV was introduced around this time and I can’t say that it wasn’t a Godsend. But whether you want screen time to be in the conversation or not, this is when scheduling really came in handy for me. I knew he would sleep from 11 am to 2 pm so that’s when I would work. Thankfully my work isn’t too pressing. I usually have a week to complete a task so that helps. Finding a job that allows this kind of schedule is key. More on ideal work-from-home jobs below For now, I gotta keep this mov-….
Argh! Had to deal with some spilled juice on the couch. Where was I?
4 to 7 year olds
This zone is better in terms of age. At around 4 or 5, most kids have gotten over the I-have-to-put-everything-in-my-mouth phase so you don’t have to watch them every second. And they can be occupied with toys or arbitrary tasks. This is when you can be creative.
My suggestion is to spend 15 minutes on Sunday evening to compile a few games to have in your back pocket. Scavenger hunts (aka wild goose chases for common household items), puzzles, and arranging-toys-by-size challenges can increase your daytime productivity by 23%.
Oh man. I have to go quick. My kid is “starving” and I need to feed him!
Older kids (7 to 12)
This age group is the best for working at home caretaking ease. At ages 7 and 8, playing outside alone in the back yard is on the table. At ages 9, 10, and 11, assuming you live in a safe area and your kid is trustworthy, playing with friends around the neighborhood is a possibility. And at 12, the only interaction between meals that you’ll need to have with your kid is to knock on their door to tell them to turn down their Ariana Grande or BTS.
Sorry! Just had to participate in an impromptu dance break! 4 minutes to go!
How things have changed
COVID-19 has complicated all of our lives, but I would say none more than the mom or dad who has had no choice but to work remotely from home. No school, daycare, or babysitters are possible for the kids and so it’s up to these stay-at-home heroes to do everything. It’s tough. And hopefully everyone has a boss who is agreeable to slack cutting. If not, then your boss is clearly an alien that has no heart.
OK, sorry! Almost out of time! Here are some other quick tips:
- Zoom meetings: Wear pants because you never know when you have to run to catch a kid. Make sure your kid is also wearing pants.
- Delegating: Tell your husband or wife to do the dishes. Who cares if they’ve been in an office all day? They’re lucky.
- Lean on friends: If you’re swamped, call a friend to come over for an hour. Offer to return the favor. It takes a village.
Oh man, my kid is currently coloring the bathroom mirror with rainbow Sharpies. Be back in a minute.
Best jobs to get with kids
Here’s a great list of nice side hustle jobs that you can do with your kids running around you like maniacs. I like number 6:
- Sell baked goods or other handmade goods
- Buy and sell antiques
- Start an in-home daycare center
- Pet sit
- Become a freelance writer
- Start a consulting business
- Become a social media manager
- Become an editor
- Work as a graphic or interior designer
OK. I just bought myself 20 minutes by telling the boy that if he can find Waldo on every page and explain where he’s going and why, then he’ll earn 100 V-Bucks (it’s a Fortnite thing, don’t ask).
Give yourself a break
I know. You have 15 minutes and all you want to do is play Angry Birds, an app that is only rivaled by Candy Crush by its ability to obliterate your time and productivity. Well, you know what I say? Go ahead! Play yourself some Angry Birds!
What work-from-home parents never get to do is sit and zone out. We constantly have to be 3 steps ahead, prudent, and infallible. But sometimes daddy just needs to launch a bird at some pigs and blow some stuff up, because it’s fun. And it keeps me sane.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my son is chasing our cats around the house with a Nerf gun so I have to go before more lamps get broken! Good luck!