The (Actually Doable) Guide to Working from Home – While Your Kids Are At Home

Pandemic or not.

By Hailey Andresen

Working from home with kids is not easy.

I repeat, working from home with kids is not easy. Take a deep breath. It’s okay if you aren’t killing it at home schooling, excelling in your career and attempting to find some sort of sanity in the midst of the pandemic. We all have a lot on our plates right now. And despite what you see on Instagram, no one is doing it perfectly. We are all, collectively, just doing our best. And that is absolutely good enough.

And while I believe this is always true, it’s especially true now. Our lives have been turned upside down and while those of us who are still employed and healthy are considered lucky, it doesn’t make this major life change easy. I have been working from home with at least one kiddo (sometimes two) by my side for the last four years and I can tell you, even as someone with experience in the chaotic work-from-home / stay-at-home-mom life this is far more intense. 

Of course, I wish I had some magic trick for you all who are now suddenly working from home with little ones by your side, but I don’t. The best thing I can offer you is solidarity, a virtual hug and a handful of ways I’ve learned to survive(and occasionally thrive) with minimal stress amidst the chaos, pandemic or not.  

Create a schedule.

Some folks get spooked by the schedule, but I’m just gonna say it – if you’re working at home with kids, you need one. Your schedule doesn’t have to be the same every day — create a new schedule each week or day if that works for you. I’ve found that having some loose structure provides the opportunity to feel in control of my day and gives me the chance to have some sense of accomplishment rather than feeling like I’m completely drowning. We always write it down on our chalkboard (my son loves this.)

Manage expectations.

When you create your schedule, be realistic. I personally know that during the traditional work / school day I can squeeze in two hours of work while caring for my four year old and seven month old. That is it. If I were to create these massive unrealistic work blocks in my day it would lead to far more stress and disappointment which inevitably transfers down to my kids and just creates far more tension than necessary. It doesn’t mean my whole day involves me laying on the floor playing with legos or changing diapers either. I’ve found that my kids are great with independent play if I’m doing things around the house, so I work in household responsibilities throughout the day, get the work I can done when the sun is up, and save the rest for later. 

Understand that you will need to work during “off hours.”

If I need to work more than two hours a day, I have to either wake up early or put in the time after my kids go to sleep. Plain and simple. This might look different for parents with older kids, but if I’m being honest the majority of my work these last four years has been done while my kids were sleeping. It’s not ideal and makes work / life balance and self-care very challenging, but sometimes it’s just what needs to be done in desperate situations. I’m not sharing this to be doom and gloom, but more so to let you know that it is totally normal if you are having trouble getting all your work done while caring for little ones. Kids are definitely demanding of your attention! 

Be smart about screen time.

I know it’s not for everyone, but we happily take part in screen time in our house. Being intentional about the types of screen time we let our four year old engage with is key as well as timing it out so that I can maximize my time while he’s being entertained. Each day he takes part in a 15 minute online yoga class (this is when I usually shower), his online lesson plans from his Pre-K teacher (we do this together), a movie after lunch (when I get most of my work done), a 15 minute GoNoodle Indoor Recess before the school day is over and we will usually FaceTime with a family member at some point too. We’ve learned that any screen time immediately after waking up or too many shows / cartoons leads to a healthy amount of breakdowns, so it’s important we break it up throughout the day. 

Communicate with your partner.

Many of us are doing all of this with our spouse or partner by our side, which can obviously have its pro’s and con’s. All in all, I believe this is a time where couples really have the opportunity to thrive and work together as a team, but this cannot be done without communication. If you’re both working from home, make sure you’re on the same page about what’s expected from one another. Don’t be afraid to adjust your schedules daily to accommodate calls, meetings, etc. 

Make use of the learning resources provided by the school.

Our first two weeks of quarantine we didn’t have any remote learning resources from my son’s school, and after having them these last couple weeks it has been a total game changer. Previously I was spending a chunk of time each morning putting together our lesson for that day, but now we are in a good rhythm of following what they’re sharing with us. This only takes up a small chunk of the day so I am still doing additional activity planning, but as far as a set lesson goes I am letting them do the work! 

Understand that things will rarely go as planned.

As much as we can attempt to schedule, prepare and plan, most days some part of the day isn’t going to go our way. Remind yourself that that is okay, especially with the insane rollercoaster of emotion we are all on right now. There are a few backup activities I rarely put on our schedule, but I know will be a good option if I’m either desperate to get a small amount of work done or we simply just need to reset our day. Find small ways to relax and go with the flow as much as you can in this time. A few go-to’s for me – Storyline Online or kid’s meditation (if I need alone time) and a baking project or our KiwiCo Craft Boxes (if my son and I need a reset / quick way to reconnect). 

Remember that for most, this is temporary.

While I will continue working from home part-time when the quarantine ends, most of you will go back to your offices and our kids will eventually be back in school. It’s beyond challenging at the moment to believe that this will ever happen since none of us have a definite timeline at this point, but we know that eventually we will make our way there. Remind yourself that this is temporary, take it one day at a time and know you are most importantly not alone. We are all in this together.