Hopefully, we’ll laugh about this crazy time at some point in the near future. Until then, cut yourself some slack.
Parenting experts say the trick to maintaining your career A-game, if you have to work from home (WFH) with kids around, is to focus on maintaining your children’s routine as much as possible. You’re asking for trouble if you expect them to seamlessly adapt to your new reality of working from home.
Here are some tips for making the most of your WFH time, so you can actually enjoy this extra time with your children – and keep your career going.
1. Stick to the script
Predictable schedules make children feel secure – especially younger ones. In turn, this helps them better understand what’s expected of them when a parent is suddenly home all the time.
Planning is crucial for the work-from-home parent, because working in concentrated spurts is probably more realistic than attempting to log a solid eights hours a day. It works at the office, but it’s unliklely to work at home.
This can mean scheduling phone calls during your toddler’s nap time, or waking earlier or resuming your work after your child goes to bed.
2. Be flexible
It’s unrealistic to expect tiny tots to understand that Mum or Dad can’t pay attention when they’re right within grabbing distance.
So arrange with your current caregivers to support you as you work from home. It an also help to use your screen break time to hang out with your little one. Think of it as high-quality pockets of time together with your child.
At the end of the day, remember that Mom or Dad is the only job you’ll have for good; sometimes, you simply need to set aside Google Sheets and pay attention to the child standing next to your desk. Especially in extraordinary times like these, parents need to be flexible and attend to their child’s needs first. Let your toddler be clingy. Make time to talk with an older child. If there’s one thing that this unexpected pandemic has taught us, it’s that no job is more important than your family’s well-being.
3. Establish rules
Kids thrive on boundaries and limits, so it’s in your best interest to lay a clear groundwork for better cooperation.
If you need to work from home with kids, let the children know what they might see you doing when you start working at home. Also clearly spell out what you expect of them. For instance, when you’re expecting a video call, let them know you need to step away from the games for fifteen minutes – and that you need them to keep their voices down when you’re on a call. You can even try role-playing for practice so that when the time comes, they know what to do. Remember to praise them when they get it right!
Anticipate how you’ll deal with common scenarios, such as your children wanting to play video games or needing homework help while you are working in the same room. With regards to screen time, spell out the rules on how much screen time you’ll allow them, and at what times. When it comes to homework, manage expectations in older children by communicating from the get-go that you will be free to help at an agreed-upon time.
4. Zone your home
Even if your “home office” is the corner of dining table, with your laptop, designated work and play spaces are a good way to show children the new boundaries at home. When they see you are using a special place for work, it helps them understand that Mum’s work is important. Reward the kids when they keep to their play zone, or ask permission before entering the space dedicated to your job.
Having said this, your separate spheres don’t have to be far apart. If you remain in sight to respond to them when needed, it’s okay to ignore a child’s request for a cookie while you’re giving a presentation. In fact, this will help them understand that they cannot demand your attention and disturb you whenever they like.
5. Stay disciplined
Remember “BBC Dad”? Academic Robert Kelly and his family found viral fame when his two young children crashed a live interview he was giving to the BBC. His daughter, then aged four, hopped through the unlocked door of his office, followed by his son, who swooshed in using a baby walker, quickly followed by his wife, who skidded into the room and frantically ushered the kids out.
“BBC Dad” is a reminder to us all about the realities of working from home. Employers have to trust that staff are performing as well as they can when they work from home – even if a child whizzes by in the background. And employees have to be disciplined and accountable for the fact that while we may be at home, we’re still expected to do a full days work.
Naturally, some domestic challenges can be difficult for a parent to resist, like the temptation to referee between squabbling siblings. Be prepared to step in before you see blood or fire… but before that, give your children a chance to work things out. Often times they’ll be able to reach an agreement on their own, without your interference.
Though it can be stressful to work from home with kids, a little sweetness goes a long way. When a child finally does the right thing, heap on the praise, affirmation and cuddles. As the saying goes, we’re all in this together, and your kids should be praised for playing their part.