I began working from home in the spring of 2015. The following year I had my son William, who's now four years old. I was lucky enough to have him home with me as an infant until he was a young toddler. In those days, I quickly developed a strategy to make working remotely practical for both our family and my workplace.
But even with that experience under my belt, I felt unprepared and panicked when a shelter-in-place order went into effect to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Suddenly, the things I had once heavily relied on, such as all-day preschool and a heavy social calendar of play dates and park outings, were simply gone.
My husband, an emergency room nurse in Northern California's Bay Area, was working many hours, so it was just William and I the majority of the time. Like many families, we soon found our new normal. While every day is different, I came up with a few strategies that seem to work best for us.
Communication at work is essential, whether working remotely or not. Be up front with your boss and your team about expectations, your day's schedule, and deadlines. Be clear about whatever your childcare situation is, and make sure everyone understands your schedule's demands and constraints. If I have a meeting outside my usual peer group at work, I begin every meeting explaining that I have a child at home and apologize in advance for any interruptions.
The same goes for children. When I begin work each day I announce, "Mommy is logging in to work now." William understands at this point that Mommy is working and can't play right now. It doesn't stop interruptions entirely, but it does help mitigate them.
Establish a routine
It's so easy to throw any semblance of structure out the window. After all, what exactly are you scheduling? But as we all know, kids thrive on routine, and when kids thrive, so do you. Try to come up with a loose schedule for your day and plan a few things you know your kid will be excited for. For instance, I know in any weekday we will: do yoga, have a Zoom preschool lesson or pre-recorded video to watch, work on letters and numbers (on a good day), play a game, go for walks, have independent playtime and TV time, and cook together.
Plan your day strategically
I plan my day completely around William. I try to wake up an hour before he does so that I can knock out pressing emails and projects. On days that I have meetings, I save up TV time or tablet time specifically to keep William occupied during meetings. Projects that require deeper focus and don't need immediate attention are saved for after he's in bed.
Note: be sure to give yourself a little leeway! Under normal circumstances, we all try to limit screen time, but these are not normal times. While you probably don't want your kids watching TV all day, there's nothing wrong with a little extra TV or videogame time if it helps you.
Be prepared to work weird hours
Some days -- and if you're a parent, you know what I mean -- it's just not going to happen, no matter how hard you try. Accept it and move on. Deal with the most pressing workload as best you can, and pick up the rest when your kids are napping and/or are in bed for the night. My coworkers have gotten very used to weird time stamps on emails, which always gives me a chuckle.
Break up your day
Kids need breaks and so do you. Aim to take a 10-15 minute break every hour or so. Whether it's walking the dog, a quick dance party, playing a game, or building a Picasso Tile structure, both you and your kids will be able to refocus and get some energy out.
Activities for independent play
During the week I try to come up with activities for both of us to look forward to or just to make our day at home more entertaining and buy more free time for work. We do everything from FaceTime with friends, practice yoga (I especially like this program), write letters, and draw pictures to mail to friends and family.
For instance, last week I broke out the box of Halloween costumes and declared it was costume day. Other times, I say, "Oh William, I'm so excited to do XYZ with you. But I can only do that if I get this work done." If it's something your kid loves, you'll suddenly have quiet and focus, for a little bit at least.
Are you running out of ideas? A quick Google search will bring up a million activities for young children, but I especially love Days with Grey. With activities for kids as young as one, you'll be sure to find something that works.
The new normal
Until your family finds its rhythm, it's hard to see the bright side of things. Try to focus on the positive aspect of being home with your kids and, in turn, this will help with your productivity.
Talk to your kids about why we're staying home. Sesame Street and CNN recorded a six-part series to help parents talk to their kids about the coronavirus pandemic. It's so important to help your kids understand that there's a reason for staying home and that doing so helps people stay healthy. After all, we're all in this together, including our children.