WFH parents and experts share their best strategies for helping you make the most of your time and energy.
As our child care situations shifted thanks to the pandemic, most of us assumed it was short term. And so we did the best we could, reminding ourselves that it was just temporary.
But this fall a lot of families are facing the same challenges once again as school districts opt for distance learning or hybrid models — a mix of in-person and virtual instruction. And many parents are opting out of daycare, at least for a few months.
Naturally, this complicates our work situations. After all, parenting and working are hard enough on their own — now we have to do them in tandem.
But by taking strategic steps, it’s possible to get work done. We asked WFH parents and experts to share precisely how they’re coping — which you’ll find below.
Identify what is important to you regarding work and your relationship with your kids, says Kendra Adachi, mom of three and author of “The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done.”
Get specific about everything from the number of hours you need to work to the professional goals you’re trying to reach. Reflect on how you’d like to connect to your kids and the type of educational experience you’d like them to have. And discuss this with your partner, if you have one.
Putting it all into words can help you to identify your priorities, as well as your struggles. Knowing what needs the most focus and where you could use some help can help you craft a plan for the day, the week, or the foreseeable future.
“My number one secret is that if you have young kids, you need another adult — not you! — in charge during the hours you intend to work,” says Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert, mom of five, and author of the e-book “The New Corner Office: How The Most Successful People Work From Home.”
She suggests hiring a sitter who shares your social-distancing philosophy. For example, Odelia Mirzadeh, mom to a 2-year-old who owns a busy speech therapy practice, has a nanny from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Mirzadeh takes Mondays off to spend with her daughter.
Not sure child care is in your budget? Vanderkam suggests shifting money from past priorities that currently aren’t happening, like trips and dining out. Or, she says, hire a sitter for the morning hours, and use naps and screen time in the afternoons.
Melody Godfred, founder of Fred and Far, hired a college student to tutor her 7-year-old twins twice a week in socially distanced outdoor sessions.
Another alternative is to split coverage with your spouse, neighbor, relative, or friend. That’s exactly what artist Tori Press and her husband, a software engineer, are doing with their 10- and 7-year-old kids.
Press plans on working from 8 a.m. to noon while her husband watches their children. Then she’s in charge until evening when her husband will break for dinner and help put the kids to bed. She’ll also work 2 to 4 hours on weekends.
Godfred has a similar split with her husband, and her mom is watching their 2-year-old son between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. If you don’t have the spouse or grandparent option, consider whether a co-worker, friend, neighbor, or other trusted adult might be interested in coordinating care with you, especially if they’re also in need of help.
Think about other responsibilities that take up your time and energy and how you can receive support in those areas, says Louise Webster, author of “A New Way for Mothers: A Revolutionary Approach for Mothers to Use Their Skills and Talents While Their Children Are at School.”
You shouldn’t assume your spouse and kids know what you have going on day to day, says Craig Jarrow, a dad of two and author of “Time Management Ninja: 21 Rules for More Time and Less Stress in Your Life.” Which is why he suggests families communicate about meetings, school activities, and priorities.
So, if your kids are old enough, have weekly or nightly meetings to discuss what each person needs. It can also be helpful to put all this information into a family calendar, either online or posted somewhere in the home so that all family members have access.
Vanderkam suggests giving kids a lot of active time in the mornings to create some quiet time to work after lunch. For example, play tag in the backyard or use an indoor trampoline. Try movement videos like GoNoodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga.
When you’re trying to work and parent, you can feel like you’re being pulled in both directions simultaneously. Having a list of your top three tasks for each day gives you an end point.
Similarly, it might be helpful to talk to your colleagues and supervisor regarding realistic goals, says Ann Gold Buscho, PhD, a psychologist and author of “The Parent’s Guide to Birdnesting: A Child-Centered Solution to Co-Parenting During Separation and Divorce.”
After you’ve completed those tasks, “You can relax and enjoy hanging out with your family — which is much more pleasant than trying to answer emails while intervening in fights,” says Vanderkam.
Save screen time for when you can’t be interrupted — like calls, meetings, or deadlines, says Buscho. If you’d like some educational options, she suggests PBS and Khan Academy.
Godfred suggests creating a schedule for screens. Her daughters watch TV and have access to a Nintendo Switch for 1 to 2 hours on Tuesdays, Fridays, and weekends. They avoid devices in the mornings because they tend to lower their tolerance for frustration, negatively impacting their mood, she says.
While this depends on your kids’ ages, it can help for everyone to have their own space. For example, Jarrow works in the basement. His wife, a business intelligence manager, works from her home office. Their 8-year-old daughter is at the dining room table, and their teenage son works at his desk in his room.
If you’re sharing a space, invest in headsets to help everyone stay focused on their own meetings or tasks. Keep necessary supplies on hand and stock up on printer ink because you know you’ll run out.
Press and her family regularly talk about banding together to help each other and do what’s best for their family. They’ve also discussed the difficulties of working and thriving during the pandemic. “Sometimes an individual won’t get their way, but when we all support and care for each other, we all do better,” she says.
With younger kids, you can still talk about being a team and cultivate a collaborative climate by playing together and divvying up chores (like folding laundry, dusting, or caring for pets).
Playdates can provide another opportunity to work, says Webster. Although deep work might be impossible, you can do less attention-demanding tasks, such as replying to email and scheduling meetings. And of course, playdates are wonderful for kids’ social and emotional health. Godfred is doing socially-distanced outdoor playdates with a pod of friends.
At every turn of the pandemic, Press has been plagued by crushing guilt —thinking she should be more attentive to her kids, work more, have a cleaner home, and really savor the family togetherness. But, she realized, her expectations are based on her life pre-pandemic, and today those standards are impossible.
Now, Press, author of “I Am Definitely, Probably Enough (I Think),” reminds herself daily that she’s doing her best: “Even if it’s a far cry from what my best looked like before COVID, it’s enough.”
To keep her kids occupied, Godfred doles out a daily project to “allow them to spend hours engaging in imaginative play,” using supplies like a fort-building kit from Lakeshore, a 3D coloring puzzle, fabric markers, and canvases from Michaels.
Recently, her daughters created desk organizers using art supplies and materials from their house (discovered on YouTube) — which gave Godfred several hours to work.
If you’re struggling, please know you’re not alone. Press notes that her “productivity has taken a huge hit.” While she’s hopeful about their fall schedule, she also knows there’s a big learning curve and adjustment period once school starts.
And if your schedule isn’t flexible and you’ve got limited help and resources: “Do whatever is necessary to keep yourself sane and your kids relatively happy,” says Godfred. “A Disney movie and a bag of popcorn go a really long way.”
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is a freelance writer and associate editor at PsychCentral.com. She’s been writing about mental health, psychology, body image, and self-care for over a decade. She lives in Florida with her husband and their daughter. You can learn more at https://www.margaritatartakovsky.com.