Depending on your circumstances, you may find that you’re suddenly faced with balancing work, parenting, and even schooling simultaneously during the course of a day.
This may be the point at which you question every life decision you’ve made, wonder whether you’re really cut out for this whole adulting thing, and consider just crawling back in bed. #beentheredonethat
Let’s be honest — it can be hard.
You’re attempting to do the work of several full time jobs at once. Trying to maintain work professionalism on a video call while your toddler screams from the bathroom that he needs you to wipe his butt NOW is not for the faint of heart.
But remember all the amazing things you’ve already accomplished as a person and a parent. You’ve made so many complicated situations work. You have parented through tough times. You can get through this.
Remember, also, what a privilege it is in rough times to have a job, to be able to work from home, and to have the family you’re trying to balance with all this responsibility.
Sometimes a little perspective can help us manage things in a healthier way.
If you’re going from working kid-free to working with a brand new set of co-workers/offspring you’re going to have to adjust your expectations about what you can get done in a day (and so is your boss!).
Make a list of the most important things you absolutely must get done for the day, followed by the things you’d like to get done, and things you’d like to work on if you have time.
Estimate how long it would take you to complete the first two sections without interruption. Then give up and set your list on fire. Kidding. Mostly.
Estimate that everything will take longer than it usually does to get done. How much longer may depend on the day, on the kids, or on a number of factors.
So, instead of expecting to get it all done, take satisfaction in each item you master, and start your list for the next day with a better sense of what you can manage. Learn from experience — every day can teach you something.
Most of us have a daily routine on work days. While it may not always look the same, we tend to follow certain patterns.
Does your day begin with a shower? Coffee? Social media scrolling? A commute? Decide which parts of your routine will benefit your new situation and build them into your plans.
If you usually hit the corner coffee shop because you like to meet with a friend and catch up, make your coffee at home and hop on a video call for a morning check-in.
If you use your train ride to catch up on some reading, spend some time with a book or newspaper before you get started.
It’s definitely advisable to brush your teeth and get dressed for the day every work day — at least dress the parts of you that will show on video calls!
Some people like to have a dedicated desk space with two monitors and a printer and a cup full of pens at hand. Other people like to change it up, moving from the counter to the couch to a desk with only their laptop and coffee.
Figure out what you need to do your best work and do what you can to make that happen.
If you really need quiet for meetings but don’t have an office space in your home, you might need to squeeze a small desk or table into your bedroom. If you thrive on activity and interaction you might do well setting up in the living room.
Try to take advantage of what you already have — use a dining chair for a desk chair, move a lamp, clear off a counter. Piece together a work space that works for you.
When my kids were little and I was freelancing, child care wasn’t in the budget. Weekends when my husband could take over care, nap times, and after bedtime became my prime work hours.
But not everyone can completely control their work hours in that way. Look at your schedule and adjust anywhere you can.
Maybe for you, the key is waking up early to get in a few hours of uninterrupted work before the kids are underfoot. If you’re a night owl, you might be able to tackle some tasks after bedtime routines are over.
If you and your partner are both managing work, see if you can craft a schedule where you switch off — one of you being the go-to parent that fixes snacks and kisses booboos, and one of you being able to focus on work without interruptions.
If you don’t have someone to share the load, now may be the time to change up the usual and call on help.
Instead of getting the kids up for the day early, let them sleep in as long as possible. See if you can set up a few weekly video calls with friends or relatives that will buy you an hour or so here and there. Look for free online resources like yoga classes, art classes, or even video games that can keep kids entertained.
Sometimes you do what you have to in order to get the work done.
Of course, it’s important to schedule breaks — including lunch — when possible. In an office environment the social interaction naturally lends itself to breaks and conversations. In remote work, it’s on you to start a conversation or take a break.
Ask a co-worker how they’ve been, take a quick walk around the block, read a few books with your kiddo, or have a family dance party in the kitchen. Even just a few minutes away from work tasks can have you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your next challenge.
Of course, sometimes your work doesn’t allow for much flexibility, or your boss thinks working from home should mean 24-hour availability.
Consider speaking up whenever possible. Use your calendar to block off breaks and start and end times for your day. Talk to co-workers and managers who are receptive about what times are best for meetings — and when you might need to be offline for awhile.
Advocate for healthy boundaries and balance.
It’s also important to find some time each day when you’re not focused on your work or your kids, but on yourself.
Whether this means hiding in the pantry to eat chocolate, spending 15 minutes on meditation or yoga, or mindlessly adding items you’ll probably never buy to your online shopping cart, take a moment meant just for you.
There are so many great apps that allow for connection and communication. Your company may already use them, or you may need to start trying some new things.
When you’re not able to meet face to face, video chat can allow for better, nuanced, team-building conversation. Quick communications are handled more easily through a messaging app than email for instant replies. Shared calendars and project timelines can keep everyone on the same page.
Take advantage of the tools you can use to maintain your connection even when you can’t be in the office. Reach out to other parents that you work with — they’re going through this too.
If you’re working from home it’s a good step to talk to everyone there — spouses or partners, parents, kids, even cats (they won’t listen, but you can try) — about how you can support one another.
If you and your partner are both working, make sure you’re sharing the load on household responsibilities and getting what you need to get your work done.
You may be sharing an office space or overlapping meetings, so talk about your schedules and your goals so you can get on the same page.
If your kids are working on school, then take the opportunity to model the ways they can be successful. Help them plan their daily schedule, set up a good work space, and establish goals for the day or week.
Unless you’re opting to be a permanent homeschooling parent (or your kids are younger), it’s likely your school-aged child will be attending some form of virtual school. The good news is that this means your child still has a teacher — and that teacher isn’t you.
Your job is still to support and encourage learning, but you don’t have to take over explaining fractions or subject-verb agreement.
Make sure that your child has space to work and the technology and supplies they need, but don’t feel like you need to be supervising every moment. Let the teachers do their jobs.
On the flip side, don’t expect the teachers to keep your children busy for a full 8 hours. Much of the school day is spent in transitions between classes or activities, going to lunch, recess, and electives. It’s likely that school will take just a few hours each day, depending on your child’s age and assignments. Plan accordingly.
Pro tip: Technology isn’t always a bad thing. There are tons of online resources to help keep kids busy — and learning.
A movie that keeps your toddler engaged while you work next to them on the couch is a good thing for both of you. It’s not bad parenting to take advantage of tech. Just balance it out with physical activity, games, reading, and human interaction.
Challenges like working from home with kids can be good for everyone. Your children may learn some lessons in independence and free play, and they’ll get to see a side of you that they may not have known before.
Working with partners or other family members to find ways to work together can strengthen your bonds and improve communication.
Learning to work in less-than-ideal circumstances helps you to be a more resilient, adaptable, creative employee.
Sara McTigue is an editor for Healthline Parenthood. She loves books, Disney, musicals, “The Golden Girls”, and snacks. She shares her home with one husband, three kids, and four cats who all help to make absolutely sure that every day is an adventure.