When you’re a kid, snow days are awesome. As a working parent, though, that dreaded robo-call or email from the school district can set off a panic. School is delayed or closed. How are you supposed to get your job done and deal with the kids’ disrupted schedule?
The good news is that snow days fall into the category of what Donald Rumsfeld called "known unknowns." You don’t know when they’ll happen, or how often, but if you live in a snowy climate, they’re inevitable. So you can plan for them. Here are 9 ways to minimize the damage (and recapture some of the fun).
Unless you’re the only parent on the payroll, other people will be affected by snow day school closures too. If you are the only parent? Winter weather might still make it treacherous for some of your colleagues to get to work. Any organization needs to figure out how to maintain operations in less-than-optimal conditions. Figure out whose jobs can be done remotely, and what equipment these people will need. If people must work in the office at certain times, figure out how shifts can be swapped. Ideally your boss has already thought through these matters, but if not, bring it up. If you are the boss, talk through the logistics now before something (road closures? a presidential visit? a building flood?) puts the whole operation out of commission.
Most snowstorms can be predicted at least a few days ahead of time. So every Friday afternoon, look at the weekly forecast. If snow is forecast for the end of the week, move your most important work to the beginning of the week. If snow is forecast for the beginning of the week, see if you can shift meetings and work later, or do some of it over the weekend. Even if you can’t shift work, knowing what’s coming gives you a few days to create contingency plans.
If you’ve got a co-parent, work out a system for figuring out who covers. One option is alternating the winter weeks, or days of the week, with each parent being "on call" for certain periods of time. If one parent’s job is far more flexible than the other’s, the flexible person can generally cover, but the other parent should take the kids at night or on weekends to allow the parent with the flexible job to make up time.
If you live near other families in similar situations, consider a snow-day co-op. Each family takes the others’ kids in turn. Three families means that each family only has to cover a third of the snow days, and if you split with your co-parent, that means you’re responsible for just one out of every six. Bonus: The kids will likely entertain each other, too, to some degree, so the day may not be a total wash.
Any working parent needs options for coverage. As you’re building your sitter "portfolio," aim to include some trusted caregiver who lives within walking distance (or has a snow-worthy vehicle) and could be available during the day on short notice. One good option? A neighbor who’s a responsible high school student. If school is cancelled, this young person will likely be out for the day as well. Even if you’re telecommuting that day, having someone who can entertain your kids for a few hours will buy you enough time to get through most of your to-do list.
If you are working from home without child care, be strategic. If the kids want to play outside with you, take them out first. This will tire them out and give them their snow day fix, so they’ll be willing to have quiet time later (during which you can get stuff done). Plan to show movies during particularly important calls, and if you’ve got really little ones, see if you can move any must-do calls to nap time. You might pull together a box of snow day activities that you drag out of the closet only when necessary. This will make these toys or art projects novel enough that the kids may stay interested, at least until your conference call is done. If you’ve got screen-time restrictions in your house, now is the time to chuck them.
This probably won’t work for toddlers, or if you’ve got a big brood, but if you’ve got a kid in that 7-12 age range where they’re able to entertain themselves but too young to be left home alone all day, you can get your kid loaded up with a game on the iPad or a tear-through-it book, ensconce him or her in a corner of your office, and go about your business.
One reason some working parents host au pairs is that a live-in child care option means a two-hour school delay is just not your problem. This is also the upside of moving near family. A retired grandparent may not want to watch your kids every day, but will help out in a pinch.
Getting stressed out will ruin what could be a chance to have fun and spend more time with your kids. The earth won’t crash into the sun if you don’t get to do everything you’d normally accomplish. On the plus side, you might get to make a snowman and drink hot chocolate, and those are pretty awesome, too.