When shelter-in-place orders went into effect in most of the country in March, parents across industries had to scramble to find childcare. For those of us lucky enough to not only keep our jobs but have jobs that can be done from home, this has meant trying to do the impossible: Work and take care of children full-time.
A few weeks ago I returned from maternity leave into this brave new world of work. Like millions of parents around the world, I’m now doing what would have been unthinkable two months ago. Somehow we are making it work, but let’s be honest: It’s not easy.
On this week’s episode of Secrets of the Most Productive People, I commiserate with Scott Mebus, Fast Company’s head of video and podcasting (and single dad to a six-year-old). We also turn to Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, an expert on conflict and organizational psychology and the author of the book Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life. She gives us some advice on how to set expectations with your boss and coworkers, how to carve out time for both work and parenting when they seem to be melting together, and how everyone, regardless of whether they have kids or not, should be rethinking work right now.
In the meantime, here are three ways to keep your sanity when working from home with kids:
1. Set a schedule. You’ve probably seen (and mocked) the color-coded homeschool schedules for kids. But having a framework for your day is essential, and if your kids are old enough to help create it, it can help them feel more in control, and they will be more apt to follow it. You should also set a schedule with your partner (if you have one) and with your boss and coworkers. If your company communicates via a messaging platform such as Slack, set your status with your schedule for the day so everyone can know when you’ll be offline.
2. Set expectations. These are not normal times, and this is not a normal way to work. So rather than try to pretend that you are going to work a straight 9-5 with no interruptions or distractions, talk to your boss and coworkers about your situation. (Chances are they are dealing with a lot right now too.) It’s also important to set expectations with your kids and partner: When is it okay for you to be interrupted? What sign or signal means you are on a call and need quiet? Is there a certain time every day that you can promise to devote to childcare?
3. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself some downtime. With so many people losing their jobs or being furloughed, you might feel added pressure to “prove your worth” by working around the clock, especially if the only quiet time is after the kids go to bed. But this is a marathon, not a sprint, so pace yourself and make some breaks for yourself each day. You could even reclaim your former commute time for some self-care such as yoga, or reading. Or, since it’s unlikely you’ll be taking a big trip anytime soon, consider using some of your vacation time to unplug and spend some time with your kids away from a computer screen.