Life updates, and working from home with kids

Greetings! Like a great many folks, we’re on lockdown here for the duration. I’m doing my best to check news once a day, since more than that doesn’t serve any purpose. I have been reading through Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir, and before that I read Switched on Pop, which was fun for my music geek side.

The kids are doing a great job with their homeschooling. They have a list of activities that are supposed to be completed before lunch. Much of it is self-directed for the big kids — each day features a 30-minute research project within a broad assigned category (say, history or science). They choose the topic, and write me a paragraph about it. I’ve been enjoying learning about magnets, solar energy, Sacagawea, when rides opened at Disney, etc. They also have to do an hour of independent reading (hopefully more), 30 minutes of math practice, instrument practice and time on the Duolingo app for those studying a foreign language. They will have actual school assignments within a few days, but that’s getting geared up.

There have been fights and general naughtiness, but I’ve also seen an upside to having lots of kids — they are playing with each other. The four older kids can do a reasonable game of hide-and-seek in the back yard. They’re playing with various toys in the basement and even some of the screen time has been social (group playing on Roblox on various devices, for instance).

I’m getting a lot of questions about working from home with kids around. Tomorrow’s Before Breakfast episode will cover this topic and Sarah and I will likely do a bonus episode on this. (The episodes we’ve recorded ahead of time are still in the queue, so please be understanding if they sound off now — cheerily talking about vacation plans that are on hold, for instance. There’s a limit to how much new, of-the-minute content we can record given the circumstances, so hopefully the other tips will still be relevant.)

If you are trying to work from home without childcare, there are a few things you can do. First is to know that while this might last for a while, it will probably not last forever. Think marathon, not sprint but even marathons do eventually end. You stay sane by just running the mile you’re in.

If you’ve got a partner in a similar situation your best bet with really young kids is to split the day. Let’s assume that 1-3 p.m. is nap time (or could be quiet/screen time for kids who don’t nap). Someone could work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. one day and get an entire work day in. The other parent could work from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and do likewise. This assumes some control of your time and will be tough if other people you work with closely have taken the opposite shifts but maybe you can lean on people not dealing with the childcare issue to be accommodating. Or if there’s something that absolutely cannot be moved, possibly your spouse might be willing to trade off an hour or two. You can also flip shifts day to day if necessary (someone takes the early one on Monday, then someone else does on Tuesday, etc.). You might also learn that  you don’t need to do 8-9 hours a day. Offices can be distracting places. If you keep the split, you might be able to trade off exercise time (home treadmill or running around the neighborhood — no gym visits!) or other sanity-preserving downtime.

Without another adult around, this can be a lot harder. If it is possible to wake up before your children, this can be a good time to get something done. No one wants to have a conference call with you at 5 a.m., but you can do your individual focused work then. You might be able to work from 5-7 a.m. Then really run your little ones around the post for the morning. Play in the yard if you have one, go for a walk if you’re in a neighborhood where that is feasible. Do dance videos. Basically, do whatever you can to get some physical activity yourself and tire them out so hopefully they take a nice long nap. Try to push conference calls to the 1-3 p.m. window, prioritizing the 1 p.m and 2 p.m. slots. You might be able to get a 3 p.m. in, but the probabilities start declining. Depending on your kids (and your energy) you might be able to score an hour or so after kid bedtime too. Or if you’re a night owl, you could swap the morning hours for the night hours and try to work until 11 p.m. or so. Again, people won’t want to do conference calls but that’s a time for the focused work.

If your team is insisting on video calls at 10 a.m. and you’re solo with a toddler, well, that’s going to be harder. You can try screen time if your kids can be reliably distracted by that. My experience with 2-year-olds is that many are not, or at least not for longer than a 10-minute episode of Thomas the Tank Engine. You can also have a box of only-for-calls toys that might be entertaining enough to keep them distracted for a bit. But again, there’s no guarantee. So you just have to do the best you can. If you’re managing someone in this situation, please be understanding. Your understanding will buy an incredible amount of loyalty. And situations like this are one of the reasons to build up career capital in general. If you’re known for always doing great work, people are more inclined to understand a tough situation.

As for feeling focused, whether you have childcare/are swapping with a partner or not, I find it helps to assign yourself a certain number of tasks per day. A small number! Five could work. Twenty probably won’t. Focus on the most important ones first. If you get three important things done per day, that’s 15 per week. That’s 750 per year — which is a lot of important stuff! This is what I’ve been trying to do the past 3 months while I’ve been working with a breastfeeding newborn. It’s not perfect, but life seldom is. We do what we can.

Photo: Spring is springing! The daffodils are out and I’m pretty sure my magnolia tree will be blooming pink in a week or two at most. 

19 thoughts on “Life updates, and working from home with kids

  1. Zoom has a virtual background setting that mostly only shows your face, and not things moving in the background. It helps to not make a kid running past you into a virtual distraction.

    1. That is an amazing feature. We use MS Teams at work and my kids are a bit older but I love to hear they have that.

  2. Love the idea of 5 things a day. I’ve been trying that this year by putting tasks on an assigned day in the simplified planner. This has helped me put tasks on the date they need to be done and helped with prioritization.

  3. This was a super helpful post. I WFH full time, so having my kids home has been a big drag on my usual productivity. And – I will admit to some jealousy of parents who are doing fun things with kids while they are WFH. I think getting up early to do focused work, then spending some time with them may ease this transition.

    1. @Carol – yes, a little focused time can go a long way. Sometimes it’s better to spend the hour fully engaged, and then let them be somewhat tired of you and willing to do other things, than fight a constant battle back and forth that amounts to “mommy, pay attention to me!”

  4. If you have a chance, listen to the Becoming audiobook, or at least a few parts of it. Having her read her book, especially a few times when she breaks out in song or shows strong emotion was an extra treat! Enjoy!

  5. Thank you for this! I’ve seen SO MANY “homeschool schedules” and “fun at home activities” but I will be working from home full time and my husband part time (he’s a teacher) and we have been struggling to figure out how we are going to get our work done and make this doable for our 3 and 5 year old. I haven’t really seen anyone address this! Likewise, the hours my son is supposed to be doing his work thru the online school program are the same hours I am expected to online and my husband available for his students. I know everyone will be flexible and it will all work out, but I feel like (once again) so much of the “helpful” tips out there assumes there is someone in the house who is able to drop everything and full time care for the kids. I appreciate someone acknowledging that this may not be the case for everybody!

    1. @Kristin W – yep. I know some families are in a tough spot, even if they can work from home. It is hard to work from home with kids around but this is a time to lean on your partner if you have one or possibly a neighbor in a similar spot if you can create a closed loop (no one is being exposed to anyone else).

  6. I’m home with a toddler, so this post resonates with me. His daycare is still open but my rheumatologist said I should keep him home since I am in the high risk group. My coworkers/boss are VERY understanding. My husband will WFH on days when I have client calls. Otherwise I am trying to get as much done from 1-3 when he’s napping. I try to get out for a walk right before nap time to tire him out a bit. But all in all, it’s challenging. He does like to watch things like Dinosaur Train and Little Baby Bum. So I use those when I need to work without too many interruptions.

  7. Sorry, this is a semi- unrelated question, but connected to working and babies. Did you wind up getting one of those new breast pumps that are tubeless?! I am really curious how it works if you did. Please tell us about your pumping experience this time around. I feel like that could be a major game- changer. (I am pumping while reading your blog which is why I thought of it…)

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