In 2013, I became a WAHM (work-at-home-mom). I was privileged to be able to make that choice. And, I made it knowing what I was gaining (more time with my child) and what I was giving up (a separate work life and a clear trajectory on my career path). I have devoted so many sleepless hours to raising children while balancing running a pottery business with my full-time artist husband along with bookkeeping I did on the side. Fortunately, I’ve been able to work remotely these last seven years without having to go to an office (loving that my commute is nonexistent), but that doesn’t make it any easier, honestly. The separation of work and family life is tough, especially when my office is just…right…there. I jump in for a few minutes only to be interrupted again. Only the surface fires are put out. Never the deep, smoldering ones, the slow-burning ones, the smell of smoke always lingering. But, as any parent knows it’s a juggling act. Which item needs more attention right now: my greasy hair or the proposal due at 9 am tomorrow? Proposal wins. Again.
Today, most of us have no choice but to work from home with our children. The “fires” we need to put out are smoldering everywhere. We are now, officially, WAHPs (work-at-home parents). And, for many, this is less than ideal. Fortunately, for me, working from home isn’t new, and working around kids is an old hat. I’m not saying I’m winning at it, because I’m not. Being a decent multitasker means I can juggle a handful of things but do none of them very well. Just ask the clean laundry that has been sitting in the laundry baskets for the past two weeks.
We’ve set unfair expectations on our working parents (this issue was always there, but it’s made so much more obvious now), asking them to be successful both in life and in their career, proving themselves constantly. Making three meals a day from scratch, getting all the homework done without stress or pressure-tactics, a clean home, a beautiful yard. At some point, we may break. Meltdowns and burnout are real things and to expect us WAHPs to perform at 100% on all levels is a joke. Then, this pandemic hit the world and we are stretched to our max. To transplant a traditional office worker to a home office, surrounded by cookies and wine in the cupboard, a toddler in the background listening to Caillou for the billionth time (trust me, if you’ve never heard the theme song, you don’t want to), is like building a house of cards. Eventually, the slightest breeze will make it come crashing down…with devastating results. So, let’s set realistic expectations on our work-from-home community and reasonable limits on workloads so that we can all get through this emotionally, mentally, and physically draining time together. Let’s aim for 75% success. Let’s be the best mediocre multitaskers we can be right now. Because that is our level best.
And, let’s talk about schooling at home, or the lack thereof. True, we don’t want our kids to fall behind in school, but right now the main focus is to continue to hold that job (and make a paycheck since reality is that many aren’t as fortunate). As my sister says “working helps me cope with the stress of the world.” It’s something predictable that we can count on right now and it helps us to not dwell on the things outside of our control. I cannot force my oldest child (who’s in first grade) to sit for three hours a day at a computer while he pushes shapes around a screen and sorts nouns and verbs. He’s only 7. And, being a teacher is way outside of my job description. He wants to be outside, learning how to use a hammer and building new structures like his pole bean trellis, digging holes and discovering bugs he’s never seen before and looking at them under a magnifying glass, or running his fastest with his “fast” shoes on. He is getting real-life experience, he is learning about his body and what it’s capable of, he is living science and exploring the world first-hand. Nature is his school, curiosity his teacher. That counts for something. My almost-5 year old just wants to capture caterpillars in a jar and show me his ninja moves. In those wild-eyed moments of discovery, I take mental pictures of my children to smile at later when I need a moment of brightness when the world just feels a bit too heavy to handle.
We hope that in this extra time you have with your family, that you find moments worth capturing. If you have young children at home, try to tap into that unbridled joy and curiosity that they exude. Take breaks from your computer screen (your eyes will thank you). Get on your kids’ level, sit on the floor, play mega nerf gun pirate battle with them. Research why the sky is actually blue. They will remember these times as fun because they got to have their parents’ attention more than before. If you have children older than mine, like teenagers and up, I’ve got nothing for ya. Sorry. I wish you all the best.
Here are my survival tips when working at home with children. I don’t do all of these all the time. That’s beyond my ability. But, I try to incorporate as many as possible to help me stay sane. I hope at least one helps you:
- Come at this from a point of gratitude, if you can. The teachers and childcare workers who are with our kids day in and day out have god-like powers. And it’s a privilege to be able to work from home and still keep your job.
- If you are homeschooling young ones, don’t stress about it. Stress feeds anxiety, anger, and frustration (in you and in the kids). Take it in small bits and don’t push if it’s not coming easily to you or your child. Remember, education comes in all forms: take a magnifying glass on a walk outside, bake something with your child, make an art project, plant some seeds or try out one of the resources listed at the bottom. They will learn more in those moments than from any app or worksheet on a screen. For a sanity break, try this Homeschooling While Working From Home During a Global Pandemic Bingo. I got Bingo on the first day.
- Stay off social media unless it’s absolutely necessary and it’s to keep in touch with family and friends. The less we see things that upset us or cause resentment, the less emotional baggage we carry around for the day. We’ve got enough on our plates already rather than worrying about things outside of our control.
- On the note of social media, don’t compare yourself to what other families are doing at home. Yes, one super dad is dressing up in a costume every day to teach his kids. Great for him. I don’t have the capacity for that. That mom who is baking homemade apple pie every day with a crust made from scratch in an immaculately clean kitchen, fuggedaboutit! We have dishes piled a mile high and run the dishwasher at least twice a day. And, tackling a new skill? Impossible. Right now, it’s #SurvivalMode.
- Communication is key to making sure everyone has their needs met. Unspoken needs, assuming that others can read your mind, lead to resentment. Don’t do that to yourself, not now and not ever.
- If it fits your family style, find a routine and stick to it. If you have a partner/significant other/spouse, have a weekly meeting to discuss what everyone’s needs are. Also, discuss what worked and didn’t work last week and how you can adjust. Children thrive (and many adults do, too, especially if work needs to be done) on routines and it creates a predictable plan for the day ahead for everyone. If you want to go with the flow, fine! Carry on!
- Your bedroom is a sacred space. Don’t do your work there. Have one or two zones in your home where you work. It will help you get in the headspace. A room with a door shut signals that you are to not be bothered. Working at the kitchen table or on the couch…yes, available for interaction!
- Be open and honest with your boss about your schedule. Do you need to work a solid 8 hours in one go? Can you block it out in small chunks? Then, hopefully, you can take shifts with your partner/significant other/spouse and everyone gets playtime breaks.
- Prioritize your workload. Save the big work projects for nap/quiet time. If you’re trying to tackle a big project that requires focus and brain capacity for any length of time, don’t do it with the kids in the background. This will only lead to tension/anger/frustration and unnecessary outbursts from you. It’s not our children’s fault, so don’t take it out on them.
- Take time for sunshine and recharge in nature. A dose of Vitamin D can help us destress and brighten our mood. Take your little one on a scavenger hunt outside, or, sit quietly and have them name all the sounds they hear.
- Build a fort, make a yummy snack, and relax on screen time limits. Don’t feel guilty. Download some fun, educational games that you can feel good about your child binging on. Check out Toca Boca games. My kids love Hair Salon, Toca Nature (this one is even enjoyable and relaxing for adults!), and Toca Pet Doctor. Or, consider purchasing Osmo games, which are fun while building brain connections.
- Plan out your meals and snacks for the day (I like to plan a few dinners a week in advance so I can be prepared, otherwise, we end up eating random junk). Indulge if you feel the need to. This is a no-guilt zone (my nightly indulgence was two Oreos – until I ran out – and a glass of chocolate milk). Make sure your water (add lemon!) and healthy snacks are within reach to keep your blood sugar and your mood stable. Enlist your kids to help with planning the food for the day, including them with meal prep. Each person gets one reusable water bottle for the day so as to cut down on the number of dishes.
- Try to cut back on inflammatory foods like caffeine, dairy, and processed grains, if you can. The gut/brain connection is a real thing and you truly are what you eat. I’ve found my anxiety and lack of patience are off the charts when I consume caffeine (particularly coffee) and wheat. Both also seem to give me headaches, which aren’t conducive to me enjoying the joyous sounds of children playing…or beating each other up with plastic swords.
- Turn off the news. It’s not essential. It will add to the shroud of stress and anxiety you may already be wearing.
- When you are with your child, focus 100% on your child. Our kids already know that things aren’t quite normal in the world and really do need our attention more than before. Do things they want to do. Include them in things you’re doing. Children thrive when they feel they have purpose and belonging. Have them help with chores like dishes or laundry. The towels may not be folded perfectly but you’re giving that child responsibility and they will savor that. A friend once suggested, when my kids were just toddlers, to bring them outside with a small bag of flour and let them have at it. Sounds like fun entertainment until it’s time to clean-up…but, just think of those adorable pictures!
- Burnout is REAL. I am just now getting over a total crash and burn that happened almost eight months ago. Take the time to rest and recharge: do it well and do it often.
- And, when all else fails, bribery works…sometimes. Let them have an extra packet of gummy snacks or go full-on treat mode with a bowl of ice cream with sprinkles. You too. You deserve it.
This time is bizarre and unprecedented. We have no blueprint. As WAHPs, though, we are going through the thorny brambles together. You are not alone. It’s ok to feel out of control and overwhelmed. It’s ok to not feel ok. Have compassion for yourself and your emotional and physical capacity to complete things. It is a failure of our society to not allow us to be good at both our jobs and parenting, that one has to come at the expense of the other. However, the silver lining in this crisis is that we are raising a generation of children who have the potential to grow up with incredible resilience. In a time when we really need more human touch and hugs, and can’t get it from everyone we love, give some extra snuggles to those already in your life. Your fur baby, your real baby, your grown child, your man child, your awesome and amazingly supportive partner, everyone under your roof. But, please, stay at home.
My blessing for the close of the day:
To the essential workers, we salute you. You work miracles every day.
To the teachers and daycare workers, we salute you. I am incredibly humbled and grateful for what you do on a daily basis for our kids. You are superheroes and need to be paid a gazillion dollars a year.
To those growing our food, we salute you. Some know who grows their food, some don’t. We hope that you get to #knowyourfarmer and shake their hand one day soon.
A few other educational resources you may find helpful:
Tech Automation for Working Parents
Color Our Collections – Museums let you download art for coloring yourself (so cool!)
Live Cams around the world (it’s baby eagle season!)
Some perspective and Advice from Master Homeschoolers