An overseas family holiday had long felt like a pipe dream. With young kids,…
One part of pandemic life that is still a reality for many of us is working from home with kids. I was actually doing this pre-Covid, and I’ve always considered myself lucky that I’m able to do it; I know it’s not an option for everyone, which for those families makes balancing work and family responsibilities a more precarious tightrope.
Having said that, WFH is not without its challenges. The kids have needs that must be met, and situations pop up that need immediate attention — “Mum, I wet my pants”; “Mum, my toe hurts”; “Mum, she looked at me funny”; “Mum, do you want to hear my joke?” (inevitably about poo, why is it always about poo?) — which is frustrating when you’re in ‘the zone’ (or a Zoom meeting!). And this is not taking into account anything more serious that arises, like a work emergency or, touch wood, an accident.
Likewise for them, littlies just don’t understand the difference between ‘work mum’ and ‘home mum’ — you’re there, and therefore available to them whenever they want. And, of course, the younger your kids are, the more hands-on you will need to be.
Here’s some things that have worked for me in this pursuit of WFH balance. And look, it’s not foolproof, so many factors can change day to day, week to week (workload, weather, mood, illness, etc.), so if you’re finding it hard to make it work, know that you’re not alone and it will get easier — a few bad days does not mean it’s not working, perhaps you just need a different approach. And with school holidays approaching, many of us might need a little refresher.
- Have a plan: Get out your planner the night before and prepare for the day ahead. What’s on your to-do list? What tasks can be done with the kids around and what tasks require quiet? What can you realistically achieve? Then devise some activities for them based on that: craft time, colouring time, free play time, exercise time, reading time, movie time, gaming time, outdoor time, or chore time. Mix it up each day so they get variety and stimulation. Boredom is the real problem.
Tip: Make a lunchbox with snacks, as you would on a school day, and have them eat on a similar schedule to school. It cuts down on “Mum, can I have something to eat?” every 20 minutes.
- Set expectations: This won’t work for babies and toddlers, but for older kids, let them know what you’re doing, why it’s important and what kind of behaviour you expect from them.
- Be flexible: This one is important. Obviously if you have set hours or are working to a deadline, it’s not so easy, but the more flexible you can be, the less painful the whole experience will be. Maybe you can schedule your focus time early in the morning or after they’ve gone to bed, or when your partner is home or you can arrange a babysitter or playdate. Flexibility can also apply to your general family rules: maybe they are allowed a little more screen time on intense WFH days, or more leniency around making a mess.
- Take breaks: Step away from work at regular intervals and engage with the kids, top up their attention cups before getting back into work. You could go for a walk, play a game of hide and seek, make a picnic lunch and eat in the backyard together — it doesn’t have to be long, but it should be undivided.
- Have a work caddy/station: Keep everything you need for work in a caddy, tub or bag, or in a specific zone of your home (a desk or office). This works for two reasons: 1. It keeps you more organised; and 2. It’s a visual signal to the kids that you are working, so the set-up and pack-away become cues for them.
- Dangle a carrot: Give them something to look forward to, such as a trip to the park, a bike ride or baking something yummy, when the work day is over. This doesn’t need to be every day, but perhaps every few days, or days when they are struggling. I recommend giving them a boundary around this though — such as ‘it will happen at 4 o’clock and only after you’ve packed up your toys’ — to try and stop them asking about it every 10 minutes!
As I said, these are not foolproof: some days everything works beautifully, some days nothing works at all! Try not to give yourself, or the kids, a hard time if the day turns to crap, we’re all only human and there’s always the next day to start fresh and try something new.
Other WFH parents, what are your best tips for keeping the kids entertained? Share with us by hashtagging #stephpase #stephing on socials.