When everyone is under the same roof all the time, worlds start colliding.
That conference call with your colleagues can be interrupted by a fussy toddler. The homeschooling session with your preteen can be cut short by an urgent work request. It’s a lot to juggle.
But you can take some steps to find and maintain a balance between work and childcare. Here are a few helpful tips.
1. Set clear expectations. This applies to both your colleagues and your kids.
Many colleagues are struggling with the same issues you have. They’re likely to understand if you tell them that you’ll be available for fewer meetings or that your email responses will be less rapid than usual. Be transparent about your conflicting priorities and make sure everyone knows what they can expect from you.
Similarly, be upfront with your kids. They may be used to having 100% of your attention when you’re home, so your present-but-unavailable new reality may be jarring for them. Using age-appropriate language, tell your kids what to expect from you in the near term — whether that means the next few minutes, the next few hours or the rest of the day.
2. Enforce clear boundaries. After you set expectations, it’s important to enforce them with boundaries.
For work, this may mean that you’re truly unavailable when you said you would be. The tug of answering messages and solving problems can be strong, but try to leave it for your designated work time.
Boundary-setting with kids can be tricky, depending on their ages. Try these tips to enforce boundaries with young ones:
- Tell your child that you need to do work for a set amount of time. Give appropriate warning first so it’s not too abrupt
- Set a visual timer to show what the duration looks like
- If necessary, stay in the same room as your child, but focus on your task
- If your child interrupts, remind them that it’s work time and direct their attention to the timer
- When the timer is finished, honor your commitment by stopping work, and then give your child your full attention again.
3. Partner with your partner. If you have a parenting partner at home, this situation can be even more complicated. If only one of you is working, the entire childcare load falls on the other partner, which can be stressful. And if you’re both working, then you have even more priorities to juggle.
To find a balance, you’ll need strong communication. Daily or weekly schedules may need to be aligned and then reworked on the fly. It’s likely to be stressful, but with compassion, patience and teamwork, you may be able to find a solution that works for everyone.
4. Embrace flexible scheduling. You may be used to tidy, this-time-until-this-time work hours. But chances are, things aren’t so regimented and clear with a house full of people and several competing priorities.
Try looking at your workday differently — maybe by splitting up your hours into morning, midday and nighttime work sessions. You may have an easier time concentrating at night after the kids have gone to bed or in the morning before they wake up. You may need a trial-and-error period before you figure out what’s right for your specific circumstances.
5. Create a schedule for kids. This may feel like a staycation for kids, but the World Health Organization states that it’s still important to establish and maintain a routine.
Stick to consistent bedtimes and wake times, and try to maintain a structure for learning times, play times, meal times and so forth. This can help kids feel more secure, and it can also help you schedule your work hours during times when you know they’ll be occupied.
6. Put family time on the calendar. When creating a schedule, don’t forget to build in some dedicated family time.
Commit to being fully present during this time so you can truly connect. If you have a work calendar, you can block off this time or add it to your schedule as a meeting.
7. Limit kids’ social interactions. It may be tempting to let kids meet up with friends to keep them occupied — and they may be clamoring for this themselves. But it’s important to observe responsible social distancing during this time.
Reducing contact is key to slowing the spread of coronavirus, so in-person social interactions should be limited, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Try alternative socializing methods, such as phone or video chats, or even old-fashioned cards or letters.
8. Engage kids instead of just occupying them. Whether your kids are e-learning through school or not, it’s important to keep their brains sharp during quarantine. One way to keep kids’ attention for longer is to truly engage their intellectual curiosity instead of just assigning them tasks to occupy their time.
Try letting your children choose things they want to do. Ask what interests them and then set up learning projects that help them explore a topic of interest more deeply. Encourage independent play in addition to structured learning time.
This will give kids a purpose while freeing up your time to focus on work.
9. Give yourself a break. You’re dealing with a lot, so cut yourself some slack. You won’t be perfect in either work or childcare when your attention is necessarily divided.
Be sure to take some time for yourself so you can manage your own stress and build your capacity for supporting your kids. Take breaks. Do healthy activities that you enjoy. Try praying, stretching or reflecting.
Reach out for help if you need it. Talking with a mental health professional may help you work through feelings of anxiety and gain coping skills. Many insurance providers are waiving their restrictions on teletherapy during the COVID-19 crisis, so you may be able to get an appointment for a video session.
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For more tips on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub. We’re continually updating the Hub with important news about the pandemic that can help you stay informed, as well as resources to help you and your family cope.