Pandemic lock-down life may well be in the rear-view but for many of us, working from home has become the new normal.
Some of us love it, some of us hate it … and some of us have to do it whilst taking care of our kids. It’s a lot to juggle, and truth be told, the key to nailing it is accepting that some days will be better than others.
Here organisational queen and mum of two, Steph Pase, shares her tips on how to WFH with kids without completely losing the plot.
Accept that challenges will arise
Since starting my business, Steph Pase Planners, I’ve always worked from home, 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 – so steel yourself to be prepared. 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!). This is not even considering anything more serious that arises, like a work emergency or, touch wood, an accident.
Likewise, our kids often struggle with understanding 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.
Make a plan
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail with this one. 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 time? What can you realistically achieve? Then devise some activities for them based on that.
These can be things like 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.
Also 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.
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.
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.
Ask yourself, is it possible to schedule your focus-time earlier in the morning, later at night after the kids gone to bed, when your partner is home or you can you even 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.
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 becomes a cue for them.
Dangle a carrot
Give kids something to look forward to, such as a trip to the park, a bike ride or baking something yummy, when the workday 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 for this — 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 methods. So, if you’re finding it hard to make it work, know that you’re not alone — a few bad days does not mean it’s not working and perhaps you’re in need of a different approach.
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 you’re finding it difficult. It’s a lot to juggle and at the end of the day, we’re all only human and there’s always the next day to start fresh and try something new.