Congratulations! You're now a "Work at Home" parent!

March 19, 2020

I've stopped asking what is even happening because honestly, nobody knows.  Currently, our entire planet is experiencing trauma and confusion and none of this is precedented, so naturally, everything is changing, including the view from your office and your kids' daily schedule.  (I use the term "schedule" lightly because, well, you'll see)

I've been a full-time work-at-home parent for five-ish years.  When my second son, Jude, was born in 2014 I went full time because I knew I couldn't keep a full-time nanny job, a burgeoning photography career, and parent a two-year-old and a newborn.  I'm a type-b person, I'm OK with my limits, in fact, I like them a lot.  

My sons are currently, 7, 5, and almost 3 and they've never known anything but me with them, and I can promise you one very certain thing: They have no freaking idea of how important my work is, despite the years of telling them, shutting my office door, losing my temper, and praising the good Lord that Netflix exists.  Seriously, if you want to impress upon your kids the importance of the work you are doing, you won't.  However, here are some honest and, I think, helpful tips for surviving life as a parent of small kids working from home.

1 - Give yourself and your kids, grace.

Seriously, that's the number one thing that you have to come back to time and time again.  This is a new venture for everyone, stress is high, uncertainty is everywhere and everything pretty much sucks.  If you expect them to keep their emotions under control and also take it in stride when you lose yours, it's gonna be a long quarantine.  Each time you lose your temper, because you will, remind yourself you are not a bad parent, look your kids in the eye, and apologize.  Each time your kids lose it on each other, give them time to cool off and ask them to apologize.  Forgiveness and grace have to be the cornerstone (for everyone, not just you) of being stuck in your house with the same five people, because if they aren't, arson investigations will probably be on the rise.

2 - Don't over-schedule everything.

This is mainly for parents of small kids.  Older kids can probably adhere to schedule better, but I don't have teenagers, so who knows.  If you've ever looked at an elementary teacher's daily schedule, it filled with breaks and snacks and the knowledge that it will take time to walk down hallways and take bathroom breaks.  If you try and keep a tight schedule with kids, you'll end up trying to police it while stressing everyone out. Remember, you're new at this and so are your kids, so we're back to giving grace.

3 - Use timers.

I know it sounds kind of obvious, but kids have zero concept of actual times outside of the length of an episode of Wild Kratts.  So when you need 40 minutes to email or you're about to be in a conference call for the next hour, set timers that your kids can hear and can look forward to.  If your littlest still doesn't quite understand timers, use the TV.  Seriously, you're not killing them, unless of course you let them watch Calliou, because that kid will turn anyone into a psychopath.

4 - Audiobooks are your new best friend.

If you don't have an Audible account or better yet a Libby account from your local library, download it now and find yourselves the books your kids always want you to read to them.  Now you can have celebrities do it for a low low price of... well who cares, someone else is reading to your kids.  Our favorites are as follows:

5 - Pick your fights.

It's going to be super tempting to police every argument.  Don't.  Because you won't be able to get anything done.  Let them work it out.  Unless of course, they're punching each other, then do what you need to do.  But they are going to be short with each other, once again, have patience and give grace.

6 - Ease into the day

Almost every elementary school teacher's schedule starts with "ease into the day."  So do the same for all of you.  Don't wake up and check your email on your phone right away.  Getting your anxiety up before you've had a chance to shower or have coffee or even find your pants, is a good way to throw every chance for grace out the door.  Grab your coffee, eat some breakfast, don't let your hangry self be your first self.  Let the kids watch a show while you get ready for the day and then when you shut it off, they can't complain that they never get to watch a show.

7 - Find activities they can do near you.

My kids have coloring books that they can only color in my office.  They also have old keyboards I don't use and they pretend to work like me.  I often agree to listen to one of their audiobooks in my office if they will sit and color or "work" or even build a few legos.  Those are things they can do if they want to be near me.  If they want to do something else, they have to go to the living room.

8 - Eat lunch with them and without your phone.

They know you're there, in the house and yet you somehow can't spend the whole day together.  That's hard on anyone's heart, let alone on the heart of a kid who doesn't understand what's happening.  So when it comes to lunch, eat the mac and cheese or easy sandwiches or quick leftover with them and put your phone down.  You are allowed a lunch break at work, take one at home.  It's good for everyone.  And when you're done with work, stop checking your work emails.  You're not working at home so you can work 24/7.

9 - Don't apologize for your kids.

They are going to run behind your zoom calls and google chats and Skype sessions.  Don't apologize for them.  They are there.  They are yours.  Your kids will hear you tell people that you're sorry they are there.  You love your kids and they are in your space. If you spend all your time apologizing for them they will quickly become more of a burden than a blessing in your own mind.

10 - Early bedtimes are now the norm.

One of the best things I've ever purchased were bedside reading lights from Ikea.  What they mean is I can put my kids in bed at 7 or 7:15 and give them a stack of books and tell them to turn out their lights at 8.  They aren't asleep but they have a sense of grown-up independence and I have a few more minutes of peace and quiet before I have to go to bed and start it all again.

OK, I'll leave it there.  There are a million other things I haven't touched on and none of these address working at home with your partner or spouse who is also working from home and that's an entirely different ball of wax, or burning lava, whatever.  These are just some basics.  Also, please know that I understand my job is different than anyone's 8-5 because I work for myself, as well as the fact my kids are all neuro-typical and physically able kids.  I don't have quotas to meet or a supervisor to disappoint. I don't have specialists to see or medical devices to monitor. I recognize it's a privilege. I just hope to help as best as I can.

Above all else, know that you are doing great and there will come a day where this will make an excellent stand-up comedy routine.  You've got this.

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