For many families, Covid-19 has created an enormous change in their daily routine. Since my lord husband works from home and I’m a home-maker, the only things that have really changed for us is that I haven’t been past my driveway since my last OB appointment which was over two weeks ago. (I’m an introvert, so this is mostly fine with me, but I really hate not being allowed to run to the hobby store for crafting supplies.)
Now, for the first three years of my eldest’s life (he turns five in June), I actually worked from home part time. It was an enormous blessing for us during the transition period between the start of our family to my husband’s salary increasing and, while I would sometimes feel like my candle was burning at both ends and in the middle, I loved the people I worked with and being able to add to the pot financially.
Working from home seems like a luxury to those who haven’t done it (and it certainly is a boon), but it also poses new challenges and requires a slightly different tactical approach than working in an office. Obviously, the perks are getting to work in your PJs, skipping the commute, and having your pet in your lap, not to mention being with your children. However, children are noisy, schedules become hazy without the rhythm of office mates filing in and out of their cubes at the appointed times of day, and training yourself to focus in a new environment can be challenging for some. To be sure, all the same work pressures and obligations exist for those who work from home that burden office-workers, often with added pressure because, as a telecommuter you feel (and sometimes do) have to prove your value to your supervisors even more than your office-working colleagues.
I was homeschooled, so the discipline of working at home was never difficult for me. In fact, I thrive with it. As I said earlier, I loved the people I worked with (and still do, for that matter), but, as an introvert with a chronic illness, simply being around people all day was emotionally and physically draining. During my stint as an office-worker, my Behcet’s flared up a lot until I got pregnant and then my pregnancy presented its own complications. —As it happened, being able to stay in my own cozy environment, where I could work from my couch and I had my sacred privacy was ideal and I was able to continue working for as long as my department had use for me.
For others, however, the herd mentality of working alongside each other, or having the social interaction with coworkers is very important. This can make working without those things take some getting used to, especially when you throw children into the mix.
Below are the tricks I’ve learned from my experience working with a little one underfoot and being a housewife to a work-from-home father.
- Adjust Your Expectations.
Working from home is not exactly like working in an office and you are absolutely setting yourself up for failure if that is your expectation. You will have to learn to rely more on written and phone communication and you won’t have the constant stimulus of visiting neighbors to
distract you break up the monotony of the workday.There will also be new distractions you’re not used to, such as your dog constantly wanting you to throw his ball, your children interrupting you, your spouse asking you to take out the trash, etc.
It’s very easy to let these differences frustrate and overwhelm you once you start working from home. They can either derail your focus because you’re caught up with trying to replicate an office environment or they will, frankly, make you into a real jerk that your family can’t wait to see the back of when social distancing is over.
If you’re like my husband, then you may be stuck in the idea of “I don’t have distractions at the office, I need quiet.” —To this, I’m going to be your friend and call you on that fallacy. Offices are seldom quiet and they are not distraction-free. Your co-workers also interrupt you and make noise in your workspace, and even ask you to help with a light maintenance tasks in the office. Because you’re bound by social rules and niceties in dealing with them that are not present with your children or spouse, this can make it seem like your office is “distraction free,” but that is an illusion.
The first thing you need to learn to do when you set up your home office is to accept that the people with whom you cohabit are as deserving of your grace as Chatty Cathy and Football Bill at the office. Their distractions are no more intrusive than your co-workers and, just as you must graciously share an office space with your coworkers, you must respect that your family has a right to exist in your home space as well.
2. Protect Your Time.
One definite advantage for employers when their employees work from home is that, without the distractions of co-workers, the limitations of being in the office vs out of the office, is that many work-from-home employees can find their jobs become 5am-9pm (or worse), as opposed to regular work hours. One of my friends at my last job once greeted her husband when he came home from work with a quick vent about how much work she had been doing that day and he replied, “Have you showered today?” —She had started working at 5am that day and hadn’t even taken ten minutes for self-care.
When you have children, you’ll certainly find that your schedule shifts a bit from a regular 9am-5pm grind. (For example, when Himself was a baby, I worked between 10pm and 4am because that’s when I didn’t have a baby screaming at me for being on a laptop instead of giving him my full attention.) However, having a healthy work balance is essential for your well-being. Your boss may not be particularly concerned with your overall health, obviously, but they’ll have a lot more inconvenience to deal with once you’re on sick leave for a nervous break down due to exhaustion.
Protecting your time will also help to keep your family life healthy while you’re working from home. When children are competing for and begging for your time, it’s because they don’t feel they’re getting it. If they see you’re making time for them and protecting your time with them, it will make it a lot easier for them to share you with work.
Just remember this mnemonic:
Shower —Keep your self care routines and the rest of your routines will fall into place.
Eat. —Keep meal times sacred so that you’re recharging your batteries and spending time with your family —or just away from your computer!
Time-Out —Have a set quit-time, preferably one that gives you some time with your children before bed. If you have a couple more things to do, try waiting until the children are in bed and log in for a couple of hours in the evening.
Medieval Self Care combined Girl Time.
3. Adapt Your Work Method
Children want nothing more than their parent’s time and that is never more frustrating than when one is trying to work. This includes every form of engagement from cooking a meal, cleaning the house, to actually sitting at a laptop.
As I mentioned previously, my early days as a work-from-home mother had me waiting until Himself went down for the night and staying up for the next four hours or better trying to put a dent in my file docket. One of my colleagues was a famous early-riser, on top of being an hour ahead of me, so I would often send her a good-morning email and a picture of Himself to start her day off before I went off to bed. Himself would wake up at around 8am and I would take care of his diaper, turn on Veggie Tales in the living room, and half-sleep on the floor with my shirt undone so he could have easy access to nurse.
When Himself was older, however, I was able to keep him engaged watching PBS Kids or Veggie Tales for a couple of hours, then I would work my remaining hours during his naptime. (He used to sleep for 2-3 hours, it was wonderful!) Sometimes, I’d sit at the kitchen table, and sometimes, especially on the occasions when I had to spend more time working, I’d actually take my laptop to the couch and sit next to him while he watched tv or played on the floor in front of me. Just having me present really helped to keep him placated and made our days go more smoothly.
If I found myself working from home today, I would actually try to do as much of it from my smartphone as possible. For some reason, Pumpkin could care less if I’m sitting on my phone, but getting out my laptop is another matter entirely. As I type this, he keeps touching my tab button, and this is a good day. Usually, he hollers at me as I sit at the table or tries to pull my screen off if I sit in the living room. I think simply doing my morning email-catch up from my phone as I sit with my children would be a huge temperament buffer.
Furthermore, regardless of whether one has the distraction of present children or whether one is working in complete solitude, the absence of social stimulus can be mind numbing. Giving yourself background noise or stimulation like a podcast, playing an old show that you’ve already seen, can really help to stave off monotony and keep your juices flowing. To keep myself awake while I burned the midnight oil on only four hours of sleep, I’d play reruns of How I Met Your Mother or I Love Lucy.
What you may have gathered from this post is that a good chunk of the people I worked with worked from home and our team was fantastic at what we did. However, I did start with the company working in an office and a much of the work could be terribly redundant. Even in an office setting, we had to find ways to keep ourselves from losing our minds such as listening to podcasts, music, audio books, or comedy recordings. My own lord husband, whose job is a lot more cool than any of mine have been, has had to play EDM to keep his mind moving forward as he works. —It’s like working out: you need to find what propels you without harming your output.
This method actually really helped me both when I was homeschooling and, later, when I was doing mountains of homework in college. When my parents first started out homeschooling me, they put me at a bedroom desk or at a table and put my school work in front of me, and I would sit there until dinner time. I was so bored and so frustrated with having to sit in one place, that I couldn’t focus on the task at hand to complete it. —When their teaching style changed and I was allowed to do my work sitting on the couch or even watch tv during my “easier” subjects, I was actually able to be productive. I stopped falling behind in my course work and I was able to finish my schoolwork while there was still sunlight to play in.—That same method of having something to keep me relaxed while I studied was my saving grace in college when I was spending eight hours on campus and six or more hours in the evenings with homework. Also, as my husband often teases me for bragging about, I did graduate magna cum laude.
Find what works for you, so that you can be as successful working from home as you can be.
4.) Communicate and Compromise
Since most of my colleagues were also work-from-home mothers, it really wasn’t a big deal to hear a fussy child (and not always mine!) on a conference call. Our boss would simply say something about what a blessing children are and we’d carry on with the agenda.
“Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work.” –C.S. Lewis
I was in a field dominated by women and was surrounded by very child-centered, working mothers. I got some of the best advice and support in balancing my home-life and taking care of my children from my bosses, of all people, and I will always cherish that experience. Not all fields are like that, sadly, which can make working from home challenging because few of us have sound proofed rooms and children are still children. As I have written previously in this missive, if one goes into a work-from-home setting with the expectation it will be exactly like working in an office, they are setting themselves up for frustration and failure.
When my lord husband started working from home, there was (and sometimes still is) a bit of frustration around noise-levels, poorly timed interruptions, and the general difficulties of having young children cooped up in the dead of winter. (This was made even worse by the fact that I was suffering from hyperemisis gravidaarum all winter.) As I take stock of our current lifestyle in preparation for the coming change of adding a third child to our brood, I see that most of our biggest failings as a home-bound family could have easily been mitigated with a little preparation on the part of the adults.
Talking with your children about what they should expect and how they need to act, can help things go more smoothly. Children need preparation, as does the person minding them if applicable. It is so important to properly check in with your partner and your children so that they know what to expect and what is expected of them during the day. It only takes a couple of minutes, but I have found, too often, that little step gets overlooked in day-to-day dealings with children… Then as parents, we tend to get frustrated with our halflings for not behaving the way we expected them to despite the fact that we never told them what we expected of them in the first place.
Barking that one has a meeting in thirty seconds as they rush through the hall is not adequate warning for the household to fall into reverent silence. Even worse is storming out of one’s office to berate a family member for not keeping their voices down during a conference call they had no idea was taking place. Unless you’re married to Charles Xavier and your mutant children all inherited his telepathic abilities, you need to take the time beforehand to prepare your spouse and children. This will help to prevent frustrations before they happen, make your children feel more secure and make your spouse feel respected.
I’m not saying that going over expectations with your children beforehand will be a magical cure for the mid-meeting meltdowns or even make trips to the grocery store suddenly be without incident. I have gone over rules and expectations before many an excursion only to have to march my little hellions back to the car. During my husband’s last conference call, there was still growling, running through the house sounding like a herd of elephants (how someone that small can make that much noise baffles me), and the pre-requisite making Pumpkin cry. —Still, it was a darn sight better than the day before and there were no complaints from my Working Warrior.
Not only is it important to communicate with your children when you need them to keep their noise level down or entertain themselves, it also helps to manage expectations for the day.
My halflings always raise a ruckus when my husband comes out of his office or happens to open the door. They then cry and pout when he returns to his work, despite the fact that he doesn’t leave the house save to complete errands. Why? Because we have failed to manage their expectations for the day to a reasonable routine and that’s something we have to fix.
What we should have done from the beginning, but were too disorganized to consider at the time, was to establish a set routine to work around, including family meals and set quit times, not only for the halflings, but also to give my wonderful ADHD-managing husband some structure to help with his work-day, and we should have begun the habit of actively communicating with Himself about what to expect. Thankfully, it is never too late to learn a good habit or to unlearn bad ones.
Whether one is working from home with children or without, remember to have follow the SET rule, manage your own expectations and your family’s, and find the work method that suits you best. Hopefully, the quarantines, shelter at home orders, and lockdowns will come to an end soon as we learn how to manage this virus, but, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I hope a silver-lining of this ordeal is that businesses will finally begin to move out of arbitrary hours devised at the turn of the last century and into the modern age where many office jobs can be fulfilled on laptop from a couch.