Everybody has a plan for working from home right up until the moment your kid wakes up with a runny nose and a slight fever. At that point, many parents will tell you it’s just about getting through the day. But sometimes, with the right mindset and tactics, you can have it all.
I work from home. And a few times a month, I’m also watching a kid who is sick or at the house because their teacher is in training (if you have a baby at home with you, let this piece be your guide). I still have to get work done and I would love it if my kids didn’t watch three of the Air Buddies movies consecutively. While I’m open to plenty of television on snow days and sick days, I also have developed a series of strategies that can help you when you’re trying to work and watch your children.
Manage everybody’s expectations
Make sure you’re honest about what you need to get done and what you hope to get done. Then make a list with your wants and needs at the start of the day. I do this. It helps manage my own expectations, and it makes me feel better when I’ve only checked two things off the list by dinner.
I also ask the kids what they need to do and what they want to do, so they feel like they have some say in what happens. Then we talk about that one thing I can’t skip, whether it’s an interview or conference call. If they know I need to be on the phone later in the day, it can make it easier to shut the door and hope for quiet when the time arrives. Pro tip: Announce that you might be unexpectedly joined on the conference call.
Find an art project
I always ask my kids to create a picture or build something out of LEGO for me or my wife. I also help with the set-up to avoid fights over space or resources. Why is there always only one blue marker in the house?
When I know I’ve got a conference call, I put on the timer on the clock above the stove. That gives my kids something they can check when it feels like my call is taking forever. The key is to allow time, once that call and the art project are finished, for them to tell you the story of what they have made.
Prepare a “stay bag”
I’m never short on snacks or activities when I know I’ll be in an airport or at the zoo for the next six hours. Treat your house the same way and have a surprise package of snacks, books or small toys. I opt for activity books—the kind with the invisible ink that I loved as a kid—and mini cans of ginger ale, which are built for children’s hands. A little bit of spontaneity goes a long way toward battling cabin fever.
Let them make lunch
Set out some ingredients and boundaries (are knives allowed?); but otherwise, let them decide what you’re eating together. They’ll love the freedom and it always takes longer than they expect. Tell them you’ll set the table and do the dishes.
Let your kid sit in as you do one task for work. They likely know the name of what you do for a living, but have no idea what that actually entails. I’ll let them type a word to finish a sentence for me. That’s why you’re reading the word “blork.”
It might take you longer to do a task, but it can be fun for both of you to share in what you actually do. After all, you are in this together.