If you had asked me two years ago, I would’ve said that working from home with two young children would be impossible. But last year when the pandemic hit pretty badly here, the combination was inevitable, and it hit abruptly.
My two boys, aged four and six were no longer in school, and hiring a babysitter was not an option. To add to the mix, my husband started working from home too… at the same desk.
Just three months prior to this we had relocated to Sydney from New York for a work opportunity for my husband. So most of our furniture and things were sitting on a ship that was delayed for several months. In short, we discovered first hand about minimalist living.
I was still working remotely for a NY-based company, and due to the time zone differences, the hours were sometimes rather inconvenient. My husband’s new job was going well, but being new, it was difficult not being able to communicate with his team in person.
It was an interesting three months, but in the end we did find our rhythm. I attribute this to a few things:
- Schedule. As a family, we all sat down and collectively created a calendar of activities for each day that we were all in agreement with. We had it printed and fixed on the wall. We blocked the entire day in 15-30 minute increments. We’d set alarms to keep to the plan, which also helped them develop a sense of time. This schedule really helped set the tone of the day, and it gave everyone realistic expectations.
- Breaks. We made sure to build in lots of breaks into our schedule: outdoor time was a must, even when it rained. Depending on the child’s age, this included nap time. We also scheduled time slots for that most sought-after screen time, specifying the exact shows or games. The ratio of work to breaks depends on a child’s age and needs, but for us it was generally 45 minutes of work to 15 minutes break, not including meal times and “recess”.
- Attention. When it was their time to work, I made sure that one of us was fully available during those periods. We made sure to be 100% present at those times, maintaining close connection, and being genuinely interested in what they were doing. We turned off our devices to avoid any interruptions. This also helped teach self-discipline, as they learned which times we would be available and when not to ask for our attention.
- Encouragement. I found it really important to encourage and even sometimes reward them when things were going smoothly. This consisted of a favourite treat, a small toy, or a 1:1 special time. Kids can certainly feel when life is stressful, and when they understand that they’re helping to mitigate that, it’s a win-win.
Shortly after those unforgettable three months, I started working for Compare Club, an Australia-based company that aims to save people money on their household bills. Fortunately the pandemic has not left us working from home or school full-time, but there are still times when I have to work from home when one of my kids is sick or the babysitter cancels.
Again, I depend fully on the above tactics to create a successful and less stressful environment for all of us. Long school breaks can also be excellent opportunities to teach teamwork in keeping to the schedule. Sometimes when I work from home with the kids around, it can actually be an enjoyable experience, as it can be a great time to connect to them in new ways.