With the ‘circuit breaker’ in place and many of us now working from home, tips and tricks on how to handle the precious little people in our lives are coming in handy. While we all love our children, sometimes we don’t love the noise and mess they make, right? Especially if we’re on an important video call!
Three fabulous working mums pass on their tips, tricks and experiences of working from home with their kids underfoot.
Trying hard to find the time
Aileen Lalor, 40, has been working from home as a freelance journalist for six years since her first child was born. Now with two children - aged three and six - Aileen is juggling her freelance writing with her part-time topic curator job for content platform Flipboard. Living in Canada, both her children have been at home and underfoot since March 16.
According to Lalor, the main issues about working from home with kids has been finding the time to do everything.
“Finding the time to effectively do four jobs – parenting, teaching, working for Flipboard and my writing, though that has pretty much evaporated thanks to the perilous state of the media due to COVID-19,” explains Lalor.
“Nowadays I work in small blocks – an hour from 8am to 9am while the kids watch TV, an hour from 11am to 12pm while they have free play (no screen time) and an hour or two in the afternoon or evening.”
For Aarika Lee, 36, finding time to deal with interruptions and mediating between her 7-year-old and 5-year-old children, impacts on her work as the Marketing Director at Elementary Co.
“There are many, many, many, many interruptions - questions about how to work something, how to fix a toy or a puzzle. And there are many times that myself or my husband have to step in to mediate a small scuffle,” explains Lee.
Lee’s work from home situation is undergoing upheaval due to the latest restrictions due to COVID-19.
“It's about to change with the roll-out of full Home-Based Learning,” explains Aarika. “Before, my husband and I would aim to maximise the time we have when the kids were in school but now we're going to probably have to tag team hours. I work 10am to 12pm straight while he tends to the kids, [and then] he works 2pm to 4pm straight while I watch the kids. [This is] so we both can get work done during the work day. It's going to be challenging.”
“It's definitely not easy. The kids don't always understand why you're home, but working all the time, and can't play with them. The upside is that you can take little breaks to relax with them and get some hugs when work is getting tiring,” Lee adds.
For Afton Chen, 33, her job as a fashion designer came somewhat to a stop with the birth of her son, who is now three months old. Since his birth, Chen has been working at home for two days a week, and spending three days in her studio the rest of the time. With the ‘circuit breaker’ period and other COVID-19 restrictions, Chen’s now working from home 100%.
“He refuses to nap during the day so he’s stuck with me. This means 150% effort for 20% productivity,” jokes Chen.
“The two days working from home is spent doing conference calls, clearing emails and design work with the laptop. The three days in our studio is for work that I need my drafting table or sewing machine for,” explains Chen.
How to keep the kids entertained and organised
“We usually do no screen time during the week, but that's gone out the window,” says Lalor. “They get an hour of telly in the morning and one at night, and then my older daughter has some iPad time in the afternoon. We have a vague schedule.”
She continues: “We're lucky enough to live relatively close to a forest and trails, so we spend the first hour or so outdoors pottering about, and I definitely notice the difference in their behaviour when we haven't been able to manage that.”
Lee says she relies on podcasts and some favourite children’s programmes on Netflix that are also educational. “These really help when we have to attend to urgent work. My favourite podcasts right now are Circle Round, But Why?, Brain On!, and Story Pirates on Spotify. And my favourite shows on Netflix are Story Bots and Motown Magic.”
Chen says she is really grateful that her parents have been able to help with her new baby while she works at home: “My parents can help me take care of him but ultimately when he fusses, he looks for me. I will put him in a carrier and work with him attached to me.”
“Lower your standards and make sure they get outside once a day if that's possible in your neighbourhood,” says Lalor. “We do some child-friendly exercise videos - Gonoodle.com’s Zumba is a favourite - and there are some great drawing tutorials such as Draw with Rob on Youtube and artforkidshub.com.”
For Chen, with a new baby, having help at home - while a luxury - has been very helpful in dealing with working from home. She also says that parents need to think about their own health and wellbeing too.
“Remember to take a breather. Stretch, breathe some fresh air, listen to your favourite music, have your favourite beverage,” she says. “Treasure the time with your kids because the days are long but the years are short.”
“I try to remember that it's stressful for the kids to be out of their routine and to hear chitchat about COVID-19 all the time, so we've tried to establish some kind of structure and minimise the really scary COVID-19 conversation,” says Lalor.
“My older daughter has been quite angry, which is not like her, and she doesn't ever express it in terms of being scared of the virus because I don't think she can articulate that, so I try to make sure I'm spending one-on-one time with her as much as is possible.”
“We've also found her some global penpals – she sends videos to her cousin in Ireland and to an ex-colleague of mine's daughter in the UK – and we also do some Facetiming and Facebook Messenger for kids with friends.”
“It's hard to maintain social links when kids don't get to see each other in real life, or when we see her pals who live locally and we can't go over to them, and I'm worried that kids' social skills might be affected in the long term. I try to encourage the kids to say hi and smile at all the people they see so they know other people aren't scary.”
Best things about working from home with kids
“It's been brilliant to see their relationship grow and I love to watch them play together. My little one just turned three so it's only recently that she's been able to understand the concept of playing a game together and that's been really special to watch. We've also had loads of great family meals and watched some brilliant movies together. My older daughter has learned to roller skate and my younger one has mastered hopping,” says Lalor.
Kids and work sometimes don’t mix
“I don't think I've had a Zoom call yet where the kids haven't made a guest appearance. On my first day working from home I had a one-on-one with my boss and out of the corner of my eye I saw my six-year-old standing there in just her knickers, with a pinny turned backwards round her neck. I said, right into the microphone, ‘Why aren't you wearing any clothes?’ and my boss looked a bit taken aback. My daughter explained that she was being Captain Underpants!” explains Lalor.
Lee says dealing with her kids and working from home hasn’t been too bad: “... Unless you count them yelling that they need to poop or pee in the back while I'm on a work call. Haha!”
Poop seems to be a bit of a theme: “I have had to abandon a work call because he had a poonami, exploding and oozing down my leg,” laughs Chen.
Are you going to miss your kids when you go back to work?
“ABSOLUTELY FINE!” jokes Lalor. “No, I might even miss them a little! Children grow and change so quickly that by the time all this is over (or nearly over) they'll be different people than they are today, so I'm trying to be present and watch them grow.”
“I’ll be happy because I will be really productive at work, but also guilty for missing out on his moments,” says Chen.
“I know I'll miss them but I'm going to be VERY thankful for the uninterrupted time at work,” says Lee. “It literally takes me 30 minutes to type up an email!”