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by Mary Kate Sheridan | March 25, 2020

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In the wake of COVID-19, working parents are embarking on a whole new world of juggling their careers with caring for (and homeschooling) their kids—with no help, end date, or escape. Do I sound dramatic? Between the stress of a global pandemic, one roll of toilet paper left for four people, the evil that is ten-frame subtraction (why can’t we just carry the one, people?), hourly living room battles that rival those from Braveheart (but worse—because siblings), and the need to get at least seven hours of work in (and who are we kidding—most of us work way more than that), we’ve got the perfect recipe for a total breakdown.

So what’s the solution? Challenge your kids to a game of hide-and-seek and don’t come out for five hours (we all have our secret hiding spot)? Start happy hour at noon? Curl into a ball and sob? We at Vault have some better advice—read on for our tips on balancing your work and kids as you do your part flattening the curve.

1. Create a Schedule for Everyone.

With multiple people’s priorities and tasks to balance, it is important to have a schedule for each member of your family. Individual schedules will help you understand each person’s workload, priorities, and potential conflicts. Consider these steps in making the schedules:

  • Review your child’s assignments. Figure out which tasks can be done independently and which require adult assistance. Organize the work into a digestible schedule that your child can follow on their own. (Include breaks for snacks, play, reading, exercise, etc.)
  • If you have a partner, discuss their work schedule, how many hours are required of them a day, and what times of day are best for them to work. Some people may be required to be “on” from 9 to 5, while others may have more flexibility to complete work during “off” hours.
  • Keeping in mind your child’s schedule, develop daily schedules for you and your partner (if applicable), so that you each have set working hours, share child-care responsibilities as needed, and are both available for any work calls or deadlines.
  • An example schedule for you and your partner may look like the below. You can customize the schedule to work for your needs, and you can switch spots each day based on each of your work demands.

6 a.m. – 9 a.m.: Partner 1 works; Partner 2 handles breakfast.

9 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Partner 2 works; Partner 1 works next to kids as they complete schoolwork and helps as needed.

12 p.m. – 1 p.m.: Lunch

1 p.m. – 3 p.m.: Partner 1 and Partner 2 work while kids watch a movie or shows.

3 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Partner 1 works; Partner 2 spends time with kids or works next to them while they complete additional schoolwork.

8 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Partner 1 and Partner 2 work after kids have gone to bed.

2. Take the Hours You can Get.

While certain tasks may need to be done during traditional work hours, some can be handled at any time. If your tasks are not tied to the clock, you can get creative with maximizing your waking hours and splitting that time with your partner (if applicable). For example, early morning is an ideal time to get work done—before the kids get up and the email rush begins. By starting your day at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., you can kick off the morning with several hours of productive work, which will set the course and your mood for the rest of the day. Likewise, you can use post-bedtime hours to log more work hours and set yourself up for the next day.   

3. Don’t Forget to Sleep.

For all of you Type-A workers, there is probably a temptation to stay up late and knock out as much work as possible before the next day. The only problem is, by staying up to the wee hours, you begin sacrificing your health and your mental wellbeing. Make sure that you are reserving enough time for rest so that you can keep your immune system strong, better maintain your patience throughout the day, and more efficiently handle your work.

4. Make Your Time Count.

It has become nearly impossible to stop refreshing social media and the news. But you have to resist, and make every second of your work time count. Time is precious when any minute, a four year old could run over and slam a T-Rex on your keyboard. Make efficiency your main goal so that your employer can count on you to get your projects done.

5. Communicate.

Yes, you are working virtually now, but that doesn’t mean you should disappear from your coworkers. Make sure to answer emails promptly, take work calls as needed, and engage with clients and coworkers via video conferencing options like Zoom or Google Hangouts. If your company uses Slack, interact with your coworkers throughout the day via messaging the same way you would in the office. You want to make sure your boss and workers know they can reach you and that you are reliable. Plus, it is important to maintain these professional relationships.

Since many people are working virtually now, you may have to jump on frequent calls or video meetings, which can be challenging and stress-inducing with little ones running around. Be kind to yourself. This is the new normal for everyone. You probably won’t be the only one with a child yelling somewhere in your house. That said, you should plan in advance to reduce any interruptions, whether that means working with your partner to reserve “do-not-disturb” times or scheduling your children's screen time during your calls and meetings.

Tip: If you are missing your coworkers, consider hosting a virtual happy hour or coffee break via Zoom or Google Hangouts so that everyone can catch up.

6. Foster Independence.

We’ve all heard about helicopter parents, and I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t have some shiny blades of my own. If your kids are really little, it can be especially difficult to leave them to play on their own while you work. But there is also something to be said for building independence in our children—and that can take many forms.

  • Build expectations—and perhaps a reward system—for older children to keep them focused on their work instead of their phones.
  • Encourage your elementary-aged children to tackle as much of their assignments on their own as possible (after you explain the subject matter, of course), while remaining open to their questions.
  • Teach your children how to make their own lunches or complete other household chores so that they take on more responsibility at home, and you have more time to pump out your work.
  • Give your children space to use their imaginations, rather than constantly entertaining them, and see where it takes them. Your children still need your attention—but you can strike a balance and help them learn how to do more for themselves, which is a skill that will benefit them long term.

7. Don’t Go It Alone.

No one is asking you to be a super hero. The doctors, nurses, grocery-store workers, and delivery drivers already have that covered. You do not need to take a crash course in education and create the perfect lesson plan to fill your child’s day, while also balancing your own full-time job.

If your children are older, they are probably able to handle most of their schoolwork independently and interact with their teachers. But younger children need more assistance and guidance. Reach out to your children’s teachers to ask for more guidance on how to explain certain subjects, to request additional instruction or materials, or to seek recommendations on additional online resources to consult.

In addition to consulting your children’s teachers, take advantage of the myriad free educational websitesclasses, and learning tools available. From educational videos on BrainPop/BrainPopJr to fitness challenges on GoNoodle to daily learning themes at Scholastic—your tools for engagement are nearly endless with the help of the internet. Not to mention, many organizations and celebrities are hosting story times and interactive learning activities, including the Global Space Education Foundation's Story Time from Space, the Cincinnati Zoo's Facebook live videos, and Mo Williams' lunchtime drawing instruction.

Use. These. Resources. A half-hour Cosmic Kids Yoga session will get your kids moving, and give you uninterrupted, guilt-free work time. Embrace it.

Also, while I am not one to advocate for unlimited screentime, well-scheduled TV time for your kids will give them a respite from their schoolwork and provide you with more time to tackle your work.

8. Go Outside!

No one can work nonstop without any breaks. Taking time for a family walk after lunch or playing with your kids in the yard can recharge everyone and help you better focus on your work. If your kids are self sufficient, bring your office outside, and work at a table while your kids play. They can burn off energy, and you can get much-needed fresh air.

9. Allow Feelings.

Is your house meltdown central? Welcome to every house in the world right now. Your kids’ lives have been upended, and they are trying to process what this virus means for them and those they love. They’re cooped up, and they probably also are feeding off your stress. Tantrums, tears, and worries are inevitable—for our kids and us.

The best we can do is be kind to ourselves and the little ones around us. Let the feelings happen. And if you do lose your patience, apologize and move on.

Also, many therapists are available either virtually or via telephone, so if you need to speak to someone about your anxiety over COVID-19, being confined to your home, balancing kids and work, or anything else, don’t hesitate to reach out. Your mental health should be a priority.

We are living in a stressful, frightening time. If you can find your groove at home, hopefully that will alleviate some of your worries. Try to approach your work and your children's work with a plan and patience, and focus the rest of your efforts on loving those around you. We will all get through this together.

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