I just scrolled past this in my Twitter feed today. It’s one of many, many tweets sharing the realities of working from home, with the kids at home all day, every day.
I’ve worked from home, running a variety of my own ventures 100% online, for well over a decade. I’ve been homeschooling my kids – the eldest is now 10 – for about the same amount of time too. It has NOT been a walk in the park!
For half of that decade, I had my (now ex) husband helping out with childcare, household stuff and homeschooling. Now I’m a single parent and though we co-parent and share the children for around half a week each, I still have to earn a full-time living in part-time hours. It is still NOT a walk in the park.
And now, we’ve got this. The Covid-19 virus. Forcing us ALL to stay at home, working and educating on the fly – no group activities, no play dates, no day trips. Nothing. It is definitely NOT a walk in the park for any of us.
This is CRISIS-schooling, CRISIS-working and CRISIS-living. It is not homeschooling, remote work or location independent living, as those of us who’ve CONSCIOUSLY chosen to do this have ever known it.
It’s stressful, anxiety-inducing and taps into many of our insecurities leaving us fearful, grieving and angry.
And if we’re fortunate, we still have jobs to do or businesses to run and somehow have to do this, while homeschooling the kids and staying sane during a global lockdown.
I’ve had a less steep learning curve than most so here’s what I’ve found is working for me…
Identify YOUR Needs & Natural Rhythms
Women, in particular, find this hard. We are so used to slaving to others’ needs (it’s what society has conditioned us to do) that the concept of considering our own needs first (yes, first!) is almost anathema. I would urge you to start re-thinking this!
You, right now, are likely your children’s primary and only role model. Do you want to give them the message that it isn’t ok to prioritise themselves? That they need to consider others before their own? Please understand, this does not have to mean meeting your needs at anyone else’s expense; it does however mean recognising and meeting YOUR needs too!
You can’t give what you don’t have, and right now our kids need us to have and give!
How do you do this?
1. Pay attention to & honour your own patterns – your energy, circadian (sleep/wake) and productive patterns.
One of the benefits of being at home currently is that you are less likely to be tied to a specific schedule of 7am Wake & get up > 7.30am Breakfast > 8-9am commute > 9-5pm Work/School > 5-6pm Commute > 7pm Dinner > 9pm+ bed. Your schedule is likely subject to far more flex than the rigid routines of the office and school.
It may take a few weeks to identify what your natural rhythms are; you’ve been following a prescribed rhythm for so long now…
- It helps to practice good sleep hygiene habits and, if you can during the lockdown, get out into the fresh air and some sunshine.
- Eat when you’re hungry, not just because it’s time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Exercise when you feel most energised and strong, not just because it’s early in the morning/after work and you’re conditioned to squeezing in a workout then.
2. Use this knowledge to your benefit (and your children’s)
Plan intense, focused work that needs more concentration at a time when you and your children are more suited to it; and plan easier work when you’re not so on top form. So if you and your kids experience a post lunch, mid-afternoon slump, take a nap instead of scheduling in some intense work requiring good concentration.
This is such a great opportunity to begin to pay more attention to your own natural rhythms and encourage your children to pay more attention to theirs too, then work your plan and schedule around these, instead of slaving to one that doesn’t actually work for you.
Fill Up Their Wells With Focus
We are so used to multi-tasking and dividing our attention between tasks, kids, and more. Now’s a great time to practise giving your focused attention to one thing at a time, then releasing that focus for a while. It’s a bit like weight training – focus, then release, focus, then release.
So, if you’re doing an activity with the kids, instead of trying to multi-task, check your emails AND help your kids, switch off the emails and give them your FULL and SOLE attention. This could be for a 30-40-minute block, after which you can release that dedicated focus.
This fills up their wells with your undivided attention; it lets them know they’re important and that your focus is theirs and theirs alone, and will often result in you being able to find a window of time afterwards where they’re happy doing their own thing for a bit because they’ve had their well filled by you, leaving you to switch focus.
Keep Your Promises & Boundaries
“Just give me 5 more minutes, sweetheart”.
If you hear yourself repeating this over and over, stop. Otherwise, it’ll go on and on and one of you will lose your temper. Depending upon their age, children often don’t really understand the concept of time very well and a 5 minute promise that stretches into half an hour or more does nothing to help this!
Children LOVE and thrive on boundaries. Give them a firm and easy-to-understand boundary around time:
“When that big hand gets to X, I’ll come and help you”.
Again, depending upon their age, that may be a window of 5 to 30 minutes! And if they’re really young you may need to physically point it out (or set a timer on your phone that they can see and watch counting down).
This technique works really well with my own children because they know that their request and needs will be met at a specific time, instead of an unknown “in 5 minutes” which goes on and on, indefinitely.
Integration, not Balance or Separation
Jenn and I have both been banging the work-life integration drum for a while now; when you work from home with kids around, there is very little balance or separation!
Unless you have the luxury of at-home childcare and a lockable office or a separate wing of your mansion, you can’t easily secret yourself away to focus on work for hours a day. At least I can’t, in an open-plan living space in a pretty small house. So separation isn’t always physically possible. And work-life balance… what exactly is that anyway?
Let’s just admit it; currently there is no work-life separation or balance, and integration is all we have.
Over the years, I’ve had to say “Could you just hang on a minute, I just need to go and wipe my son’s bottom” on conference or coaching calls one too many times for comfort. But this is now our reality – and work and life are pretty much all rolled into one for the foreseeable future. Let’s embrace rather than resist it…
Get Them Involved
Jenn wrote a brilliant piece on how to get kids to do chores (cheerfully). I’ve tweaked my approach to emphasise this more with my own children and focus them on the aspect of learning new skills and enabling them to do stuff many adults still can’t do, and have seen just how empowering my children are finding it – learning how to cook all their meals, keep the house clean and tidy, and contribute to the running of a household. It’s brilliant!
The same approach can work for your work too… instead of keeping them away, include them. Talk to them about your work and consider setting them an age-appropriate task or challenge for them to complete; all the better if it actually helps you out! For example:
- Show them how to use image creation tools like Canva or Picmonkey. I upload a selfie photo for my 6 year old and he can spend a good half hour, adding filters, devil horns and scary backgrounds.
- Ask their opinion on a question or challenge you’re facing; you may be surprised by how their simplistic, uncluttered thinking can sometimes cut through your own over-thinking to the core issue and a simple solution.
- If they’re old enough, consider a gentle introduction to social media; my daughter is on Instagram and is a genius at it. She watches, experiments, engages, connects – although I’m a business strategist, she’s needed absolutely zero input from me and it’s inspiring to watch her.
This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about what you actually do for work; most of the time our kids have NO idea what we do or how we earn a living and the world of work remains a mystery until they’re throw in at the deep end with their first job. This is a chance to show them what ‘work’ actually looks like – at least for the meantime.
And if the changes we’re currently experiencing have a lasting impact on the world of work they’ll be going into – as we suspect they might – what better way to prepare them than for them to be experiencing it now, and learning how to do it while you learn a whole new approach too?