Okay, #realtalk right away: if you think you’ll get answers for being able to do it all–parent, teach, care for a child, and manage the home–and pull off all these roles without a hitch, let me save you the trouble now and just tell you to move on to the next article.
What I’m here to tell you is that there’s a way to do all this without losing your shit. And if you’re too tired to read through even this post, then these are the only things I need you to take away from me today:
You are not an invincible superhero.
You are not built to do all of this and come out the other end sane.
You aren’t alone in feeling like you’re living up to unrealistic expectations.
You can do something about your outlook to make the best out of these circumstances.
If you’re still with me, could you spare me a few more minutes to share the practices that have been effective for me in all my years of working from home? These worked with me as a mom of one, pregnant with another, bedridden while starting a company, and now with a grade-schooler and a toddler.
It’s not easy, but it can be done.
I’ll say it again because this is important: It’s not easy. But it can be done.
Stick to a Routine
You’ve seen this tip everywhere because it works. Dress up as if you’re all still going to work and school. It sounds nuts especially since it’s soooo tempting to just live in yoga pants forever, but this will give you all a semblance of normalcy.
In times like these when there are so many unknown variables, having a regular routine that you stick to establishes something known and definite that you can depend on. And right now when the news is full of unknowns and indefinite answers, we need an anchor all the more.
If you’re morning shower people, do that. If you take baths at night, do that. Fight the urge to live in your PJs. Sure, you could impose a Pajama Day holiday at home, but don’t have a moratorium on “outside world” clothes just because you’re staying in. That’s the kiss of death, my friend.
Talk to kids about distance learning so they can distinguish vacation from home-based “work.” Every weekday, start your day the same way. Have a decent wake-up time, eat breakfast if that’s your thing, then start your day.
Carve out a space for everyone
Step 1: Take over separate wings of your mansion and set up camp for the day. Step 2: Wake up from your dream and cry two buckets of tears because it all felt so real.
Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t see each other in the house. I’m saying claim workspaces for each one of you so you can establish boundaries.
This helps reframe our brains to shift from home to work mode.
I realize that with babies and toddlers, it’s harder to create a separate space between them and you so, of course, there will be exceptions.
But maybe when they nap, you could take a 15-minute break in another part of the house that’s not your work area. Then for the rest of baby’s nap, work like Freddy Krueger’s chasing you because that quiet time is gold, baby.
Play Tag with Your Partner
Quiet Work Tag, that is. The object of the game is to keep both parents sane during this entire ordeal. First, designate a quiet work area for the adults: a loft, your extra bedroom, the garage, even your bedroom.
Each night, talk to your partner about expectations for the following day. Who’s better equipped to take the morning shift, who needs the quiet room in the afternoon, etc. Then you take turns using the room of solace and peace.
The parent who’s in the thick of it–working while in close proximity to the homeschooled child–can also tag the parent who’s siloed so they can swap shifts if they need a lifeline.
In our household of four, this usually happens when the toddler grows tired of one parent’s face and would benefit from getting reset by seeing the other parent’s refreshing (and refreshed) mug.
I wear several hats as a startup founder, so I allocate a specific time slot for responding to emails, and another one for writing code. I have another time slot for writing posts, and you get the picture; the list goes on.
A really helpful tool I’ve employed over the years is timeboxing. I set a timer for 25 minutes and allow myself this time to do one batch of jobs, then I give myself 5 minutes to take a break.
This limits my tendency to deep dive the internet (because I don’t really need to know why Shaq was involved in Tiger King) and also ensures that I maximize the work that I do because…
You’re not going to get a full 8-hour-working day.
Sorry, you’re just not. Unless you work when the kids have gone to sleep, which I’m guilty of but also try to avoid. I realized that by batch processing and timeboxing, I’m able to yield greater results and maximize my productivity with the limited amount of time I have.
Let’s face it–we aren’t effective multitaskers. This has been scientifically proven. You get much more done focusing on one train of thought than you are spreading out across several tasks.
If you feel lost about how to get started with this new set up, do a checklist just for the immediate two-hour window you have. Make sure you set realistic goals that you can get done in two hours, and start with a draft of your to-dos so you can group together similar tasks.
Personally, checking things off a list makes me feel more accomplished, so find what motivates you and adapt that to the idea of batch processing and timeboxing.
Create a Schedule…But be Flexible
You’ve seen these posts from parents all over social media: there are the really regimented schedules for the kids that are broken down all the way to when breaks are taken.
And then there are the posts from long-time homeschoolers touting that kids only really need an hour total of formal instruction each day and the rest should be freeform learning.
But bear in mind that just as each person’s unique, no two families are alike, either. So what works for her family may not necessarily work for yours, and that’s perfectly fine.
Personally, my kid is the one asking for more time to read her books or do math online, which is awesome because mama needs to have her kid in school for longer than an hour to get any work done.
The key is to find the right cadence and rhythm that works for your family.
If your kids are the type to easily get cabin fever, use morning and afternoon breaks as a time to take a walk outside, to play catch, go for a quick bike ride around the neighborhood (observing safe physical distancing practices, of course).
For most parents, flexibility also means loosening up. Some days, break time might be longer. Maybe screen time rules will be looser. But when you’re in survival mode, you adapt or you fail (okay, you die if it’s a zombie movie), so rigidity isn’t your friend right now.
I cannot stress this enough. Communicate.
With your partner. With your kids. With yourself.
I’m not perfect at this; in fact, I forgot to follow my own advice and lost my temper at my older kid who kept calling my attention as I was attempting to redirect my youngest who was deliberately dumping her cereal onto our rug as a fun game she just discovered.
It took re-reading this article to remind myself that I forgot to reach for kindness to both of my kids and to myself. What I should have done was pick up the toddler and carry her while I reviewed my eldest’s work.
Then if our dog hadn’t yet realized that there were free snacks on the rug, I could have vacuumed afterward.
Then I should have texted my husband to say mama needs to tap out for ten minutes to watch Brad Leone affectionately mispronounce olive oil as he shows me how to make a kickass tomato toast.
I didn’t take the time to process things and instead acted impulsively.
I should have taken a beat to not let my temper get the better of me, attended to my kids, and then had age-appropriate conversations with them on how we could best navigate this new reality of having mom and dad split their time across so many jobs.
Don’t Forget You
In the midst of taking care of everyone and trying to stay on top of everything, you’ll run the risk of forgetting about yourself. Don’t. That’s all there is to it.
Take five minutes. Do a crossword puzzle. Soak in the tub after the kids have gone to bed. Eat ten Oreos (no judgies here). You do what you need to do to press reset, to come back to yourself, to treat yourself.
And on days when it does get too much, remember to practice even more self-care. The last thing your kids need is for you to lose your temper on them when the fault may not even be theirs.
Even if it’s just five minutes of quiet to breathe deeply, this will help you re-center and come back to a place of (relative) calm.
See the Light
Take this as a time to get to know your family better. Maybe now’s the time to do family game night if your kids are the right age.
Curl up on the couch and watch a movie some days. Have campouts in the backyard (the living room for the outdoors-averse me, sorry). Cook together.
Sure, we’re cooped up at home, but it’s not the worst that could happen. This period is forcing us to slow down, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Remember that this is all temporary. Things will get better. Reach out to others and check in with them. Spread more love–the world needs more of it, now more than ever.
I hope this has helped you navigate these trying times of suddenly homeschooling while trying to work and running the house. Remember to be kind, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s not only necessary for your well-being; caring for yourself will allow you to care well for others.
Billy Gozum is the Founder and CEO of Urban Tykes, a community of parents helping other parents stress less and smile more. In response to our community’s most urgent needs, we’ve temporarily converted our site to a platform where people who need help running errands can find neighbors who can help. All of our commissions during this time are donated to Project Hope Alliance, which is helping homeless children stay fed and educated.