As a self-employed writer, I'm no stranger to working from home. As such, I'm not grappling with the same challenges that many new remote workers are dealing with -- trouble with concentration, communication issues, and just plain feeling lonely and out of touch. But one aspect I am struggling with is balancing job-related responsibilities and homeschooling.
I'm certainly not the only working parent with this predicament. With schools and child care centers being closed throughout the country because of COVID-19, many parents have been thrown into the seemingly impossible position of having to hold down full-time jobs while also caring for kids and keeping tabs on online school meetings, assignments, and deadlines. Therefore, I'm actually feeling the opposite of isolated and restless -- I'm feeling perpetually swamped.
The good news, however, is that I'm in a much better place at this stage of the juggling act than I was five or six weeks ago when all of this started. Here are some of the tricks that have worked for me in balancing my various responsibilities -- and they may work for you, too.
1. I set a daily schedule each morning
Normally, I'd advise to stick to the same schedule each day in a situation like this, but because my kids have different online meeting times on different days, I can't simply set up a single schedule for the entire week. Rather, I have to change it daily. And the best part? Sometimes we don't find out about online school meetings until the morning of, so it's not like I can even get myself organized the night before (sigh). But what I do instead is get up, throw some breakfast together, and then sit down at 8:00AM (when school details usually post) and map out what our day will look like. That way, I'll know if one of my meetings conflicts with a school meeting I need to be on so I can change the former, and I'll also be able to tell my kids exactly when I can be available to them and when they'll have to hack it on their own.
Not only do I set up a schedule around obligatory school and work meetings, but I also schedule things like outdoor recess for my kids (which I need to supervise -- they're too young to play outside the house by themselves), TV time, and play time. That way, if I know, for example, that they'll be getting screen time from 4:00 to 5:00, I'll save a challenging task for that hour since I'm less likely to be interrupted.
2. I let my kids burn off energy
Kids who are cooped up all day tend to accumulate lots of pent-up energy. It's for that reason that I make a point to take them outside every day -- even when it's rainy or chilly. When the weather is nice, we'll play in the yard for an hour and then ride bikes on the street for a while before coming back in. It's not easy for me to give up a chunk of my afternoon, but I find that if I invest in letting them get out and run around, they tend to come in feeling tired and engaged enough to want to chill and do their own thing.
3. I do all of my housework and cooking on weekends
When you need to work and parent full-time Monday through Friday, there's very little time left over to do laundry, vacuum, and cook. So I don't. Rather, I schedule that stuff for weekends so that I'm not overwhelming myself during the workweek. On Saturday or Sunday, I'll map out a bunch of meals for the week and cook in big batches so there are plenty of leftovers. I'll also spend a chunk of time cleaning and organizing the house. It's not the most fun way to spend a weekend, but right now, we're stuck at home anyway, and so it's also not the greatest loss.
4. I ask for help
Normally, when I take on an assignment, I do it on the schedule initially mapped out. In the past few weeks, however, I've had to ask for accommodations on certain projects, which isn't an easy thing for me to do. Fortunately, the people I work for understand that I can't just ignore my kids between the hours of 8:00AM and 6:00PM, and that sometimes, things come up and deadlines need to be flexible. It's not easy for me to ask for this sort of help, but right now, it's sometimes necessary, and so I do what I have to do.
5. I let myself fail once in a while
Since this whole ordeal started, there have been weeks when I've needed to give up writing assignments or grant my children a little extra screen time to get work done. It's never fun to feel like you're not stepping up on the job or parenting front, but these aren't normal circumstances, and I'm learning to accept the idea of doing the best I can.
Working from home with kids isn't easy, especially when it's also on us, as parents, to help our children through their schooldays and ensure that they're keeping up. If you're feeling the strain, take comfort in the fact that you're not alone -- and give yourself a pat on the back for each day you make it through.