31.03.20

How to juggle childcare with working from home

Catherine Falla

HR Business Partner

With schools and nurseries now closed to the vast majority of children, to help slow the spread of COVID-19, many parents face a new weekday reality: trying to juggle home schooling and childcare with working a full-time job – a challenge, to put it mildly!

Sadly, Joe Wicks and his online P.E. lessons can only go so far to helping you out, so here are a few tips to support you (and your family) in staying sane when you’re working from home with them.

Make a schedule

Children thrive on routine and as everything in their world is very different right now, some consistency will help them to manage their expectations and let them retain some element of control. This is particularly important for single-parents who may need to create new routines to incorporate childcare. Try to stick to the same mealtimes and order of activities each day. E.g. reading/schoolwork in the morning, break for some downtime before lunch, then playing in the garden. You could factor in a daily challenge to add some focus and schedule FaceTime sessions with different friends and family to look forward to so it doesn’t all blend into one long day/week/month.

Start the day with a family meeting: just like you kick of every morning with your daily Stand-Up, do the same with the kids. Albeit probably in your PJs over Weetabix. Start by going over what the day holds. Talk about what everyone needs to do and what will happen. E.g. “We’ll do some schoolwork together, then Mummy has to work. Daddy will have a call later, so you’ll need to stay quiet during that time, but you’ll be able to play on the iPad then. After work, we can play a game.” Letting the kids know what to expect from the day helps them prepare and it will be less of a battle when you need them to comply.

Be open with your manager

It is completely understandable that you (and your family) need time to find your groove with balancing home life and work in this new situation. Be open with your manager about the challenges you may be facing so they can support you and help manage and prioritise your work. Ask for and accept support from friends, family or a service that can assist with childcare. Once you have established a schedule that works for you, discuss it with your manager and let them know when you will be online so you can both get the most out of your working day.

Set your Out of Office

Although your office is your home for now, you can still set your Out of Office automatic reply when you’re away from your desk for an extended period of time (e.g. when it’s your time with the kids). That way, your colleagues know when you’re available to respond and you can focus on your family. You can always provide your mobile number for emergencies.

Prepare the same meals for everyone

When cooking for the kids, save time by cooking the same thing for yourself and anyone else who lives with you too. Things like lasagne, curry and chilli are solid family meals that you can enjoy together (and with a potato or salad, if you have no pasta!) You can also save time and make a big batch to freeze for later.

Protect your work times

If you can, draw up a schedule to split the childcare with your partner throughout the day. When it’s your turn to work, take yourself away from the children so you can be most productive, and they aren’t tempted to try and gain your attention. Respect each other’s working time and try to stop the kids interrupting when your partner is working, so you can both focus 100% during the time you have.

Put your kids first

Likewise, when it’s time to entertain the kids, focus 100% of your attention on them and hold off on checking work emails or taking calls where you can. This will help with any guilt of potential increased screen times etc. and your children will appreciate (and enjoy!) your full attention. It could also make it easier when you do need to leave them do to some work, as they’ll have enjoyed some proper quality time with you.

Remember the positives

Your children will LOVE the fact that they are having all this extra time with you. Embrace that and do fun things you never have time for, when life usually gets in the way.

Self-Care

Single-parents in particular will understand the challenges that come with being the primary carer and balancing wok demands. Your work is important, but your most important job is to look after yourself and your child. As difficult as this may seem, you will need to prioritise self-care. Take time out when you need to. Ask for help (and accept it when it’s offered).

Roll with it

As much as we’d all love an interruption-free day, being realistic and accepting what is, is also important. Some days your routine works out. On other days, your clearly articulated plan and snack options are simply unacceptable to your baby boss.

So, come to terms with the fact that things won’t always go to plan, and that’s okay.

However hard you may try, kids will be kids and the temptation of their parents being around 24/7 is very exciting for them. Allow for a bit of a buffer so you can admire their latest masterpiece for five mins or help with schoolwork, and you may have a more peaceful day.

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