Being a parent is a full-time job.
Being a parent during a global pandemic while trying to stay focused on remote work hours while simultaneously wearing the hat of a teacher, running a household and maintaining a social distance is … oh, who am I kidding? It’s insanely hard work, regardless of your circumstances.
Parents around the world are struggling with these new challenges in the wake of Covid-19, in part because of the uncertainty. Nobody knows when the kids will go back to school or head back to daycare. Working parents don’t know when they may be able to return to the office. Due to social distancing, stay-at-home and shelter-in-place quarantine rules, there are few places where everyone is able to go out together — and certainly not in groups of 10 or more people.
So, I’ve laid out all the uncertainties ahead of us. It’s time to talk about the certainties and aspects of parenting and remote work that are within our control. How can parents successfully juggle remote work with their children in a Covid-19 world?
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1. Split the work (if you can)
Mike Hanski is a teacher and online tutor for high school students. Now more than ever, parents are reaching out to him for his advice on managing kids while they focus on remote work.
“Ultimately, it comes down to compromise and proper management,” Hanski says.
If you have a partner, this means that the two of you will need to act as a tag team in order to juggle work, the needs of the children, and household responsibilities. Hanski advises creating a set schedule in which one individual, between the two of you, will take care of a specific task.
The situation, obviously, is much harder for single parents, who shoulder the full responsibility. Some parents say they’re managing by slotting work around children’s nap and play schedules, and making do (sometimes with screens — more on that later) when the kids are active.
“Being a single parent is incredibly difficult, especially when you can’t afford any outside help,” Hanski says. “What I recommend for parents to do is create a daily schedule that balances time spent directly with a child, with time spent with work while the child is occupied. For example, have daily projects and daily ‘free play.'”
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2. Set “Open” and “Closed” Hours
Samantha Barnes is the founder of Raddish Kids, a monthly cooking kit for kids. Her children are 10 and 7-years-old and are better at understanding her remote work reality through an “open” and “closed” schedule.
Barnes says she creates a schedule where she is able to block out time for her important calls. She’s unavailable during this time — or “closed.” Then she tells her kids about her schedule.
“I’ll tell them ‘Hey kiddos, I’m closed from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., and from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.” Barnes says.
So far, the system has worked well in keeping Barnes on task with work and the kids. Both children are of the age that they check the clock first to see if Mom is “open” or “closed.”
3. Use a Visual Timer for Independent Play
Child psychologist Nina Kaiser is the founder of family wellness center PRACTICE San Francisco. She’s married and a mother of two, ages 3 and 11 months old. Both Kaiser and her husband are currently working remotely from home alongside their children.
Aside from trading off commitments with her husband using a joint calendar, Kaiser has set the stage for independent play at home. An art center has been set up for her three-year-old. Toys are available in areas that are easy for the kids to access without help.
Kaiser is also clear about the amount of time the two are expected to play independently.
“We use a Time Timer, which is a timer that visually shows time in a concrete way,” Kaiser says, explaining that the timer is like a pizza with the piece representing time getting smaller and smaller. “This has been a huge help in getting our three-year-old to stretch himself a bit in terms of independent play.”
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4. Time Block the Day
Maggie Wells, a realtor in Lexington, Kentucky, is managing remote work with her nearly two-year-old daughter. While her daughter plays with her toys, Wells listens to binaural beats (here’s one example) as she works.
“It’s a form of sound wave therapy and has many benefits including increased focus and concentration,” Wells says. “It keeps me focused and productive.”
Soothing sounds aside, Wells finds she is able to keep her family on track by planning and time blocking out the day.
“I build in breaks to play with her, go on walks, and do some educational activities like word and color flash cards,” Wells says.
Every couple hours, Wells will take a 15-20 minute break. She advises all families do the same in order to reset and refocus. If possible, try to time the break between tasks or projects. Make the break relaxing, too. You may practice deep breathing, meditate, or take a short walk.
As you set goals and chunk down projects at work, Wells says not to be too upset if you’re unable to do it all.
“Don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing everything,” Wells says. “Be present and realistic about the situation. Relax and enjoy the small moments with your child.”
5. Accept That Screen Time Will Happen. It’s Okay — Really
During the first few days of Kaiser and her family began to shelter in place, her 3-year-old son watched hours of TV shows.
As a child psychologist, she knows how many individuals feel about screens. But…
“Screen time is okay,” Kaiser says. “The middle of a pandemic is not the time to cling to your values about screens. Your goal is survival. If that means more screens, that’s okay.”
Kaiser further adds that it’s important to have self-compassion. Every parent is fighting a difficult battle, but that battle must also be picked with intention. Cut any non-essential tasks as needed and be okay with how things go next, whether it’s according to plan or not.
“We have 18 years with our kids. The way in which the next few weeks go is not going to make or break us.”
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation.