How I Balance Working From Home With 5 Kids
by Michelle Calhoun, on Apr 16, 2020 12:00:00 AM
Let me be frank. I have a lot of kids. Like, a lot.
To be more specific, I have 5 kids between the ages of 3 and 13, and one of those has lifelong severe disabilities.
While I am so thankful that I have a job that has given me all the tools I need to work from home during this current pandemic, I much prefer to get my work done surrounded by my awesome team versus these tiny humans who ask me to button their pants or get them a snack every 15 minutes.
Like any good millennial mom, I searched the internet for the perfect formula on how I could continue to be an awesome employee and perfect mother simultaneously. Unfortunately, the majority of articles currently being written on the topic of remote work focus more on the childless workforce. Even more unfortunately, most of their ideas and guidelines are unattainable for someone juggling multiple layers of needs at home.
When searching for a good work-from-home schedule, most of what I came up with looked like this:
5am — Meditate for an hour
6am — Eat a beautiful breakfast made from scratch
7am — Run for an hour
8am — Answer all emails and don’t check your email again for the rest of the day because that isn’t a good work/life balance
9am-12:00pm — Meetings with your team and clients
12pm — Eat tons of vegetables — and don’t even think about eating your stockpile of chips. Shame on you!
1-4pm — Block out this as uninterrupted time that you can solve all the world’s problems
4pm — Stop working and don’t mindlessly scroll on social media because that’s bad for you. Now relax for the rest of the evening (and don’t you dare work)!
Meanwhile, your house is supposedly pristine and you’ve started a new hobby.
Sooo… How’s that working out for you?
In case these types of lists have left you wanting more, I am going to share with you the four mantras that have saved my sanity during this period. Notice I said these are mantras. This is not a list of How To Do Your Children’s 7th Grade Math Homework While Simultaneously Leading Your Morning Zoom Meeting, or 10 Perfect Craft Ideas to Keep Your Kids Entertained for Hours.
As many much wiser than me have said, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
These mindset shifts can help you as you navigate this brave new world, taking it one day at a time, so that we can all come out stronger.
#1 Today I Give Myself Grace
If you’re working from home with kids, it’s important to manage expectations. This includes your kids’ expectations, your bosses, and your own. Have a real conversation with your team at work about what your personal bandwidth is.
It is totally normal to feel thankful that you are lucky enough to still have a job right now while also feeling frustrated that you are taking care of kids at home, possibly even trying to school them. As Katie Couric said in her recent article, “Being frustrated is not the same as being ungrateful.”
Most of the working parents that I know would agree that their day job is easier than taking care of their kids... so imagine the large percentage of the population trying to do both right now.
If you have a partner who is also working from home, work together to be a mutual source of support. Create a parenting safe word. My partner and I have the right to yell “KIT-KAT” at any time and it basically means Tag-You’re-It or I-Need-A-Break and the other parent intercedes.
Sometimes we are both on equally important calls and the kids are on their own. In which case all we can do is hope for the best and apologize to our Zoom attendees if there are any interruptions. At the end of the day, it’s a Zoom call — interruptions come with the territory.
#2 Today I Remember to Be in the Moment and Focus on My Breath
Take breaks and be in the moment. When you are feeling overwhelmed, return to your breath. It's not likely that you're going to be able to stay on the clock uninterrupted from 8 to 5 everyday. If you find yourself frustrated, turn off your working brain, go run around with the kids outside for 15 minutes, and then come back to your work. You're likely to be more productive if you work in sprints with short breaks in between.
If you are looking for ways to batch your work, you might try getting in a couple of hours in the morning before kids wake up or an hour after they go to sleep. I find that if we keep our kids busy in the mornings they chill out for several hours before dinner and I am able to be the most productive during that time.
If possible, try not to multitask. Studies show we are much less effective when we attempt to do multiple things at once. I end up frustrated if I try to push through finishing a task while also directing kids. It would be better to stop for 5 minutes to give undivided attention to the kids and then come back to my task.
#3 Today I will Be Adaptable and Flexible
Being able to pivot and shift your focus to the next most important task is a really good skill to have as a business owner, manager, employee, or parent. The businesses that will rise up stronger after this pandemic are those that are quick to adapt to the changing times and pivot as needed to meet the needs of their customers. When you start with your list of priorities each day, know that sometimes you will need to pivot moment-by-moment and do the next most important thing. Instead of trying to maintain a strict to-do list, bring in more flexibility to your day and hopefully by the end of each day instead of being frustrated that you were not able to get everything done, you will be able to say you got the most important things done.
#4 Today I Remember that Nothing Lasts Forever
Your family is more important than your work. These can be very scary times. Sometimes I imagine what my kids will remember about this time 10 or 15 years from now. Will they only remember me yelling at them to leave my room (“I’M ON A ZOOM CALL!”) or will they remember how I stayed up until midnight playing Monopoly or the hours we spent doing drawing lessons?
When I remember that nothing lasts forever and focus on making valuable memories with my family now I can stay grounded in this present moment.
These are not easy times. Do what you can to take care of yourself, your family and your team. We will get through this together one day at a time.