There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know.
But working from home with small kids? That I know.
If you find yourself in that situation, here are a few survival tips:
Give strong visual indicators
If you don’t have the luxury of a separate office space at home and, like me, you have to set up camp at the kitchen table, you can still let your kids know when you’re working and when you’re not. Get dressed as if you were going to work. Stick in one earbud. Wear a hat. I know that last one sounds ridiculous but you gotta think like a 2yo here: “No Hat Mama gets me snacks. Hat Mama doesn’t.” You can avoid a lot of interruptions just by telegraphing that you’re working.
Plan snacks in advance
I speak from experience here: nothing will kill your brilliant run for that UN General Assembly speech like having to take a break to peel carrots. Prep snacks when you do meals. That means you put the peeled carrots and the hummus on the plate and stick it in the fridge. You pour the goldfish crackers in the bowl. You pre-fill the sippy cups. You treat your kitchen like a fast food restaurant because TRUST ME IT WILL FEEL LIKE ONE.
Toys toys toys
If you’re a good parent (HA HA HA HA HA) then you’re on top of that whole thing where you’re supposed to rotate out toys and then you reintroduce old ones and then it’s like Christmas every Thursday. Or … you’re me. Lean into LEGO (seriously, my son could build stuff 100% on his own at age three … let them try it!). Overload them with attention and play games together when you take a break (ideally something with an explosive payoff at the end, like Connect 4 or Perfection). My kids are older now, but we’ve also been getting a lot of snow day / strike day mileage out of KiwiCo kits (which I always want to do entirely by myself so it’s a BONUS if I’m too busy to “help”).
Break it up
Your kids, especially if they’re under the age of five, sincerely can’t be left along for too long, ESPECIALLY especially if they’re siblings who you’re pretty sure were put here on this Earth for some kind of existential death match. So you will learn to work in shorter, more productive chunks of time. 15 minutes, 20 minutes. You will probably not like this, and, well, too bad. You’ll get up EARLY early and work in the quiet of the morning. You’ll make a deal with yourself that the work day sort of really ends at 3 PM, and picks up again after the kids are in bed. You’ll figure it out.
Television, Gift of the Gods
I’m a child of the 70s and 80s and I watched what any contemporary child psychologist would agree is an INSANE amount of television. Jury’s out on whether or not I turned out okay, but I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t, that’s not TV’s fault. And the amazing thing is, programming for kids isn’t just confined to three hours on Saturday mornings anymore — there are whole entire channels, PLURAL, that can help keep your kids entertained. Will you feel great about this choice? No, you’ll think you’re a terrible parent. But you were going to do that anyway, and now you can hate yourself and be productive at the same time. WIN-WIN.
And finally, not a tip, but just a slice of the obvious: do your actual work. None of these tips will work if you spend the small windows of available work time surfing Facebook. Put that shit down.
BONUS TIPS: WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN WORKING FROM HOME
You will regret all of these things. Don’t say I didn’t warn you:
1. Slime (it gets everywhere, so unless you actually want a new couch or wish your toddler had Cyndi Lauper hair, AVOID)
2. Water beads (like the virus that has you stuck at home in the first place, these are not easily contained)
3. Any project involving food colouring (aka: permanent dye you can eat)
4. Stay inside (unless you’re truly quarantined; kids need sunshine, Sunshine)
5. Give up (you’ll be fine) (You’ll. Be. Fine.)