As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates and the government have finally made the decision to close schools on Friday, parents are facing a tough time ahead.
Those of us that are able to work from home have an extraordinary privilege – I am in absolute debt to the service workers who are not able to self-isolate and are keeping things going.
However, working at home with kids is not an easy alternative. It can feel impossible.
You feel guilt over not being able to focus on work, or on child care.
I’ve had a couple of requests to share my daily routine – as I’ve become self-employed as a chronically ill mum, I’ve had to get used to working around uncertainty, interruptions and still show up to do the childcare.
I hope these 5 tips and insights into my new – very flexible – routine are useful for the many academic women with kids at home who are trying to keep working and doing the care work.
I caveat all of this with an explicit acknowledgement of the privileges I also enjoy; a partner also now working at home who shares the load and access to a garden space being top at the moment.
- You cannot continue as usual My first tip is do not try to continue working in the same pattern, hours, tasks as usual. Unless you have live-in full time child care, this is not possible. Accepting that you will have to reduce the number of hours (in a row) that you can spend on work is key. Think about ways in which you can spread your work across days and weeks is key. Without accepting this, you will burnout. You will feel resentful and stressed and tempers will flare.
- Get up and get dressed. I always get the kids ready for school – doing breakfasts, chats, dressed, teeth, snacks and bags. Then, they go off to school with Dad, and I get my own breakfast and try to fit in some exercise.Since no one is going off to school now, I’m going to bring them into parts of my routine with me – I need to keep this part of my recovery going, and they can get some home-based PE in with me. We’ll see…
- Blocks of time for work and play – for everyone. Now that the kids and my OH are at home, we have worked out a rough schedule that will allow us both to get our work done and for the kids to have care and school work time. We are working on 2 blocks of several hours work time for everyone. For example, if my OH takes a morning block for work, I’ll be with the kids. This week our school is sending out work packs, which I’m really thankful for. I didn’t want to set the off track from their curriculum, so knowing what to focus on is very helpful. We’ll all have a mid-morning break and lunch. Hopefully we’ll manage some fresh air. Again – I’m very aware of the privilege in having access to some garden space. I’ll then work in the afternoon. We’ll try and make sure the kids ‘finish’ their work around 3 and have time for some of their usual after school club activities – we go to a craft club & dancing, so I can replicate these. This week, we’ve planted seeds, baked a cake, done some junk modelling. I’ve also got them into helping out with minor chores – hoovering, changing their beds, tidying. All things that I was working on anyway! While one of us is doing the 3-6 shift, the other will work. It’s enough time to get everything that needs to be done, done.
- Screen time is fine. I let my kids watch tv. I let my kids have the tablet. I don’t have a problem with letting my kids have screen time. They need some down time too. Of course, this has to be adjusted to age/stage, but I really don’t have a problem with them watching TV. I know what they watch and can have access to. This buys time for cooking or a bit more work – usually I leave my admin until this time. Emailing while the food is on is a good multi-tasking hack. So, no guilt if you let IPlayer do some heavy lifting for you. There are so many things that TV does well for kids. I’m also speaking as a well-adjusted and over-qualified adult that was a telly-addict kid In fact, during this period of self-isolation, I’m going to increase my screen time too.
- Take 10 minutes for yourself at a few intervals throughout the day. It is really difficult when everyone is in the same small space at the same time, especially when this is really not usual. It is crucial that you find some time and space just to do nothing by yourself. To not be ‘on’ – for work or for your kids. This might be when they are in bed. Instead of emailing, why not listen to an audio book. Or reflect on all the amazing things you have done getting everyone through the day.
You are not the only one finding this stressful
Take solace and reduce your stress levels by acknowledging that everyone is figuring out this new normal as they go along. Add in childcare, and the reality is you cannot work as if they are not there. Repeat that to yourself often – you cannot work in the same way as if your kids were not there. Take time to reflect on what you MUST do in a day and over a week. You will not be doing everything. You will not be working in the same way.
You are not alone. Be kind to yourself and to others.