How to work from home with kids? It’s a question moms and dads who are juggling jobs while raising children ask themselves on a regular basis.
And no wonder: Balancing parenthood and work is always challenging. That goes double when there’s a global health pandemic and people are working from home more while dealing with schoolkids’ distance learning.
Americans were already overworked before the pandemic, according to Rheeda Walker, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston. “For those who have children at home, there is less time, and tremendously more burden,” Walker told TODAY Parents.
The numbers back that up. According to a recent survey conducted by the office retail company Staples, the average number of hours Americans worked each day increased by 6.1% from 2019 to 2020. That adds up to an extra half hour daily and an extra 2.5 hours a week. The survey also found that the time parents devoted to child care and their children's education increased 149% and 93% respectively over the same period.
This double-whammy is enough to make moms and dads working from home with kids feel tugged in two directions and stretched taffy-thin. Just ask environmental engineer and climate change expert Gretchen Goldman, who shared her experience about what working-from-home motherhood really looks like.
In mid-September she tweeted a cropped screen grab of her face during a CNN appearance against a tidy background. In a wider view, she revealed that she was seated in shorts and her makeshift Washington, D.C., home studio was awash in her 4- and 2-year-old sons’ toys.
“Just so I’m being honest,” she wrote in the caption. So far the post has been liked more than 305,000 times.
Read between the likes — and the lines — and her message is clear: If it looks like someone who works from home with kids has achieved perfection, it’s an optical illusion.
Here's some advice from Goldman and others on how to make working from home with kids work.
Connect with colleagues
Set boundaries with co-workers, supervisors and yourself, said Ashley Stahl, a career expert with the online personal finance company SoFi.
“Set a clear boundary with your team and with yourself by kindly saying you have a hard cut at 5 p.m. each day (or whatever your agreed upon work hours are). The important thing is to not waver on the expectation you set.”
Cut yourself some slack
“The reality, of course, is that we’re all just struggling to make ends meet, and then it feels like failing to me on both ends. I’m not getting all the work done that I need to get done, and I feel like I’m neglecting the kids,” Goldman told TODAY Parents.
Goldman has come to realize that compromise is mandatory when you work from home with kids during a pandemic. “Do the best you can, and that’s enough,” she said.
Be clear — and fair — with your boss
“Come to the conversation with an energy of collaboration, asking them if they can help you assess the solutions you’ve come up with and possibly add to it," Stahl said.
Change your perspective
“Rather than looking at this as ‘I’m leaving work early,’ look at it as though you are moving toward something else," Stahl said. That includes time to spend with your family, to work out, or to attend your children’s athletic events. It’s all part of the mix when you work from home with kids.
Laugh when you can
Remember that there’s room for humor and you’re not in this alone.
Consider Robert Kelly, a political analyst who’s known as the 'BBC Dad.' He became a viral sensation and the face of working from home with children in 2017 when his two little kids barged into his live on-air appearance.
These days every parent who works from home with kids relates to the BBC Dad and expects the unexpected in the age of videoconference platforms. Social media says as much:
While an occasional laugh helps when striving to balance working parenthood, setting no-joke boundaries with co-workers, supervisors and yourself can be invaluable, Stahl said.
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