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Working from home with kids: Work-life balance for WFHers
There’s nothing good about the pandemic, but if we must find the silver lining, it’s that working from home allows us to spend more time with family. This can have an amazing impact on work-life balance. Even if you work the exact hours you used to, working from a home office means you don’t need to leave for work at 9am, and that you have no commute before you get back home. That means more time with your loved ones! You can even enjoy eating lunch together, then head straight back to work after your 30-60 minutes is up!
That’s where things get tricky: creating that kind of strict separation between work and leisure is tough. Even if you can figure this out, getting your family on board can be a challenge. That’s especially true when working from home with kids, who don’t always understand why Mommy/Daddy needs to shut themselves away for hours. And this can take a surprising emotional toll.
Of course, you want to spend time with your family. And you want to help your partner if they’re at home on kid-duty. But constantly being interrupted, switching in and out of “work mode,” is exhausting and ultimately unproductive.
Also read: Top 12 online tools for home office workers
Lines have to be drawn if you are to stand any chance of getting work done. If you’re both working, then it becomes even more crucial that you create this distinction.
Lines have to be drawn if you are to stand any chance of getting work done.
This is something I’ve had to cope with myself as a father to a 17-month-old girl. I’ve been working from home the past eleven years, though, so I’ve had a bit of time to practice! Here’s what you need to know to survive working from home with kids while keeping your work-life balance intact.
Create a strict schedule
As much as it might feel jarring at first, your best chance of getting this balancing act right is to set out a strict timetable for when you will work and when you won’t. Getting into a routine will help everyone and not just in terms of productivity.
If only one of you works from home, this routine can mirror the times you normally work (8am-5pm, with an hour break, for example). If you have young children, they will likely have a strict routine of their own for snacking and napping, so you may need to find a way to sync these up together.
The great thing about a routine is that it gives you all a chance to adapt.
If both of you are working from home with kids, though, you need to get a little more creative to maintain a good (or acceptable) work-life balance. This may mean working for four hours each, then having a couple of hours as a family at the end of the day, before working some more before bed. Other options include working a few hours during the weekend, or working together during nap time. Get creative with how you’ll fit work around your new schedule. Try to think outside the confines of normal “office hours.”
Ideal? Far from it! But at least this way you have some family time together.
Whatever you end up settling on, the great thing about a routine is that it gives you all a chance to adapt. What seems impossible at first will eventually become normal, and you will naturally fall into that rhythm. Do what you can to maintain this routine, and only break from it where there’s no other choice.
Minimizing interruptions to your working day is also important. Staying focussed at home is a challenge in itself due to the loss of structure, social pressure, and a separate environment. If you are constantly getting “visited” by your partner and child, then you’ll never be able to maintain solid, consistent focus.
Also read: How to stay sane working from home
Speak with your partner about the importance of uninterrupted time. Explain that it will ultimately lead to you having more time together in the long run. You can take short coffee breaks yourself and use that time to stop by and say hi. The difference is that this will be on your terms, at a time that suits you.
A useful trick is to create a visual cue that will let your family know when you can and can’t be disturbed. For instance, you could leave your door slightly open while responding to emails, but then shut it when working on a coding project.
With that said, you also need to be realistic and empathetic. Unless you have a heart of steel, you’re going to want to go and help when you hear your children crying, being sick, or driving your partner up the wall!
The reality of this situation is that there will be interruptions.
And of course, you could make the argument:
“Well, if I were at work, they’d just have to deal with it!”
But here’s the thing: you’re not at work, you’re working from home with kids! And the reality of this situation is that there will be interruptions. There is no such thing as “guaranteed” time to work. So take that into account when planning your day, make exceptions, and have contingency plans.
Don’t get stressed when you’re called away for 5 minutes. This is hard for your family too.
Find ways to rest
That said, you should also avoid falling into the trap of being completely selfless. You might want to work solidly from 6am-5pm, clock off to immediately look after your children until 7.30pm, and then making dinner to finally sit down at 9pm. Of course, on weekends, you’ll fix that fence before calling your family back home to make sure they’re okay.
A spot of gaming can go a long way! But while that might make you Super Dad/Super Mom, the truth is you need your downtime as well. Working from home with kids makes it very difficult to find time for you. This will eventually lead to burnout. Especially given how stressful the current situation is!
So find ways to rest. Agree with your partner to have a day off each once a week. Or find an hour to yourself in the morning that you can use to browse the web and enjoy a slow cup of coffee. It doesn’t have to be much, but that small bit of recharge time will make you significantly more effective during the day that follows.
You need your downtime as well.
Focus on the positive
Finally, as much as this is a stressful and challenging time, there are definitely positives to take from it. Working from home with kids means getting more time with your family. It also helps you develop new skills, and it allows you to pursue activities you might never have thought of before.
Staying positive by focussing on these small wins can go a long way to helping you maintain the energy and momentum you need to get through this.
Like you, I’ve found working from home with kids to be challenging. Especially now all the classes and soft play areas are closed. But while I count down the minutes until I can relax at the end of the day, I also can’t wait until it all starts again. It means I get to play with my little Emmy again!