Written by Kara McCall, Birth & Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, and Cleo Family Guide
We all know taking care of little ones is already a full time job. So of course it feels nearly impossible to do your job-job if you and your kiddos are home together. If you usually send your kids to childcare and plan to/need to keep them home, it can be incredibly helpful to carve out specific work-only time and work-only space.
- Trade off. If possible, trade off with your partner or find a neighbor to do a childcare share with. Each adult can take 1-2 hours with kids and then trade with the other adult to get work done. Choosing a friend or neighbor who you trust to keep exposures to a minimum and to reliably exchange childcare with you can create a little ‘closed system’ of support. It may add up to fewer than your full-time hours, but most find it really helpful to get to focus on just one thing or the other.
- Create a work-only space. For those with babies, having a space where your kiddo doesn’t know you’re home can be key to peace and quiet while another adult cares for them. If you are breastfeeding, you might even need to change clothes to mask your scent. Babies who can smell milk often will refuse to be fed by other caregivers. If you have toddlers and older kids, you can create a great visual for them to understand when you’re working and when you’re available. Use colored paper on the door of your workspace to help limit interruptions. Red – do not disturb, Yellow – knock first, Green – come in. This can be helpful for whoever is caring for your children, too!
- Shift your schedule. You may be used to having time with your kiddos only at night and in the morning, but now you may want to optimize your time with them during the day and shift your work time to before wake up and after bed. Some work meetings can be shifted as well, or you can do meetings only during the day and more heads-down work while kiddos sleep. Creativity is gonna be key here.
- Communicate your situation to co-workers. Be clear and transparent with your manager and coworkers about your situation. If there is a chance of an interruption during a meeting, call it out from the start. That can help teams feel a sense of collaboration, rather than interruption. Many folks can actually feel shared camaraderie in all agreeing to postpone non-essential meetings or to shift focused work to after bedtime.
- Keep it quiet(ish). If you’re sharing a small space with little ones and worried about interrupting nap time with phone calls or meetings, a white noise machine can create a good buffer. Place a white noise machine about 6-8 feet from your kid when sleeping for optimal brain relaxation and sound screening.
- Create activity boxes for your kids. Novelty can buy you time with little ones of all ages. When you need heads down focus time, bring out a new activity for them to do. With kids under one, you can often rotate through the same new objects a few times, but with older kids they’ll likely be more interested in things they’ve never seen before. With a little lead time, you can subscribe to services like KiwiCo or Little Passports, which include age-appropriate activity and art projects. Or pop by an art supply store and invest a bit in a few different projects.
- Wear your baby and move. If you have a baby or small toddler at home, baby-wearing can help keep your hands free and your baby feeling comforted and secure. If naps are a challenge, you can often put a little one in a carrier and get more sleep out of them. Remember that as of now, going outside for a walk is unlikely to be a risky behavior, as long as sidewalks are not too crowded and you’re clear folks can’t lean in or touch the baby.
Really, the most important overarching recommendation for folks home with cooped-up kids and work to do is to go easy on yourself. If you’re using screen time a lot, you’re so not alone. If you feel on edge, that’s justified. Juggling little ones and doing your work can make you feel like you’re doing neither very well. Be kind and forgiving to yourself if this isn’t your best parenting (or working or housekeeping or anything) moment. This is a stressful time for us adults, too. If boundaries around screen time or other indulgences change in the next few weeks, you can always explain to kids that this is an exception and that the old rules will apply again when life’s rhythms return to normal.