Working from home with kids – the diary of a single working mum during COVID-19By Sophie Chant on March 31, 2020
Life as a single, working mum is easy to describe in one word – CHAOS!
There are 16 months between Mia (my six year old daughter) and Noah (my five year old son.) Mia is a beautiful, independent, witty, smart and headstrong little lady. Noah is a loving, super active, hilarious and very particular little boy.
They love each other ferociously – but you might as well give me a stripey top and a whistle given the number of arguments I have to break up on a daily basis!
I work 34 hours over four days. A typical day whirls past in a blur, and mornings in particular are manic. “Put your shoes on please. Please put your shoes on. PUT YOUR SHOES ON NOW!” It’s all about rushing to get two children washed, fed and dressed for school – whilst making sure I turn up for work on time, looking like I have at least washed my hair. I take the children to school, and then race to get the tram into town. Rush, rush, rush.
Finally, I can breathe a little when I arrive at work. I love my job, and I believe it’s important for anyone to love the work you do – but especially when it means you’re having to spend time away from your children. I love working with people, and my role focuses heavily on the Peak culture – and it doesn’t get much better than that! My days are varied, sometimes packed with lots of meetings, interviews, catch ups with the team, and anything else that may crop up.
My days tend to be quite long, by choice, so I can take Thursdays off. I normally finish work at around 18:30–19:00. Then, the hectic evening routine commences. Rushing to the tram, picking the children up (normally from different places as they have a better social life than me), the journey home, supper, baths, story time and bed. Before I know it, it’s getting late – suppose I better have something to eat myself!
If I’m being honest, my interactions with my children during the working week are limited, and lack quality – something that feeds my “mum guilt” on a daily basis. However, all of this changed on 16 March, when COVID-19 forced the Peak team to start working from home – something completely new to me, and a challenge in itself. Little did I know that the real challenge was due to arrive a week later.
Working from home. WITH KIDS. How the hell am I going to do that?!
What I’ve learnt so far
Unfortunately, we all know that there is no book on how to be a parent in general – so there is definitely no book to help with this situation we now find ourselves in. If we’re being honest, most aspects of parenting are around winging it – we try different things until we find what works best for us, and that’s definitely still the case now.
Social media has changed the way we connect with the world, and although it has its purpose, it can make parents feel inferior. Nobody posts about the bad days – the fact their kids had chicken nuggets and chips three days on the trot, as you couldn’t take yet another argument over food. Or that you maybe shouted a little bit more yesterday than you wanted to.
Instagram and Facebook may be awash of people trying to paint a perfect picture of working from home with their kids. But the reality is that no one has a rule book for this – we’re all in the same boat, and we’re all just trying to get by. It’s all about doing everything you can do to get through the day in the best way possible. Shift your focus from what went wrong (because, believe me, a lot will go wrong) and focus on the successes, no matter how small they are.
If you got your child to sit still for five minutes to do an activity, well done. If they watched a film they love on repeat all day and you managed to get that important work project done, well done. At the end of the day, if we can protect our kids, keep them happy, and keep them away from the madness of the outside world right now, then we’ve done our jobs as parents.
Another thing to note, is that children love routine. Being at home all day, every day is quite the upheaval for them – school is essentially a second home for most. I think it’s all about making sure that they’re not feeling isolated, being a friend to them, and protecting their mental health – for me, this is just as important as making sure they keep up with their homework.
Children love structure – make sure you’re planning out their days in advance, keeping activities varied
We sometimes forget that children are mini humans, with a whole host of emotions that they haven’t learnt to properly control yet. Sometimes kids aren’t given an allowance for days where they feel a bit down or are in a bad mood, and now, their lives as they know it have completely changed. My son, Noah, is on the special needs register at school, and doesn’t deal particularly well with change. He misses his grandma, who has him after school whilst I work – teaching my mum how to FaceTime was painful, but oh so worth it, because now he can see her and speak to her.
Working at home with kids – making it work
Of course, the reality of the situation is that, while our children will always be the number one priority, we’ve still got jobs to do! So how can we manage, and what are some of the practical things we can do to help?
The first thing you should be doing is setting expectations with your colleagues – tell them when you’re available to do work, and when you’re with your kids. Keep your diary and availability up to date so that everyone has visibility of when you’re free. You should also set expectations with your kids – if they’re old enough – a simple “mummy is on a call for the next 15 minutes, so you need to do this, and then we can do that” should suffice!
A lot of kids are great with structure, so try and recreate what their day would be like at school to help them keep their sense of routine. Maybe even make them wear their school uniforms, too!
Speaking of structure, this should also apply to your working day. Only you know your children, and your work time needs to be flexible to suit their needs. For instance, if your kids are great in the morning, then it’s probably best to crack on with work then – rather than in the afternoon when they might be tired.
I’d also recommended getting up before they do in the morning. Those first couple of hours in the day, for me, have been far more productive than if I’d have been having to spend them rushing around and commuting to work.
There’ll be ups and downs – trust me! – but you CAN do this!
As long as your work supports you to do so, you may need to change your normal working hours up a bit – mornings, weekends, evenings…but remember to find a balance. It’s going to be harder than ever to differentiate between work and home now, so we have to make a conscious effort to switch off from work when it’s time to do so.
I’d recommended setting up your work station in a place where you wouldn’t usually relax or rest in – so keep away from the couch and the bedroom! Stick to clear, defined times of when you’re working and when you’re not, and be sure to remove/log out of work-related apps from your phone when you’re not working so you’re not tempted to answer those non-urgent messages. If someone needs you, they should ring you!
Something we’ve done at Peak is set up a dedicated Slack channel, called Peak Family. It allows other parents in the company to share tips and advice to help each other out during these unprecedented times. We’ve also been sharing resources and tools, too – and we’ve even had some of the team volunteer to host remote lessons via video call to help keep the children entertained throughout the day! So far, we’ve had offers for lessons on French, baking, coding and simply entertaining the children to give other parents a break – and I am sure the kids will love it.
To summarise, what I’ve learnt so far over the past couple of weeks is that positivity is so important. Try to find a silver lining in the cloud that currently surrounds the world. Think of all the extra bonding time you’ve got to spend with your kids now, and appreciate that you’re not just rushing to get them ready and get them out the door for school in a morning. It’s a scary time, right now – so do everything you can to make sure your children are still smiling every day. If we do our jobs as parents, it could well be the time that they remember as the best time of their lives!
Parents, you are doing an amazing job – so let’s stick together and give each other a pat on the back. We’ve got this!
Some ideas to help!
- Speak to your line manager and agree what works for you both
- Set expectations with your colleagues – update your diary to show when is work time and when you are with your children
- Don’t stress about homeschooling! Outline a routine so the kids know what to expect, but don’t worry if it all falls apart. Aim to make small steps everyday!
- Celebrate the small successes and be kind to yourself
- Share resources between your colleagues, friends and family. Kids get bored easily, so the more resources you have to choose from the better. Please get in touch if you’d like us to share our family resources with you
- Make sure you find some sort of balance amidst the chaos. Think of your own mental health – this is a tough situation, and self-care is vital at this time
If you have any thoughts, or want to share some of your own advice around working from home with kids, I’d love to hear from you.