This is a problem I should be happy to have: My healthy husband and child are home with me when more than 100,000 people (and rising) around the world are sick with a deadly virus. We have salaried jobs that allow us to work remotely, and good health insurance should we actually contract the coronavirus. So, yes, I’m aware that what follows is a very privileged bout of whining, and I truly wish everyone in this country were able to whine along with me.
Still, I need help.
I have worked at home while my husband also worked and my son was at school — that can be fun, but mostly we get so focused that we forget we’re not coworkers. I have worked from home while my husband was in the office and my son was home sick — it involves a lot of screen time and not a lot of productivity. I have often worked at home on weekends, while both of them got to play — that’s a new kind of FOMO I can’t recommend. This is actually the first time both my husband and I have to work, with deadlines and meetings and phone calls, while my son is home from school … indefinitely. It took exactly one hour for me to start yelling at both of them.
The kid is bored. The husband needs my mouse and power cord. The kid wants a second breakfast. The husband says he can’t connect to Wi-Fi if I close the bedroom door. The kid wants the iPad. The husband doesn’t like my choice of music, so can I please use headphones. The dog needs to be walked and fed. What do we have for lunch? What do we have for snack? Everyone be quiet I have a meeting right now and my meeting software isn’t working and have you seen my headphones and tough shit about the Wi-Fi and I need you guys to go away already because I can’t concentrate?
I was worried that I was alone in this feeling. That my short-temper and antisocial tendencies mean I just shouldn’t be with in a two-bedroom apartment for such an extended period of time, even two people I love very much. It’s a scary prospect, given that we have no idea how long we’ll be here. But then I started hearing from others in the same boat. Everyone at SheKnows is testing out noise-cancelling headphones and locks on their doors. We’re wondering if babysitters will show up to work if we hire them, or if they’ll be scared our houses are diseased too. And we’re wondering if we’re going to have to become nocturnal to get anything done.
The babysitters will show up, according to Emily Paisner, a workplace expert and director of marketing for Care.com’s Care@Work, which helps companies provide backup childcare options for employees. She has seen no shortages in caregivers, especially since so many colleges and workplaces have closed this month. But in case an extra babysitter is not in your budget or you’re wary of having another person in your home, Paisner offered SheKnows some other tips for making this work-from-home situation, you know, work.
1. Make a schedule together.
“The night before, my husband and I try to talk about what meetings we have coming up for the next day and be really clear about who is on, ‘kid duty’ at certain times,” said Paisner, whose 8-year-old and 10-year-old children have been home from school for a week due to coronavirus measures.
The schedule they make gives them both peace of mind that the other parent will be able to watch the kids when they’ve got to be completely focused on their work. But she also makes sure they communicate enough during the course of the day to be “flexible and nimble” enough to make changes if other things come up.
My friend who always works from home with her husband echoed this advice. Through trial and error they’ve also discovered that negotiating with each other for bigger chunks of uninterrupted time makes them more efficient at their jobs.
If you’re looking at weeks of this situation, you may even want to alternate days instead of hours, Paisner suggested. That will depend on how flexible your work is, too.
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2. Set expectations with your kids.
“With our kids, we can be really clear about saying, ‘This is the time where mom has work,'” Paisner said.
This also means that when you let them watch TV or play video games, you tell them how long they’re going to be allowed to do so before they have to switch to a different, possibly more educational activity. Giving them limits leads to less whining when the screen gets turned off.
3. Give each other space.
Even with a schedule in place, there are times when the kids are going to want to run to you. If it’s another parent’s turn to handle things, this might mean taking the kids outside or to another room. This is harder if you’re quarantined, of course. But maybe you can at least do laps in the backyard or up and down some stairs.
“If there is a way to physically separate yourself, that’s also very important,” Paisner said.
(While writing this, my husband took my son for a run in the park — and I couldn’t be happier.)
4. Call a friend.
Now this one depends entirely on how serious the COVID-19 contamination is in your neighborhood. I’m operating under the (possibly paranoid) assumption that everyone in Brooklyn is sick, but hopefully you can follow Paisner’s advice.
“If you have one or two trusted families that you can rely on as being part of your village … you can come together, join forces and take turns,” she said. “Even if it’s just two families, there’s four different people who can be on duty throughout the day, so that it gives everyone an opportunity to have a little bit more work time.”
5. Work at night or early in the morning.
Parents of babies and toddlers aren’t going to have a lot of luck getting their kids to play independently for longer stretches of time. Many, many freelancers I know with younger kids have learned that the only thing to do is work in the wee hours before the kids wake up, or after they’ve gone to bed. Maybe you’ll be lucky and get some naptime in there too. Anytime you want to complain, think about what it’s like to be a nurse on the night shift.
6. Enjoy this time!
“Try to have a little bit of fun and connection to your kids,” Paisner said. You can at least block out the minutes that you would have normally spent chatting with a coworker or getting coffee and use that to play. A short break building a fort or playing cards will re-energize you more than caffeine ever could. It will also help to make this a good memory for your kids, even as the adults are worried about the state of the world.
“Your kids will always remember this time,” Paisner said. “If there’s if there’s any silver lining, maybe it is a bit of a gift that we have a little bit more time with our family.”