You thought those remote-school days were behind you; that class time and work time were now and forever blissfully in separate places. Then there’s that dreaded notification: your child needs to stay home because (s)he was exposed.
Suddenly there you are again: all of you together in the house; you on your computer, your partner on a conference call; your daughter twirling around the kitchen, opening all of the cabinets, and ransacking the fridge to find lunch.
What’s a working parent to do?
11 tips to get you through this time all together at home:
1. Lower your expectations. This may sound flip, but coming through all of this with mental health (yours and theirs!) intact is the most important thing. Setting expectations too high (for you and the kids) can create extra anxiety and stress for everyone.
2. Accept mistakes. Everyone makes them. At the end of each day, talk together about what went well and what you can change to make things run more smoothly — this will help make your kids feel involved.
3. Create a routine. Kids feel safer if they have boundaries and routines. Make sure everyone’s aware of the parameters for wake-up time, school time, meals and snacks, and activities. Ask your child to help you create a schedule that includes it all — they’ll be more invested and more likely to stick with it.
4. Designate approved activities. Agree on activities (or chores!) that your child can do throughout the day if they have downtime. Reading, sidewalk chalk in the backyard, shooting hoops, artwork, putting laundry away, making their bed, walking or playing with the dog — you name it.
5. Prep healthy snacks. Free yourself of the “I’m hungries” by offering easy access to a big plate of fruit or raw veggies.
6. Make meals easy. Put out toaster waffles in the morning; set up a sandwich station for lunch; make lots of extras to have easy-to-reheat leftovers for dinner.
7. Set do-not-disturb times. These might change daily, according to your meeting schedule, but explain why there are times that you can’t be interrupted and create a signal system. Put up red/yellow/green traffic lights or a sign to make it clear when you can’t be disturbed (unless it’s an emergency) and when you can be more flexible.
8. Consider flextime. Some tasks are easier once the kids have gone to bed, rather than trying to juggle everything during the day. If your job allows you to schedule around the kids, take advantage of the flexibility.
9. Get out! Fresh air is a mood-booster — it’s important for everyone’s mental health. Take a morning or lunch-time walk (or both!) and leave afternoon time for an activity such as gardening, playing catch, or reading outside.
10. Divide and conquer. If you and your partner are both at home, create a schedule for who will be on duty at different times throughout the day to ensure you each have periods of uninterrupted focus (or, simply, time to yourself).
11. Don’t forget to unplug. Being at home with less defined parameters means we need to set tech-free times. Put your phones, tablets, and computers away and enjoy time together — dinner and a board game, for example. Or, make hot chocolate and have everyone grab a book to read.
Finally, remember, you can do this. Try to take each day as it comes, be kind to each other, and know that this hectic time is difficult for your kids, too. You’ve done it before. You’ll all get through this together.