Five realistic tips to help you feel more in control of your days and carve out the “me time” you deserve.
All you parents working from home while taking care of kiddos: Are you taking care of yourselves? Getting enough sleep? Coping?
If you answered “no” — I hear you. I see you. You’re not alone.
Living through this pandemic is difficult for everyone in different ways. I can only speak to my personal experience as a mama working full-time from home while also caring for two young boys. We’re incredibly fortunate in our situation — Kristian and I both still have our jobs, and our family is healthy. But ten weeks ago, our world was still turned upside down, and ever since we’ve been riding a roller coaster filled with good days and bad days, laughter and tears, joy and anxiety.
The daily and even hourly spectrum of emotions is wide these days. In our house, the true answer to “how was your day?” ranges from bad to meh to fine, with good at the tippy top. There are definitely great moments, but when I’m trying to balance full-time work, full-time parenting, never-ending chores and the emotional toll of our current reality, the best days are simply “good.” (And yes, Kristian takes on just as much as I do.)
This is hard. Really hard.
But I don’t have to tell you that. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably lived days like the one below since social distancing began.
But right now, staying home is the best thing we can do for the health of our family and our community. And so I try to make the best out of it, to do whatever I can to get us to that 7 out of 10 “good” day.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Googled a phrase like “how to cope during this pandemic as a working parent,” never really finding what I was looking for — something more helpful than take a break (when?) and more specific than prioritize yourself (how?).
Since the middle of March, there are a handful of habits I’ve found to be truly helpful. They definitely don’t happen every day, not all of them. Sometimes not any of them. But the days even a few of them do are noticeably better. These are the things that, at the end of the day, I’m honestly glad I took the time and energy to do.
My hope is that doing one or a few of these things will help you not only feel more in control of your days, but also help you find the time for a nap or a pamper hour or a solo walk around the neighborhood, which you so desperately need and deserve.
Tip 1: Prep for Tomorrow Like You’re Going to the Office
And like your kids are going to school or daycare. After the kids go to bed, Kristian and I divide and conquer to get as much prepared for the next day as possible. We make sure we know what’s happening for meals and snacks — even taking the extra step to cut up and prep the boys lunches (usually dinner leftovers) so they’re ready to reheat and eat. This has saved me many times when the kids are hangry by 11:30a, and I can get lunch ready solo even with a 26lb baby on my hip.
We also fill Emmett’s formula mixer, set up the automatic coffee maker (a lifesaver when I tiptoe down our creaky stairs at 5a to work), pick up toys in the playroom and yard.
It sounds like a lot, but it really only takes about 15 minutes to get through it together. There’s nothing stopping you from doing it with a drink in your hand. Just sayin’.
Then we look at our schedules for the next day, which leads me to my next tip:
Tip 2: Block Schedule Your Days
Each evening, or sometimes over breakfast, we review our schedules for the day to set our blocks of “focused work” time. We alternate throughout the day, with one of us working upstairs in our master bedroom while the other cares for the boys.
Our day typically divides up into the following blocks: 7:30-9:30a, 9:30-11:30a, 12:30-2:30p, 2:30-4:30p. Lunch and late afternoon are family time. We try our best to make sure our virtual meetings fall within these blocks, and I’m able to see Kristian’s work calendar so we don’t overlap and can avoid days like the one pictured earlier.
Whoever is on “parent duty” during the 12:30-2:30p block can usually work for at least part while the kids nap. And we log back on after the kids are in bed and our prep work described above is finished.
Block scheduling also helps me to compartmentalize — focusing on work for a couple hours, and then focusing on the boys — rather than trying to stay on top of it all at one time. We tried that at first and all it led to were feelings of failure and inadequacy, at least for me.
Tip 3: Cook Tomorrow’s Dinner Tonight
Our kids are 2 years old and 11 months old. Dinner time is around 5:15pm in our house because both boys are hangry and exhausted by then. If dinner isn’t already ready, or at least prepped, we’re scrambling to pull something, usually not nutritious, together. So as often as I can, I make a meal after the kids are in bed so it’s ready to reheat for the next day’s dinner. I’m not talking about fancy, time-consuming recipes. I rely heavily on my Instant Pot, the oven, and one-pot / one-pan meals that take less than 30 minutes of hands-on time. Even if I can’t cook the whole meal, I’ll prep as much as I can so dinner is quick work tomorrow.
All together, the prep and dinner-making portion of my evening takes about an hour.
Tip 4: Get Your Kids on the Same Schedule
Block scheduling didn’t work well for us when the boys were on alternating nap schedules. One of them was always awake, and Ethan couldn’t be left alone while we helped Emmett get to sleep. Fortunately for us, about a month ago, Emmett decided he wanted to keep up with his older brother and started refusing his morning nap, which pushed him onto a one-nap-a-day schedule. He’s young for it at 11 months old now, but it’s been working — he naps well and usually sleeps through the night.
If he’s tired in the morning, we’ll often go for a walk in the stroller or for a car ride so Emmett can get a 15-20 minute snooze that’ll help him make it to 12:30pm for a long nap.
If your kids are still napping and can possibly be on the same schedule, for even one nap per day, it’ll be immeasurably helpful.
Tip 5: Take PTO
If you’re able to take time off, do it. Look at your calendar and email your boss or HR department right now. And then on those days off, keep your block scheduling going. Ask your partner to pretend you’re working and unavailable during your “off duty” times so you get some actual rest, a real escape.
I took two days off last month to make a four-day weekend, and it was so refreshing to shut off the work side of my brain for a while and find a few hours throughout the weekend to tackle home projects, to read, to cook without feeling like I was neglecting anything else.
Though you’re at home — and if you’re like me, you don’t remember what it feels like to wear jeans — you’ve likely never worked harder in your life than you are right now. So take a day. Take a week. For you. For your family. For your work. All will be better off for it.
Tip 6: Wake Up Before Your Kids
I’m an introvert — I need time alone to recharge and feel like the best version of myself. But when we’re all home all day every day, it’s hard to find time to myself. And if I am able to sneak away for a little while during the day, the sounds of kiddos playing and the never ending list of things to-do call out to me.
So one day I set my alarm for 5am. I didn’t have an agenda in mind. I just got up, poured a cup of coffee, and watched YouTube videos — enjoying the quiet early morning darkness of our home, and the knowledge that I really couldn’t do any chores without waking up the boys. It felt good to do something frivolous for a little while. And so I kept it up, and found that I was a more patient and present mama and wife.
There was a blip when Emmett got an ear infection and no one was getting any sleep. Those weeks, I gave myself grace and slept until the kids woke up. As soon as they were both sleeping through the night again, though, I set my alarm and got myself up.
Right now the early morning hours are devoted to work because they have to be. But once I’m able to get back to relaxing again, I will.
That’s everything for now, my big tips for staying sane throughout this pandemic while working from home and taking care of kids. What tips do you have? What’s working for you? What problems are you trying to solve for? I’d love to know! Tell me in the comments below.
Until next time,