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When describing what it’s like to work from home while parenting small kids, some people choose to use the words “unrelenting”, “nightmare”, and “hellscape”.
And they’re right. Performing a job from home in a pandemic, especially a job you normally only do while your children are looked after or educated elsewhere, is almost impossible – especially if the number of children match or outnumber the parents in the house.
But for many of us, there’s no other option. My husband and I, who both work full-time from home, cope by splitting the working day between us – one of us will parent through the morning while the other one works, then we’ll swap at midday.
However, while this may suit my husband, it doesn’t, I’m afraid, suit me. He’s a morning person – a trait both children have, regrettably, inherited – bashing out three articles before sun-up in the time it takes me to understand the thing I’m looking at is a kettle.
I’m not a morning person. Left to my own devices, I’d rise late and work late into the night. I need a decent run-up to my working day, and – if I’m to produce anything of quality – acres of quiet, entire universes of mental space.
None of this is available right now. So far I’ve been hitting my stride around 30 minutes before my working “shift” ends. Not only is my productivity in tatters, so too is my self-esteem, which makes me a less adept parent. While my husband can set up wholesome educational activities and often get the kids involved in baking, with me there’s screen time and, sometimes, shouting.
For a long time I beat myself up about this, but it didn’t improve anything. Whether my productivity dip is down to ADHD, my anxiety or depression – or it’s just plain personal preference – I’ve devised a new, more flexible work from home plan; a much more realistic one. Hopefully, some of it might suit you.
Prioritise your relationships.
At the moment my relationship with my husband exists almost entirely within the brief, whispered exchange we have at bedtime – our kids are unsettled, so we’re currently each sleeping with one of them. That’s fine, right? We’re a solid couple, we’ll be here for each other once this period is over.
But, we were – without realising – conducting our own, separate lockdowns, which can’t be helping either. So now, we try and reserve at least one night together, to clink beers and watch at least half a movie before we conk out.
And the effects are stupefyingly huge –I feel lighter in myself, and part of something bigger, which makes the constant low-level dread far easier to bear.
Protect your sleep.
If you have small kids you may normally treat eight hours of sleep as an optional luxury, but in a pandemic, your wellbeing is your largest commodity – so don’t scrimp. My kids are poor sleepers, so this means scheduling naps during work-time, which seems counter-intuitive, but actually increases productivity in the long run.
Lower your expectations. No, lower.
I don’t know which parent of reception-aged kids needs to hear this, but in many parts of Europe, children don’t even start school until they’re six or seven. So if you haven’t got the hang of home-schooling, don’t freak out – no one will judge you if your seven-year-old doesn’t know Pythagoras’ theorem when school reopens.
Similarly, if you’re not achieving as much at work – and obviously this comes with caveats – try and take comfort in the knowledge that none of your colleagues are either, and nor is your boss.
Let new bad habits slide.
Since the beginning of lockdown, my five-year-old has started compulsively gnawing his Lego, and my toddler – who was beginning to wean – has returned to breastfeeding with newborn ferocity. This was all driving me mad until I realised these are self-soothing activities in a time of great uncertainty.
I’m self-soothing too, if the sheer weight of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in my cupboard is to be believed. So now I offer my older son more hugs, I let my toddler feed, and I keep eating the chocolate.
Recognise the news for what it is.
If you’re anything like me, you’re compulsively checking the news for something to end the uncertainty and feel like you’re the master of your own life again – but news headlines aren’t designed to do this.
Should something status-shifting occur – like a vaccine that’s ready to be rolled out – you’ll know, because everyone will be talking about it. By all means, check the news but, to preserve your sanity, don’t expect it to help you out.
Turn FOMO into something positive.
Is social media making you irrationally furious? Do you resent people without kids who claim to be bored, when you can’t even go to the loo without three children and an entire Sylvanian Family coming with you? Simply print out the offenders’ profile photos and turn them into dartboards for your children. Tada! You’re basically a Pinterest parent now!