Husband has been working from home as a translator since our eldest was a year old. That was 8 years ago, and last year, I joined him as a proof-reader. We originally made the rather terrifying decision for him to go self-employed because – primarily – of the commute. When working in an office, Husband would get up before the baby woke, drive to work, do a day in the office, and arrive back after I finished the bedtime routine. Weekends were spent trying to form a connection with our child which would then feel undone in the following week of absence.
Changing the way we worked to avoid the commute gave us more time as a family, allowed us to cut back to one car, saved us a small fortune on fuel, and reduced our food spending too – an unexpected bonus of not having to worry about lunch away from home. One might also argue that our eating the previous night’s leftovers for lunch also helped reduce food waste, but I feel that would be reaching.
Of course, our decision to begin working this way is very different to those people being forced into remote working due to Covid 19, and it is important to acknowledge that.
I have, however, had multiple requests for advice regarding how we work – with children at home. And going forward, doing away with unnecessary travel is a great way to keep emissions low. If this works for you, and your employer is on board, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t continue working remotely in the aftermath of the pandemic – even if just for a few days a week.
What follows are strategies which have been successful in our family. They may not work in yours. As they’re based on experience, I can’t speak for single-parents, or homes in which earning is shared equally between partners, but if that is your situation, I hope there are at least parts of the following which you find useful. I’m also coming from a household in which there are various additional needs present – these require certain concessions such as extreme continuity, routine, black and white boundaries etc. – so you might find a more fluid, flexible approach easier than the one I detail here.
Again, our choices were made in a different time, for different reasons. Please take whatever good you can from what follows.
- It might be helpful, if you’re able, to sit down as a family before remote working is due to begin in order to discuss with the children what’s going to happen. In my experience, it helps to be as clear and concrete as possible. i.e. “Adult A will endeavour to work between X o’clock and Y o’clock with lunch breaks at Z. Adult B will be your immediate responder until after Y o’clock, when Adult A becomes your go-to human and Adult B starts work.”
If your children are too young for specified times, buzzers can help. i.e. ‘Adult A is only contactable after the buzzer has gone.”
- It might be useful to explain why you’re working, or if your children are older, to reiterate why it’s important. It seems like an obvious thing to us, but for the longest time, my children thought we just preferred working to other activities! Talk about the things you need in order to live (a home, food, heating etc.) and explain that money is required to buy these things, and that jobs pay money. If applicable, you might want to frame working as an act of love – in my experience, it changes prioritising your job from possibly invoking feelings of mild rejection to being an active act of affection.
- It is hard, but it will help if the person working can be consistent regarding boundaries. If your children come to you while you’re busy, it can be so difficult to say, ‘No, not right now, go find Adult B’ – every single time. You love your babies, you want to meet their needs, but in our case, doing so fostered the expectation that Husband would drop everything to respond and this isn’t always possible. If you’re working, you’re working. If you’re not, then you’re not. Having these really clear blocks of time and sticking to them can mean the difference between getting interrupted every five minutes and being left to really buckle down for two hours, undisturbed and thus, potentially, finishing work early.
- Consistency in space might be useful. We never had a dedicated room for an office, but we’ve found it incredibly helpful to carve out a corner of the dining room from which Husband can work. It’s a physical representation of what he’s doing – a very concrete boundary. If he’s in the chair by his desk, leave him be. In contrast, I sit by the fire with the dog and use my laptop on my knee. This is exactly how I sit when I’m playing video games. It’s not fair to expect the children to be able to instantly tell if I’m working or not, whereas it’s really easy for them to see if Husband is. Result: he’s left alone to get on with things and I get interrupted.
- When you’re present, be present. I spoke above about having unambiguous blocks of time i.e. if you’re working, you’re working. But this goes both ways. You can’t expect children to just leave you alone entirely throughout the day. They still need us.
Some might need your help with their remote schooling, or they might be frightened and looking for connection. They might be bored without their classmates. Setting aside time specifically for them, in which they get to select an activity to do with you can make all the difference. Obviously, this might not be possible – your job might not be one which allows it, or you might not be used to managing your workload yet (a real issue for freelancers – the temptation is to take whatever work there is when you can get it and worry later about how you’re going to manage to get it done in time). Just do your best. Again, I wrote about consistent workspaces above, but if all you can commit to at the moment is putting a film on and sitting beside your child as they watch it while you work, then that’s all you can manage. Don’t feel bad about it. We’re all just doing the best we can.
- I find it helps to keep an ace or two up my sleeve when I’m the one not working… By this I mean things my children only generally get to do as a treat. In my house, this includes-but-is-not-limited-to watching the TV, playing a video game, having some sweeties, (at the moment) going for a walk, getting out a huge roll of paper and paints. When my youngest is really struggling with the fact that my eldest child is doing school work and can’t play, the hierarchy of distraction goes;
1. Use favourite toys – build a track, or draw a picture… something I can fade out of if my child’s invested enough in the activity.
2. Provide lunch/snack food. Sometimes the pestering is a manifestation of hunger and not boredom.
3. Pull out one of the special activities.
- Be kind to yourself in every free minute you have. None of us know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to keep things as usual as we can. Stick to a routine you know works as much as possible, and make sure to include lots of self-care – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Covid specific advice.
You’re not a teacher (unless you are!), and no one expects you to be. You’re not meant to home-educate your children unless you were doing that already – you’re not duty bound to be setting a curriculum, or introducing new concepts. If your school is sending work home, it’s work they believe your child can do. Teachers are amazing, incredible humans who have managed to reinvent the education system with 48 hours’ notice whilst still working within the confines of the national curriculum. They’re setting tasks designed with your community in mind, and around resources they can either provide digitally, or which they’re relatively certain most families will have. If you are struggling, talk to your child’s teacher and explain the confines of your situation. There is every chance that they’ll be able to either alter the task, provide an alternative, or reassure you that when schools return to normal, they can support any catching up that’s necessary. The main aim of every teacher I’ve spoken to at this time is that the children they work with are as happy as the situation allows.
Additional: I hope this has been useful to you. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like to know, please feel free to comment either below or on Twitter, then if it’s helpful I can do a follow-up post addressing any queries. If you know me in the real world, I’d ask that you make any question that relates to my children as anonymous as possible – I go to great lengths to keep my language around their descriptions as neutral as I can, and I would appreciate your doing the same. They didn’t ask to be included in this, and I endeavour to only mention them in passing if at all possible.