Suddenly Home SIX: Keeping the kids at a distance

Working at home with kids is challenging even when school and daycare are running. So I’d like to offer my sympathies to parents learning work/family balance at home in the middle of a crisis.

There are a few tricks that make it easier. Here’s what we’ve figured out over the years about how to be a parent with one foot at the office.

The “DO” List

Close the door.

In my first post, I wrote about how you need to “stake out your territory.” We have not one, but two doors separating us from the rest of the house. If I didn’t have a door I would put tape on the floor. Let’s call it “professional distancing.”

Remind your kids you are at work.

It’s sounds obvious, but repeating it every so often is helpful. Kids get that parents work. In our case, we have never had super strict rules about interrupting us during office hours, but the girls know that they need a good reason to bother us when we’re in the office.

Make a list of the reasons kids can interrupt you.

It’s worth laying down a few ground rules anyway. When our girls were small, they obviously had to tell us when they were going outside (or of course if there was an emergency). Today, they can ask us for passwords if they need them and can pick up documents from the printer. Otherwise, there’s no loitering in the office. And we don’t solve computer problems during work hours.

Make sure they have what they need.

We make sure they can find whatever they might want somewhere else in the house. For us them, this is invariably: scissors, staplers, scotch tape, paper, pens, USB keys and cords for all their devices.

Get them on a schedule.

Everyone is probably coming to this conclusion by now. During the first week of the Coronavirus outbreak, our daughters slept in, woke up late and spent most of the day staring at a screen. I didn’t blame them. We were doing the same thing. But getting them on a schedule is as important for parents who work at home as it is for kids. We laid down the law at the beginning of week two and told the girls to make a regular schedule. They have a fixed waking hour, do an educational activity, something creative and some exercise every day. At dinnertime we talk about “what we did today.” It makes everything feel a little more normal, which we all need.

The (very short) DON’T List

Don’t work in the kitchen or dining room.

I’ve said it and I’ll repeat it. Ignore the siren call of the nice table and chairs. Eating areas look like a perfect spot to set up a computer and let you keep an eye on the kids. But kids always win the attention war so you’re best to retreat to safer territory.

Don’t take breaks to do housework.

I almost never do chores during the workday (more on this later). Family life and professional life just don’t mix. We let the dishes pile up and ignore the rest of the house during working hours. Clutter really is a small price to pay for 8 hours of concentration.