Posted in Blog

A Slice of Life View of Working from Home with Two Elementary Kids

I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, so I’m going to skip the money series post this week and pick it up next Wednesday instead. Today I wanted to share a glimpse of what it’s like to work from home with two young elementary kids in virtual school all day. Here’s a day in the life of this working mom:

  • 1:30am – Woke up to my alarm to take Mr. 4 year old to the potty
  • 6:15am – Woke up to Mr. 4 year old wanting snuggles
  • 6:30am – Up with my alarm to start working after Mr. 4 year old fell back to sleep
  • 7:30am – Get kids and myself fed and ready for the day
  • 8:15am – Take the kids outside to walk and ride scooters
  • 8:45am – Get the kids logged into school and clean up the kitchen
  • 9:30am – Take a work call while sometimes answering kid questions and baking banana bread
  • 10:15am – Eat said banana bread snack with kids during their school break
  • 10:30am – Back to work
  • 12pm – Make, eat, and clean up lunch
  • 1pm – Bathe Mr. 4 year old who got covered in mud while playing outside in the rain and mud puddles
  • 1:15pm – Kids log back into school, while I write a blog post and respond to personal emails
  • 2pm – Back to work
  • 4:15pm – Read with Mr. 4 year old
  • 4:45pm – Make dinner and talk with husband
  • 5:45pm – Eat then clean up
  • 6:30pm – Scroll online
  • 7:15pm – Kids and I read together
  • 8pm – Kids to bed

From 8pm to my bedtime (which is anywhere from 9pm to 11pm) I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I sometimes write, like tonight, but typically I watch a show or read a book. I’m spent and need to recharge.

Overall, this schedule is doable. We’re making it work with employers who are being flexible and two adults at home, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

In the past, I wrote about my experiment with time tracking. I don’t continue to track my time each week. However, in the future I’d like to take another week to track my time, then compare it to a pre-COVID week. I have a feeling that, although my days are more fragmented than ever before, the percentage of time I spent in each category (e.g., family, self-care, work, etc.) is likely the same. We shall see!

Photo: Today’s visitor while I was answering personal emails this afternoon.

Posted in Blog

Creating Boundaries With Your Work Time

Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation at work of being professional about drawing boundaries around my availability. I definitely became better at this when I returned from maternity leave after Mr. 7 year old was born because I just didn’t have the energy to sneak in extra work hours outside of the office like I used to.

How have I done it? Here’s the gist.

Live Your Goals

First, you have to know your own professional development goals, those of your teams, and those of your projects/employers. (I’m a senior manager of training design and development teams for multiple clients, so there are many stakeholders to satisfy.) I recommend playing to your strengths when crafting goals. You’ll be more motivated to work on something you’re already good at, rather than try to improve a weakness that you could potentially outsource to someone else.

Once you have your goals, live by them. Get invited to a meeting that doesn’t align with your personal goals or those of your client? Politely decline. I’m not saying you can skip every boring meeting or work task, but you can be selective about how you spend your time. (Probably more so than you think!)

Decline with Grace

I swear tactfully pushing back is a large part of the art of “managing up.” I rarely say no to my clients and managers. I provide more information instead. For example, if I’m asked to move a deadline up that isn’t feasible, I’ll state that we can do that if X conditions or concessions are made.

If I’m asked to join a committee or project that I can’t make work, I say thank you for the opportunity but I’m regretfully not available. And, here’s the key, I also provide a recommended solution, whether that’s another team member who would be a good fit or a time in my schedule when I could take on the opportunity.

I am the messenger that provides the details to help us all make better decisions, while making sure the solution will work for me and my teams.

Diversify Your Happiness

Don’t let work be the most interesting thing about you. Find other things you enjoy and add them to your life. This can be hobbies, pets, family, fitness, or volunteer work. Not only will these interests help when you have a bad day at the office and need to reset your mood, but they can be used to get you out of the office and away from work at a reasonable hour. If you commit to a hobby, be that a 8:30am fitness class three days a week or tutoring high school kids every Wednesday at 6pm, then you can block your calendar and work around it. I swear I became 10 times more efficient at my work when I knew I needed to log off each day by 3:30 to get my kids off the bus. (Remember that time when kids used to go to school in person?! The good old days….) Work tends to expand to the amount of time available.

I admit that some of these tips are easy to say and harder to do. It’s taken me some time of exploration at work, being a part of multiple teams and projects, to learn my strengths, set meaningful goals, and be comfortable pushing back on leadership. However, I think it’s important to realize that we only have this one life to live, so we better enjoy it. It’s harkens back to my motto to reflect on what you want, plan how to make it happen, and then start living and, in the famous words of Captain Picard, make it so.

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

What’s Made Working from Home and Parenting Simultaneously Work for Us

I have said throughout this pandemic response that my family is one of the lucky ones. Sure, the kids aren’t in school, my husband and I aren’t going into the office, and our calendars are bare. But, there is food on the table, money in the bank, love in our home, and the ability to stay in this hold pattern circling normalcy indefinitely. That does make every day fun or easy (though some are both of those).

I have read many articles of other families describing how they parent and work from home, and it sounds like a disaster. Thankfully, we’ve gotten into a good rhythm. Our new normal and daily schedule still look like our days in late March. Here’s why I think it’s worked for us.

  1. There are two parents at home. I acknowledge that benefit has been key to maintaining our sanity (for the most part).
  2. Our jobs (or at least mine) allow for flexibility on WHEN we work. It’s not an issue if I get my work done at 6am or 11pm, just as long as I meet my deadlines and produce high-quality work. Now, that doesn’t negate the need for meetings in the middle of the work day, but at least my focused work can happen whenever works best for our family. Heck, I can even put in hours over the weekend, cutting down on the time crunch during the week.
  3. When I’m with the boys during the day, I’m not working. I block my calendar so meetings can’t be scheduled then. I have informed my teams of my working hours. Everyone is aware of my situation. Folks can call or text me if there’s an emergency, but nothing is typically that time sensitive. Being away from my computer for two hours is no different than being in a long meeting.
  4. Set work priorities and boundaries. I turn down meetings that don’t really need me there. I delegate opportunities that management invite me to participate in if others would contribute more or better benefit. I’m protective of my time and priorities. If an opportunity doesn’t align with my professional goals for the year (which already were selected to cascade from leadership’s goals), then I pass. This is easier said than done and likely worth it’s own blog post.
  5. My shifts with the boys are kid-focused. I use my two-hour shift with the kids to get their school work done, sure, but I’m also giving them A LOT of attention. After two hours, they are done with me and happy to play independently or with each other. This helps make my husband’s shift immensely easier.
  6. We have a routine, so everyone knows what to expect throughout the day. I recognize that my structure and plan can seem rigid to some, but it’s the one thing I feel we can control right now. That, and I know it makes the boys more willing, for example, to focus on worksheets when they always do schoolwork at 9am.

Photo: Picture of all of the worksheets and paper we completed March-June during the school year. Not pictured? All of the online work they did on top of this!

Posted in Blog

“You Do You” – My Motto for the Latest (and Every) Parenting War

I see it starting now: another great debate for parents to fall into camps regarding how to “best” raise their children. When schools starting closing a couple of weeks ago, it started. There have been articles all over my newsfeeds claiming how parents should approach homeschooling their kids during the coronavirus shutdown.

One side of the divide is to just focus on play and not worry about educational activities. Teachers are professionals, and they will catch students up when they return to school. Focus on making family memories and having kids feel safe and emotionally secure during this turbulent time. Academics will come later.

The other side of the spectrum includes a focus on academics. There are articles advocating color-coded schedules, sharing lesson plans, and talking about the benefits of creating academic structure. These parents have scoured the Internet for educational activities to keep their children on track academically. They may come across as too rigid and inflexible during this unprecedented time.

I just want to put this out there now, before the flames of this debate ignite, that parents need to do what works for them. Find what your normal looks like right now. We’re all battling different needs, ranging from the needs of others (kids/parents/employees/employers/etc.) to our needs (don’t forget about yourself).

Ultimately, come up with something that works for you and your family. Give yourself some grace. Recognize that what may work for you this week isn’t necessary going to work for you in a month. Try to roll with it.

I think many of these articles touting how to handle this situation are trying to offer support. If you’re overwhelming yourself searching for ways to educate your kids or up late at night thinking of ways to teach Timmy how to grasp common core math, then cut yourself some slack. On the other hand, if you’re unsure of what you can do to support your kids so they’re not watching TV or playing video games all day every day, there are articles offering ideas and schedules for your consideration.

Although my personality certainly leads toward structure in an effort to save my sanity, I’m trying to be flexible and follow my children’s needs. I typically work in some activity or lesson (requiring very little prep and low stress) with my kids sometime between 8am and 10am every Monday through Friday. (Support from my kids’ schools is now rolling in and supplementing whatever I plan for the day.) One day this week Mr. 4-year-old wouldn’t have it. He took off to build a train track instead. I let him go, called it a STEM activity, and focused on supporting Mr. 7-year-old one-on-one instead. Last Friday, I wanted my house cleaned. It’s irrational and not REALLY necessary, but I wanted it done. So, we spent 30 minutes working on schoolwork and then worked as a team to tackle the cleaning to-dos.

Ultimately, each day I’m trying to focus on being present with the kids sneaking educational activities into play. I’m trying to take Mr. 7-year-old’s advice that he wrote on our driveway earlier this week: HAVE FUN! I think, from the kids’ perspectives anyway, that it’s working. Mr. 7-year-old notes in his homeschool journal almost every day that he’s happy. That’s success enough for me right now.

Posted in Blog

The New Normal: Our Coronavirus Isolation Schedule With Young Kids and Working From Home

I’m always interested in the details of others’ daily routines because there’s always something new I can tweak in my schedule by learning from others. Assuming others might be like me or just be curious, here’s our newest normal.

My husband and I are both authorized and encouraged to work from home for at least the next severals weeks (thank goodness!), so we get to tag team Mr. 4-year-old and Mr. 7-year-old. We tradeoff two-hour shifts and aim to maintain some flexibility as work calls and issues come up. Here’s the nitty gritty.

6am – 8am – I’m still getting up to an alarm just to get a few hours of work in before others start to stir. As much as I hate waking up to the beep of an alarm, I love having the quiet time for deep work, without IMs, emails, and other distractions. The kids wake up at some point during this time and play ABC Mouse.

8am – 10am – My husband logs into work while the kids and I eat, get dressed, and sit down to tackle whatever my one big learning activity is for the day. This is when reading and writing occur because I’ve already learned Mr. 7-year-old is exhausted after lunch and less forgiving of his errors. We’ve researched animals and started a book documenting where they live and what they eat, read books about how the human body works and then drawn diagrams, charted the colors of a basket of Easter eggs, and played with STEM toys to learn about electricity.

10am – 12pm – I return to work to respond to emails and take meetings. My husband is with the kids, typically having them complete worksheets, running around outside, or whatever. He has his work laptop with him since he’s always on call for spontaneous needs, so he’s focused on keeping the kids occupied with self-directed activities. If he has to take a call, the kids get educational screen time with PBS Kids or ABC Mouse.

12pm – 2pm – Sometimes I rejoin the family with lunch on the table, thanks to my husband, or sometimes I’m starting this shift making food. (I’ve been having the boys take turns making sandwiches for lunch too. They love the responsibility….for now.) When the weather is nice, post-lunch is outdoor time. We play games in the backyard, take walks throughout the neighborhood, or ride bikes. If we can’t go outside, then we find indoor activities like reading, playing with Play Doh, drawing or painting, hiding Easter eggs, doing household chores, whatever.

2pm – 4pm – This time slot is essentially a repeat of 10am – 12pm.

4pm – 6pm – My husband returns to work until everything he needs to do for the day is wrapped up. I’m back with the kids keeping it low key at this point. The kids will read me stories to earn marbles. If they haven’t gotten any screen time at this point in the day, they’ll likely get some now. I also have Mr. 7-year-old write a few sentences as a journal entry about his day. I’ll aim to have dinner ready by about 6pm.

6pm – 8pm – We eat dinner and clean up as a family. The kids then get ready for bed, and we wrap up the day watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off or reading a chapter from one of the Harry Potter books.

8pm and onward – This is my time to catch up with my husband (unless he’s retired to his man cave to play video games), read the news, review emails from the kids’ schools, and read books until I pass out only to wake up and do the whole thing all over again the next day.

I have to say, being thrown this curveball of having the rest of the kids’ academic year cancelled threw me off. I might have driven my husband a bit crazy obsessing about how to create a new normal for us because I’m the kind of person who always needs a plan. I’m open to changing it as we go, but I need an idea of how things are supposed to function. For instance, we started out working half-day shifts instead of these two-hour shifts. We found that too hard to balance work and kid needs, so we switched it up to something else.

We’ll see if or how this plan will play out when Mr. 7-year-old starts official distance learning with his class in mid-April. Right now, though, I’m happy enough with this schedule. Boy do I miss my alone time though.

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Nights Off

Earlier this week I shared on social media the sad new reality of our family’s monthly calendar update for April — blank and boring while sheltering in place to combat this coronavirus.

Since about the only “event” left on the calendar are mom and dad’s nights off, it sparked some interest. Let me share these with you and how much I love them! I look forward to my night off coming around ever week.

We started these nights off when Mr. 7-year-old was a baby and it’s been a tradition ever since. The person with the night free is off the hook from making dinner, cleaning it up, and putting the kids to bed. Typically, we are free to leave the house and do whatever we please or lock ourselves in the basement and binge watch Netflix or play whatever video game.

Why once a week? It works for us. Typically we share evening duties at home, and it’s a weekly chance to take a break. I know myself. If it’s not scheduled, I’m not going to take time for myself. It’s a way I hold myself accountable.

Of course, we’re flexible. Typically there’s one Friday night a month that I get to hang out and drink wine with my neighborhood friends for ladies night, so we switch off. My husband recently took a weekend off to binge play Dungeons and Dragons, which was completely fine.

These nights off have been particularly important for my mental health now being trapped here homeschooling and working what feels like 24/7. I think I’ll use my next night off to go to bed early!

Photo by Mutzii on Unsplash