Updated: May 16, 2020
I was a full time stay at home parent for many years. I’ve also been working from home for the past three years. Now here we all are, at home trying to mix the two, with homeschooling thrown into the mix for good measure. Some of us are doing double or even triple duty!
When I was a full time parent, especially when my kids were small, it took all of my time, energy and creativity. Now that I’m working from home, that same energy and creativity is needed in different ways, but there are still only 24 hours in the day. Managing that time and energy while maintaining sanity is a challenge and it has taken a long time to figure out how to juggle it all. So I’d like to share with you some of my experience to help you avoid some of the pain and sheer exhaustion I’ve felt through the years.
The biggest thing I’ve discovered is: Don’t
Unless you have superpowers, including needing no sleep or being able to stop time, you will not be able to work full time and take care of children at home. So stop. Just don’t.
Try to work an 8 hour day
Give yourself a lot of grace
If you’ve never worked from home before, it will take a period of adjustment to get good at it. It has taken this full three years, and the last several months with no kids in my house, to get good at it. And I still don’t work an 8 hour day most of the time. If you have an energetic 5 year old and you’ve managed to get an hour’s worth of work done, you’re doing very well! Bonus points if no blood has been shed all day. And if you actually get two hours of work in, give yourself a medal!
Take on the entire burden of caring for your children by yourself
Recruit the help of other adults
If you live in a household with another adult, it is essential that you come to some kind of equitable agreement about when each of you can devote time to work and when each of you is fully responsible for kids. And no, one person working all the time and the other caring for the kids all the time is not an equitable arrangement if both are working from home.
Your financial situation, the nature of your work responsibilities and the needs of your kids will all be factors in deciding what the nature of your agreement will be, but it’s important for there to be contributions from both adults to each side of the equation.
When my kids were small, the equation that worked for us was my spouse worked five days a week and I worked one, and they weren’t at the same time. Even when I didn’t have work to do, I depended on my spouse to be the responsible adult while I took the time I needed to recharge.
If there are no other adults in your household, you need help! Any delivery service you can find will be a life saver, and it’s ok for the screen to be a babysitter some of the time (Bearing in mind safety considerations, of course. Infants are a totally different story.). Their favorite cartoon or facetime with grandparents, friends or other family might be the only time you get to take a breath. If you can squeeze some work in during that time, great! If you choose to just lie down for a minute, good for you! As always, you get bonus points for no blood shed (see above) and extra bonus points if the video is somewhat educational.
Homeschool all day
Give your kids a lot of grace
Your kids probably have never done school at home either. It will take a while to get into a good rhythm with it, and you may never get there. I never homeschooled my kids, for many reasons, even though I have teaching certification and have been teaching for many years. I have many friends who homeschool and they don’t do a full day of school either. A lot of them do school only until lunchtime, and some days even that doesn’t happen.
It takes time and effort to plan a school day no matter where it takes place, time you probably don’t have. If your kids get something educational into their day, that might be enough. (See video watching above) And keep in mind that they really do learn a lot just from mucking around in the back yard.
Work yourself to the point of exhaustion every day
Take time to rest and recharge
I’ll be real about this. You won’t get as much time to rest and recharge as you want, or even need. But you must take a little time every day. Your family and your work will both suffer if you’re running on empty all the time. And your health will suffer too, which is the last thing anyone needs at this point. More and more, we’re coming to understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need fuel to run the race.
Completely ignore your spouse or loved ones
Find ways to connect often
You may not actually get time to see or talk to your spouse or extended family very much, even when you’re spending all your time in the same house! But there may be ways you can share appreciation or even commiseration with each other. A quick text may be all you can manage, but maintaining those connections are crucial for your mental health. (See fuel for the marathon above)
Bury your emotions
Feel all the feelings, even the uncomfortable ones
These are difficult times and it makes no sense that we would sail through unscathed. It’s ok to feel however you feel! At the same time, it’s a good idea to check in with ourselves about how we’re coping. If we’re using unhealthy strategies, they might be affecting our health and our relationships. Having that extra glass of wine in the evenings may feel good, but may not help in the long haul. Having an open conversation with a friend or going for a walk might.
A special note for educators:
You have additional demands on your time, energy and emotions. You have a classroom (or several!) that you have been caring for all year (or more!). You miss your students, you're scrambling to figure out what online learning will be like and you may not be getting clear direction from your school, your district or your state about what your role should be.
It is especially important for you to have healthy emotional strategies and not try to do it all. Part of what makes you a successful teacher is your ability to emotionally co-regulate with your students. Your students still need you to help them do that.
So Don’t try to do it all, all of the time. Because you really can’t.
I have a saying posted in my house that goes:
"When you can’t do it all, do all you can."
It’s a great reminder because really, that’s all we can do.
Be safe! Be well! And keep your sanity! You’ll need it when this is all over and done with.
Please reach out if I can help you in any way.