Working From Home With Kids: If I Can Do It, So Can You!

Woman carrying baby and workingMy husband and I both work full time from our (tiny– OMG WHY DID WE BUY SUCH A TINY HOUSE AND THEN FILL IT TO THE BRIM WITH CHILDREN) house with four (soon to be FIVE) children. And, this is the reality we are looking at until it is safe to send the kiddos back to school and head back to the office ourselves.

I am in higher ed. I teach at a large university in our town and have hundreds of students and grad students, and my husband has a fast-paced, inflexible, highly reactive office job that often sees him putting in 13-hour days. We have a lot on our plates, in addition to supervising remote learning for a ninth-grader, a seventh-grader, a third-grader, and a second-grader. In August, we will add a brand-new baby girl to the mix. GULP.

We are very lucky to both be at home, and I realize a thousand percent that not everyone has jobs that can be worked this way. That said, we are working all day, every day, so this work from home thing? Is not a vacation.

Here’s how we make it work:

Triage

Every night before we go to bed, my husband and I have a quick meeting (on the couch, him with wine, me with ice cream) to discuss our upcoming work days. We make notes of the times each of us HAS to be on the phone or in a meeting or doing a time-sensitive project. We try to remember to invite each other on our shared google calendar, but this quick face-to-face conversation catches anything that falls through the cracks.

I also scan my own work for the next day and divide my work into two columns: things I must do with no distraction and things I can do with kids climbing all over me. The no-distraction items are things I try to check off right away first thing in the morning.

I have found that I can easily work for an hour before everyone wakes up, and I can also get about an hour of work in after breakfast when everyone is distracted and hasn’t started fighting yet. My husband logs three hours from 5am-8am before he gets up and officially starts his day as well.

For us, the trade-off of waking up at 5 or 6 is worth the head start we get on our days. I am able to have large chunks of time to write or respond to student work, and he can start every day with a clear inbox and large projects ready for the next step.

Work Ahead

Even the most reactive job has a predictable ebb and flow. You know what kinds of things you need to be doing a week from now, for example, so start doing them now or whenever you have a free moment in your day. I felt a little silly making lecture videos in May that will air in my fall courses in December, but I am so happy that I am starting fall with all of the content I will be teaching fully built and ready to go. Not having to create content during the semester lets me spend my time engaging with my students—through their writing, for example, in conferences, and in meaningful, collaborative ways.

Working well in advance of a deadline also removes the pressure you feel as a deadline approaches. For me, the key to keeping things going smoothly is to put my own oxygen mask on first, so getting work done early helps a ton.

Resist the tyranny of the camera

I have a ton of calls and meetings for work, and instead of turning on the camera, I have a lovely head shot of myself that pops onto the screen. Your colleagues do not need to see you eating a sandwich or folding laundry or chopping veggies or reading emails. It is entirely possible to be an active contributor to a meeting and be doing something else with your eyes or hands at the same time.

We are all real people with real lives that we are living in the same spaces where we work. Women, especially, have flexible jobs (or perceive our jobs to be flexible). Asking for ninety-minutes of on-camera time is a big ask, and one that I think is kind of elitist. Not everyone has a workspace they want to share on camera, you know?

Share the burden any way you can

My husband can go pick up a grocery order on a lunch break sometimes, depending on his meeting schedule, and this is a great way to share the labor. He can often grill meat for dinner early in the day, and he always does the dinner prep and cooking at the end of his day. He is the designated laundry put away guy each evening (we do laundry every darn day— it’s a THING), and we both switch the laundry all day long, heralding the dryer buzzer’s siren song. Before he sits down to work for the day, he also cleans up the boys’ rooms and tidies up the family room, while I do our daughter’s room and wipe down all the bathrooms. We try to make sure we clean up before bed, too, so every day we start with a fresh clean house, which helps our work days go more smoothly. We do our best to split all of the housework 50/50, but I have more time in the course of a day to do odd cleaning jobs here or there.

Delegate TO THE CHILDREN

Everyone clears their own plates. Everyone makes their own beds. The oldest mows the lawn. The older 2 walk the dog and take care of the trash on garbage day, etc. Little things like this go a long way.

Make Daily To-Dos

When school is in session, I make a to-do list for each kid based on the weekly emails their teachers send out. I print these out and we keep them in the kitchen where both parents and the kids can see them. This is SO HELPFUL because we can make sure everyone is getting everything done, and we can both be school supervisors. It’s also easy to develop a routine this way. We know who can do what by themselves and what tasks require tech support. These lists also let the kids take charge of their own learning and their own schedules in a way the frees us up considerably.

Pack lunches

That way, you can zone out and do your own work over the lunch hour. The kids can eat their lunches and clean them up like they would at school. We also have recess, which means I get a good 90 minutes of work time midday, another place where I can do those thoughtful tasks that need to happen distraction-free. We LOVE Planet Box lunchboxes for this—environmentally friendly, easy to eat anywhere (the kids love any meal eaten outside), and easy to throw in the dishwasher when you are done eating.

Plan a treat

Sometimes this is a walk with my husband while we leave all the kids home. Sometimes this is a book I cannot wait to read. Sometimes, this is an ice cream cone on the couch. I just need to have a little something at the end of every day that I can look forward to, you know?

These are long days, my friends, but it is possible to have both a demanding career and a bunch of kids remote learning under your roof. What kinds of tips and tricks did I miss? I would love to hear them below.

Sarah Jedd
Sarah Jedd has a Ph.D. in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches and studies the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. Sarah has 4 children between 14 and 7, three boys and an oh-look-you-finally-got-your girl (why does everyone say that?). In her spare time (ha! as if!) she is writing a memoir, and she blogs at harrytimes.blogspot.com. Find her oversharing on Instagram @sarahjedd. Sarah and her husband and their kids and world’s laziest dog live in Verona.

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