Looks like we’ll be hosting home school and working from home for some time to come. Here’s some help from those that have been there.
It looks like we’ll all be combining working from home and homeschool for some time to come. For many, if not most, working dads that’s a daunting prospect. Just because we did it before back in the spring doesn’t make it easier this time round.
But hopefully we can help. Along with workingmums.co.uk editor Mandy Garner we talk to many parents who combine work with childcare. Every one has a different way of managing it. And each will confirm it comes with plenty of challenges.
Ultimately you have to find what works for you based on your children. For instance, their ages, personalities and sibling dynamics, your home environment, whether you have any support in the form of a partner or other adult living with you or an understanding employer, what your job entails etc.
If early years childcare is shut [as it is in Scotland] your ability to work will depend a lot on your children’s sleep patterns. If they have long naps in the afternoon you can try and get all work involving things like calls or concentration done in that window. That involves very intensive working in those hours. And if your work is entirely call-based and time sensitive that is much more challenging. If your baby does not sleep or only sleeps for short periods of unspecified length this clearly ratchets up the tension. If your baby is still breastfeeding clearly that’s only on mum and it could provide a window to get some work done. But stand ready to take over the childcare once baby is fed. Breastfeeding is a tiring business for your partner.
Toddlers and young children demand attention, making it very difficult to work. Put them in front of a screen and don’t feel guilty if that’s what it takes. It’s no coincidence that Disney+ started at the same time as the first lockdown. There’s tons of kiddie distracting movies there. Alternatively you can do activities with them Perhaps have them sit with you and do their own ‘work’. While your work will be interrupted you may be able to check emails, etc. While they may be wee they can still understand if you explain in advance what you need to do and when they can have your full attention.
You could try to do any work involving concentration and planning in the hours when they are asleep, e.g, evenings. Young kids generally go to bed nice and early at least. (Though, of course not all play ball on that front!) Another option is to get ahead of the game and start work very early, devise a shift system with your partner. If you’ve no partner and your work is time sensitive perhaps it’s time to request furlough from your employer. Though they don’t have to grant such a request.
If you have lots of conference calls, make sure you are well acquainted with the mute button. Hopefully, most employers will be lenient about children drifting in and out of video calls.
Different children can understand different things at different ages so you may be able to explain in a way that they understand why they need to keep quiet at particular times [a sense that they are part of the team and that you need to make it to the next level…] and even develop some sort of frenetic signalling system.
Of course, you may have a combination of different-aged children and sibling rivalry to contend with. Make use of the exercise time you are allowed under lockdown and get out if you can. It can make the world of difference in terms of that nervous energy children have that leads to fights and general pandemonium. Regular breaks in the day can also help – lunch, exercise, activity, bedtime, etc – as much for you as for them. Getting to the next break can seem more achievable than getting to the end of the day. As children get older you can consider locking yourself in the bathroom to take important calls and other desperate measures.
Teenagers are a whole different ballgame. You can usually guarantee the morning is free for work! But you may find it difficult getting them motivated about doing school work, or anything at all during the day. Inevitably you’ll have worries about their long-term mental health…and your own. As with all things, venting to others in a similar situation helps. WhatsApp and Facebook groups can be a lifesaver in such situations. The chances are you’re not the only one and it helps to share. (Developing a very dark line in humour might also help!).
Remember, above all, that getting through each day of homeworking/homeschooling/childcare is a mini miracle. Some days will be harder than others and you will get less done.
But bear in mind that, if you can do this, you must at least have earned the equivalent of a first class honours in child psychology and you can certainly take on the world – when it returns to being bigger than the size of your living room…