“Mom, you don’t need to freak out.”
This has become the refrain in my house, a mantra on repeat from my three-year-old. My kids don’t seem to understand what I do at the Museum. As collections manager, my job is essentially to know where things are and find them when needed. I like to think I’m good at it, too. I practice at home, albeit without a database. As it turns out, my children are less than interested in organizing stuff. Needless to say, it’s driving me crazy. So, yes, I “freak out” from time to time; but when you’re working from home with kids it’s hard to separate work life and family life.
I entered into this new social construct with all the optimism I could muster, for which I blame my midwestern roots. I give myself a gold star for having a mindful approach to this new unknown. My daughter and I made a schedule and brainstormed activity ideas, but unfortunately, the reality isn’t matching up to our initial sunny outlook. If you, too, are working remotely with your kids as your new coworkers, maybe you can relate.
During the past few weeks of working-from-home-school, I have devoured every article I can about how to both do my work productively and keep my kids engaged during this tumultuous time. While I no longer work at the kitchen table and my children’s online class times (virtual circle time for my three-year-old) have been added to our daily routine, I can’t say we’ve mastered our new lifestyle. Far from it.
1. Keeping young kids busy requires a good deal of adult participation
For example: Setting up the computer for online learning activities, prepping materials for hands-on activities and then cleaning up, sitting alongside our son during circle time, etc. The energy it takes to switch from work mode to homeschool and back again repeatedly takes a toll. For better or worse, this challenge was solved by layoffs at my husband’s company. Yeah, full-time parent at home. Even with this “perk,” we try to break up the day so that I have time with the kids and my husband gets time-off. Some days this goes better than others. Hello, Zoom meeting marathons. Mostly, like with any commitment, this means I have to build homeschool time into my schedule, put it on the calendar, and log off my computer at the appointed time. It’s a work in progress.
2. My children don’t seem to see me or my husband as the authority figures
Offering an activity with markers, stencils, and paper leads to them emptying out all of the art supplies. Asking them not to interrupt my virtual meetings is viewed as a personal affront whereby I’m depriving my colleagues of their presence. And inviting them on a walk or bike ride around the block leads to an impasse when they refuse to wear jackets because the sun is out despite the temperature still being in the 40s. (“But it was hot yesterday!) How do I avoid these situations without a perceived or actual “freak out”?
One blog post I found that addresses problem-solving at home during this time could have come from my colleagues in the exhibits department: design thinking. In the post, author Katie Krummeck offers the question “How might we…?” as a prompt for reframing a problem as an opportunity. Just as my daughter and I initially brainstormed ideas for activities to do, we can now use HMW questions to brainstorm and prototype solutions to better get through our days. One prototype we’ll be trying is a stop sign for my office door to alert the kids to meetings in progress. (Fingers crossed that it doesn’t end up serving as an invitation.)
Make it fun
While brainstorming family solutions is one problem-solving method, focusing on cooperation is another. This idea comes from authors Joanna Faber and Julie King in their book How to Talk so Little Kids will Listen (just one of the tips in this excellent resource). Recently my son gleefully dumped a storage container full of legos on the floor. We could hear him hard at work on this project and noted there would need to be clean up. Moments later he asked for help. Instead of begrudgingly assisting, I offered him a large bowl and suggested we see how many legos he could pick up in one minute. He happily started to clean up by himself and reported back when the minute was up. As there were more legos on the floor, I reset the timer for another minute and he went back to work. Turning the task into a cooperative game meant everything was cleaned up with no tears or yelling. It’s a small win, but a win nonetheless. Celebrate it! Admittedly, this approach takes effort. It’s hard to turn each chore into a form of play, but I find I have the chance to practice daily and eventually I’ll get there.
In the past few weeks, I haven’t found a magical answer to make working from home with kids easier. I’m certainly not an expert. As noted, I tend to “freak out.” What I hope to offer here is the acknowledgment that this is hard. Coping with the drastic changes in work and school closures is hard. Finding a new normal is hard. Take it one day at a time.
If you have found a way to make it easier, please let us know by reaching out on Instagram or Facebook or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I for one would love to know what’s working for you. In the meantime, I probably have something to go freak out about. The kids are being too quiet not to be getting into trouble.
PS. You’re doing great!