- Due to widespread school closings and recommendations to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents are suddenly adjusting to telecommuting and homeschooling.
- Many families have no additional support since they've given caregivers time off to minimize coronavirus exposure.
- Parents say balancing both responsibilities is overwhelming, but they've come up with a number of tips to help make it through the day.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
About half of US schools have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving nearly 30 million children to learn from home, and millions of people are now working remotely. That means many parents have suddenly had to adjust to telecommuting while also developing an education program in the house.
At the same time, many families are giving their caregivers paid time off to limit their exposure to the coronavirus. It's difficult to turn to grandparents for help since older people are at a higher risk for developing coronavirus-related complications, and dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
As a result, most couples have no choice but to take turns working and sharing childcare responsibilities. For single parents, the entire burden falls on their shoulders.
Insider spoke to a number of parents who all said that the adjustment has been challenging.
"Sometimes it's impossible to do both and that's OK," Amy Wasserman, a working mother who has a 6-month-old, said.
But parents also say that they have no choice but to try to adapt.
Insider collected 14 tips from working parents who are figuring out how to be productive in this new normal.
It may be tempting to just roll out of bed and take your Zoom meetings bra-less and in sweats, but many people who have long worked from home recommend putting on a fresh set of clothing — not necessarily a full face of makeup and blown out hair, but at least pants that zip. It will get you into a working mode.
"It may sound silly, but get dressed as if you're going to the office," said Nick Post, who works for a software company in Denver. "This helps mitigate the 'home distraction' and also makes one feel in a mindset for work."
Create a dedicated workspace
If your home doesn't have a formal office, you still can — and should — find a way to carve out your own designated space to work, said Renee Wilson, who works for a software company in San Diego. That could just be a corner of the living room, or it could mean taking calls in the bathroom, if that's the only quiet space you have available.
Dedicating a spot for completing assignments is crucial because it might signal to your children that they shouldn't just barrel into that area whenever they want (though it also might not work). But it will at least help keep you focused, and you won't have to constantly try to clear space for your laptop, papers, and other supplies each time you set out to get something done.
Just don't work in your bedroom if you can avoid it, because the risk of climbing back under the covers is real. However, if you can swing a nap during the day, do it.
Use a real office chair
It's not yet clear how long people will be advised to avoid the office in any given city. But even if it ends up being a brief period, it's still worth investing in an actual office chair so you don't spend your days hunched over a dining room chair or couch, said Jennifer Yonesawa.
Adjust your hours, if possible
Trying to get work done while your kids around is like trying to read a book in a nightclub, except instead of listening to Alesso, it's a steady stream of whining, fighting, and periods of quiet that are likely more alarming than hearing kids jump off furniture.
Parents who have more flexible schedules say they've adjusted their hours to work when their children are busy or sleeping. Freelance writer and homeschool parent Tonya Abari told Insider that she gets most of her done work in the early mornings from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. If your child still naps, that's one of the most opportune times in the day to be productive.
Schedule as much of your day as you can
Set an alarm for each event you have throughout the day, including meetings, deadlines, your children's courses, a break for air, a shower, and lunch so you don't get sucked into the timeless at-home work abyss. You'll be more likely to stick your routine, complete assignments, and also take time off, Jennifer Hertrich, an account manager for Steelcase, told NPR.
It's inevitable that at the moment you settle in for a meeting, your baby will protest a nap and shriek for all your co-workers to hear. Or just as you're getting into a rhythm for a project, your kid will need a snack, a hug, help with WiFi, or want to know how airplanes fly. It's frustrating and disruptive, but this is what life looks like right now. Stop apologizing and don't feel guilty.
Give your kids 'work' to do
Your children, especially the younger ones, will want to be just like mom and day, so set them up with a work station too. Hand them an old computer, if you have one, or a toy one to tinker with. Tricia MacKenzie said that she set her third grader up with an email address, so she can reach out to her grandparents and friends.
Use your phone's mute button
A lot of parents with young children say their little ones are so excited about the new setup that they haven't left their parents' side. If your baby wants to cuddle up with you when you're about to start a meeting, hit the mute button to spare your co-workers from your child's musings, and unmute when you need to pipe in.
When you have a really important meeting, lock the door. There will be banging. There will be crying. You can just pretend that it's noisy construction.
Give you kids a heads up before something important
Before an important work event at home, tell your kids that you're going to need some uninterrupted time alone, Kyle Cupp, who writes about human resources, said on Twitter. You can set a timer so they're more prepared for it, and also put them in front of a show to keep them occupied, if none of those creative Instagram activities you offered them are working.
Under normal circumstances, it's advisable to limit your kids' exposure to screentime. These circumstances are not normal. If you need to allow your child to watch a few extra shows or zone out on Tik Tok so you can get work done and continue to help support the family, that's OK, Katherine Wilson, a mother of two who lives in Rome, Italy, said.
But if it's really making you anxious, see if there's another adult available to watch alongside your child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that can make the experience more engaging and worthwhile.
Turn on video for Zoom and Hangouts
Make an effort to show your face during Zoom and Hangout meetings, said Nicola Medeira, who works for a software company in San Francisco. You'll have a more sincere connection with your co-workers that way. But if you're embarrassed that your office space is messy — because you should've found time to clean in between working, cooking, teaching, directing activities, breaking up fights, submitting to "Paw Patrol" and explaining what a pandemic is without inciting panic in your kids — there's a solution for that.
Set a different background in Zoom, like Hogwarts.
Start a quiet time for your kids
If your kids don't take naps, you can still put 30 minute to an hour of "quiet time" on the schedule after they've gotten some exercise, and done some work and could actually use a rest, Katharine Reid, a writer and mother, suggested on Facebook. Give them some books and stickers, if that's age appropriate, and turn on some calm music. It'll give you a solid block of time to get work done.
Meal prep or just heat up chicken nuggets
If you're really into cooking fresh and innovative meals, and have the time and energy for it, that's a great gift you can offer your family. Meal preparation programs like Prep and Rally can help you plan out an entire week's worth of dishes.
If you are feeling rundown and don't have the strength to roast a chicken, that's understandable. These are tough times and your children may appreciate ordering in, which is still considered safe, or eating chicken nuggets or pizza from the freezer.
Appreciate this time with your kids
We're facing an uncertain time.
But amid this new work-homeschool life, where there are going to be many frustrating moments, there are also going to be chances to take a walk, cuddle, sing a song, and have a snack with your child in the middle of a workday that wasn't possible before.
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