5 things that helped me survive working from home (with kids)
To say the last few months have been a bit chaotic is a bit of an understatement. I’m a mom to two beautiful boys: a teething nine-month-old and a rambunctious four-year-old. I have an aging father who has been battling cancer among some other health concerns the past few years. On top of that, I work full-time. My story probably doesn’t sound too different from many others you know, or perhaps even your own story.
After having my youngest son, I thought I would get to ease back into work after maternity leave. I thought I’d come back around the holidays, adjust to the new norm during a quieter time (at least for my department), and just enjoy life as we now knew it. And I did…for the first three months.
Then, COVID-19 struck and suddenly life became even more chaotic.
Wisconsin issued “safer at home” orders in mid-March, which took our daycare’s capacity down to 50 students and 10 teachers. Our offices implemented remote work. And all “non-essential” activities stopped—no eating out, no haircuts (yikes) and no communal playground equipment or playdates to entertain the little ones. To be clear, this is not to criticize the strict measures implemented; I support them (as I mentioned, I have an immunocompromised father, and I myself am a congenital heart defect survivor).
Nonetheless, it’s a tough situation that many people have faced. Do you keep the kids home? How do you handle care? How do you work effectively? What if my kid throws an epic tantrum on a call (which, by the way, did happen in a call with our CEO)?
In the end, due to our own personal situation, my husband and I opted to keep the kids home while we both worked from home. Here’s what helped us survive:
1. Happy Hour: Just kidding…but it probably got your attention. Truth is, video calls with friends, family and co-workers have been a life-saver. I’ve connected with people from across the country. Sometimes it’s happy hours, sometimes it’s trivia, and sometimes it’s heart-to-hearts. Regardless of platform, virtual meetups can provide some of the social connection we’ve been missing. I’ve learned new, fun facts about my colleagues. I’ve met our team’s new “co-workers.” And I’ve discussed weddings, caring for aging parents, and—one of the hottest topics—how the heck to manage kids and working full-time. Communication has been more intentional and more authentic. What was once done through a text or email or simple phone call now has now become a more meaningful interaction.
2. Flexibility: When it came to work, I was fortunate to have options; not everyone does. My work was supportive regardless of what I chose to do. My boss encouraged me to do what made sense for me and my family, even before safer at home orders were in place. The flexibility to make my own decision was huge. And our IT department set us up with the infrastructure to support remote work early—meaning I could work “as normal” from anywhere with no lost time.
Even as we look at going back into the office, I still have options. I have the flexibility to determine whether or not going back in June makes sense for me. I have the flexibility to decide if sending the kids back to daycare makes sense during this time of uncertainty. And I have the flexibility—kids or not—to decide if I personally feel comfortable going back during the COVID-19 pandemic. When all is said and done, I even have the flexibility to decide if remote work makes sense for me longer term.
3. Supportive co-workers: Though my boss was on board, I wasn’t sure if the rest of the company would be. I always knew we were family-oriented, but I didn’t realize just how deep this value runs in our company. I found that everyone truly accepted my whole life—not just the life they saw in the walls of an office environment. I’ve had calls with debuts from a four-year-old and nine-month-old in some rather embarrassing situations, and my co-workers didn’t flinch at all. They leaned into the situation and got to know my family—the good and bad.
In fact, I remember I received a phone call from our Chief Human Resources Officer and was in the middle of changing a (very) dirty diaper. I answered as I was expecting the call. Needless to say, she was fine with me calling her back, and we definitely got a good laugh out of it.
4. In-laws: Unlike many, we’ve had enormous support from our in-laws to help watch the children during the workday. They’ve been the only two people we’ve seen over the past few months, and I can’t even begin to explain my gratitude for them. If it weren’t for them, I’d have many more child debuts on critical meetings, and many more gray hairs. I am eternally grateful.
5. Trust: Without a work environment built on trust, I’m not sure working from home works. Having a culture built on trust allows people to be empowered—to do the right thing and get the job done. You need to trust everyone is getting their work done despite the home distractions they may face. You need to trust that people are staying focused. You just need to trust people. And when you do, you see some of the highest productivity and creative results ensue. Working from different environments also gives us all the opportunity to think in a different context, which creates some really great ideas. I’ve been lucky to have that trust.
As I close this off, I should note we have toys strewn throughout the house. I have one kid ripping up a paper towel and giggling, and one who’s now running around convinced he’s a superhero. At the moment, a certain amount of chaos seems to be the “norm.” But one of the best things to come out of this experience is that I know my company values my family, values me, and trusts me to do the right thing.