I’ve been working full-time from home for the past five years. Not only do I do that with my 1-year-old and 5-year-old in tow, but for the past two years my husband has been a stay-at-home dad. That means many days, my family of four is all together in one big, happy self-distancing experiment that’s been going since well before coronavirus.
Along the way, I’ve learned how to survive extended family time, parenting ideals be damned. Here’s how to get through:
There is no celebration in parenting books about the blessed milestone that comes when your kid is old enough to accept bribes. And yet, this is the greatest of gifts. Conference call? Time for a lollipop, in exchange for silence. Older kids complaining about babysitting their siblings? Offer extra cash for gas. A little bribery can go a long way toward making your days flow more smoothly.
When my oldest was a toddler, people commented constantly on how well she could entertain herself. That’s because she was stuck home with me all day and I was working, with no time to entertain a little tyrant. She learned a lot just by keeping herself occupied. Unfortunately, that skill disappeared when she started school, so we’re currently in an intensive reintroduction period. My advice to you: start how you want to proceed, and don’t provide entertainment.
When you’re at the office and need a moment of clarity in your work day you can sneak off for a coffee or (gasp) use the toilet without anyone else barging in. At home, you’ve forfeited those luxuries. Which is why it is essential that everyone has an hour of quiet time in the early afternoon. Whether the kids sleep or not, having an hour for everyone (including you) to be quiet and still will make you much more productive and kind for the rest of the day.
We all have ideals about how clean our house should be and how well-presented we should look. Hear me now: let them go. Yes, it’s important to have routine. Yes, it’s important to shower and dress daily (fancy leggings or regular leggings, your choice). And yet, inevitably, with the family at home and work pressures to balance, there is going to be some chaos. If the kids are alive, work is done and you haven’t said anything unforgivable to your family, you are winning.
No, not your actual co-workers with whom you have to stay somewhat professional. And not the kids who are now your office mates. I mean the friends who are also in the thick of it: the ones you can text or chat throughout the day with every snarky, threatening or hilarious thought that you probably shouldn’t verbalize to the people you’re stuck at home with. These women will save your sanity.
Guilt be gone
When you’re balancing family, work and confinement, there’s bound to be some moments that aren’t your best. Ditch the guilt. Now isn’t the time to try to be a Pinterest mom or perfect partner. Instead, be quick to apologize or offer forgiveness, and move on. After all, we’re all trying our best.
Last but not least, at the end of the day reward yourself. A glass of wine, a cup of tea or even a long walk with a good podcast will replenish you for the next day of social distancing.
Kelly Burch is a freelance writer covering finance, family, business and more. When she's not behind the computer she enjoys exploring the lakes and mountains of New Hampshire, where she lives. Connect with Kelly and read more of her work on Facebook or Twitter.