Working remotely is challenging. But when combined with the full-time job of entertaining, feeding, and caring for my child, I’m overwhelmed and exasperated. As a parent to a boisterous toddler (with another one on the way!), I have no clever manual for how to balance both.
My carefully crafted schedule is thrown out the window, idealized parenting techniques ignored, and hours of once-forbidden screen-time consumed. There’s no right way to deal with a crisis like this, but I’ve learned quite a few lessons- and so have my team members at Lemonade.
Here are some tried and true hacks that can make the difference between a good day and an awful one. They won’t all work for every family or child, but they may help ease some of your strain as we all navigate these new changes, responsibilities, and schedules.
1. Come up with a game plan
Have a conversation with your partner in childcare and come up with a schedule for your own work. I try hard not to get caught up in maintaining the way things used to be. These are unchartered waters, and we’ve got to make do with what we can.
I recommend creating shift work and setting up a designated workspace. Choose a spot in your home that is quiet and comfortable. I’ve found our garden table to be a great temporary office. No solution is going to be perfect, so if something doesn’t work, get creative, and try again.
Of course, all of this applies to your partner’s work as well, Avital Schreiber-Levy, a parenting performance coach, told me. Honoring both of your work times (and personal ‘me’ time) is vital to your family as a whole. Schreiber-Levy said it best:
“It’s simply impossible to multitask parenting and important work, and it would not do either of your roles justice to try.”
Tell your partner how you can protect their work time, and help them do the same for you. This is a great time to shine together.
For one of my team members Silvi S., noise-canceling headphones are her tool of choice:
“When I wore headphones at work, my team knew I was in the zone. Now, I use the same signal with my partner at home,” she said.
I’ve also found that it helps to be picky with Zoom calls, which have the potential to eat up all of your working hours. Decide which calls are essential, and which ones can be solved without a meeting.
2. Teach your children to play alone
Looking back, my pre-corona lifestyle had been pretty hectic, especially for my toddler. This experience made me realize that he demands a lot of attention and constant interaction. Because of this, I’m trying to lean into independent play, which can have serious benefits- not just for his own development, but for my necessary blocks of child-free time to work.
Allocate a specific block of time to play with your children, recommends Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., author of Playful Parenting. The key is to show up with no plan. Let your kids lead, but encourage their play. Once time is up, the kids tend to continue alone, feeling good about themselves.
Thankfully, you don’t need to supervise your kid’s play the whole time. Schreiber-Levy can help you master this balance with her Play Guide, which offers practical resources to play with kids during lockdown.
Dr. Cohen also recommends being involved as your child plays. For instance, I give my toddler a challenge: Setting up a tea party in a tent we built for him. Once I free up, I take the time to enjoy playing in the tent with him. So if your kid wants your attention when you’re busy, challenge them to something you can participate in later.
3. Schedule, schedule, schedule
In case you didn’t already know, routines can improve your health- and they don’t always need to be ‘boring.’ Until this crisis, I didn’t know how much I needed a good ol’ routine. They can give your kids a sense of security, especially during a crisis.
“A predictable routine allows children to feel safe, and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives,” I read in Aha Parenting, a popular parenting blog.
One of my colleagues, Jorge E., Lemonade’s Chief Business Development Officer, confirmed this- he finds that scheduling blocks of family time throughout the day helps him maintain a balance between work and kids.
When chatting with Yael C., VP of BizOps at Lemonade, she recommended creating a schedule that combines play and learning:
“We give stickers for studying language, math, and science throughout the week. If you get 15 stickers a week, you get to go to ‘the treasure box.’ There, you can pick one item, usually small LEGO sets or puzzles.”
Schedules aren’t only vital for kids- they also help create some routine in our own lives. Some of the most famous writers, like T.S Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, depended on a set daily routine for success, according to the Harvard Business Review.
That’s why I set an alarm every day, get dressed, make my coffee, and head to my designated workspace.
A full day of commuting, work, and social commitments always exhausts me (and my toddler). But staying indoors all day long doesn’t quite eat up the same energy levels. Good luck with nap time, right?
I’m lucky enough to have an outside area, so I try to encourage active play as much as possible. For those who don’t, Schreiber-Levy recommends creating a safe space inside for kids to tumble:
“Clear away furniture and then pile up soft things, like pillows, cushions, yoga mats, and sleeping bags. With any luck, the kids will end up making a fort that keeps them entertained for hours.”
While your kids blow out some energy, make sure you do the same for yourself. Keeping up with regular exercise can actually boost your immune system, according to a recent study by the University of Bath.
You don’t need a fancy gym, either. I get creative in my home – I’ll run up and down the stairs (or hall) or turn on music and have a dance party. If you prefer classes, just Zoom into your favorite pilates or yoga teachers — my sister is a personal trainer and is offering all her classes right now for free (shameless plug!).
5. Embrace technology
Ever since I gave birth, I’ve been debating screen time- and made a pact with my partner to ban screens for as long as possible. But according to The New York Times, the debate is well and truly over. The winner? Screens.
I’ve found technology is now my best friend as I juggle a full-time job and parental responsibilities. Naturally, small babies are in a different category, but leveraging technology in the right way for kids who are two and older can be a lifesaver.
After chatting with other Lemonade parents, I discovered Storyline Online – an incredible resource with popular kids books read by actors. This little trick encourages literacy, while freeing up some much-needed time while I work.
PBS Kids is another useful resource, says Alex M., one of Lemonade’s outstanding office admins (psst: she’s a reason Lemonade was voted one of the best places to work). Thankfully, my kid is still in preschool, but if your kids are a little older and you want to provide schooling, try Outschool, a platform with over 10,000 live online classes for ages 3-18.
If you’re missing out on a good dose of culture, some of the world’s most famous museums have opened their virtual doors to kids via livestream. Or encourage your kids to pick up a new skill; Itamar K., one of Lemonade’s Senior Fullstack Engineers, has his three kids learning Arabic live with a teacher and other kids from around the world.
Sure, you might prefer not having your kid attached to a screen for 12 hours a day, but I taught myself not to stress about it right now. Technology has been a lifeline for us to the outside world, connecting us with grandparents and aunts who live overseas – and we all have enough going on to not take advantage of that.
Breathe in, breathe out
Make no mistake, this is a challenging time for all of us. I’ve been looking at (what appears to be) smug parents practicing flawless homeschooling on Instagram, and fallen down the “I’m the worst parent in the world” hole since I don’t enjoy having my kid around me 24/7. But a word of advice- don’t feel pressured to enjoy this. We all love our kids!
Everyone deals with a crisis differently, and it doesn’t help to compare ourselves to anyone else. Our focus should remain on keeping everyone at home as safe and happy as possible in this difficult time. We’re all doing our best.