Working From Home…with Kids

Before I worked for SQLskills, I worked for a software company, Hyland Software.  One of the best things about working at Hyland was the Child Enrichment Center (CEC).  It was a day care until the kids were about 3, and then it was Montessori-based learning until the kids “graduated” and went off to kindergarten.  The CEC hours were 7AM to 6PM every work day, and the teacher to child ratio was about 1:8.  And it was on site.

Both of my kids were born when I worked at Hyland; my oldest is now 15, my youngest is 13.  When my kids were babies, I could go down during the day to breast feed, and during the 7 years they were there, I could go down and visit them…at any time.  I knew my kids were safe, they were well-taken care of, and they were happy.  I would tell the teachers, as often as I could, that the reason I could do my job so well was because they did their job so well.  I could never put a price on that.

Fast-forward almost eight years later and I have two teenagers, and there is a lot that’s the same.  When the kids are at school during the day, I know they are safe and taken care of, and for the most part they are happy.  As such, I can focus on work.  This changes when they are home.  I know they are safe and taken care of, but now I need to make sure they are not bored.  It is much easier do this when they are 13 and 15 compared to 6 and 8.  But, I need to know that they have something to do, because otherwise I am not effective at work.  If half of my brain is thinking about them, I am not fully focused on what I need to do.

For the last two years, in the summer, they have attended a few camps, visited different friends, and are home.  We make it work, and my days can be crazy because sometimes I have to take the kids somewhere, or they have friends at the house.  If the next few weeks were going to be like summer, it would a routine with which I’m familiar.  But starting today, they are home for at least three weeks, probably more.  Last Thursday the governor of Ohio announced that schools would be closing for three weeks to try and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  These next two weeks are spring break for my kids, and the third week they will “attend” school through online learning.

Note: I fully support this move, but it does make working from home a bit more challenging than usual because there are no camps, and my kids will not be going to anyone else’s house, and none of their friends will be coming here.

What We’re Doing

In addition to normal working from home challenges when the kids are here, I have to make sure they have enough to stay busy (physically and mentally).  And if they don’t, I won’t be able to focus.  I’ll admit that I’m winging it, but here is the plan so far…

I know that the younger the kids, the more involved the parent has to be.  I’m fortunate mine can truly fend for themselves in terms of getting dressed, eating, etc.  However, they are still teenagers, and they need rules, structure, and direction. 

First, everyone is operating on a loose schedule.  We’re starting with bedtime and wake up, because otherwise they will morph into complete night owls and then getting back on a “normal” school schedule will be dreadful.  So, in bed by 10PM, up by 10AM.  I know 12 hours seems like a lot for sleep, but the 13-year old needs her sleep.  This is a time for her to catch up.  It also means that I will get up early and have a few hours to myself to get work done.

The 10PM bed time means that if anyone wants to watch a movie, it has to be started by 8PM.  The rest of the schedule doesn’t have specific times (this is their spring break, so they get this time off from schoolwork), but these are things I want them to do each day for the first two weeks:

  • Clean up their room (nothing on the floor, put clean clothes away) and make their bed.
  • Spend at least 30-60 minutes reading or listening to a new book.
  • Spend 30-60 minutes outside (if it’s raining, do your best). For my 13-year-old this means going on a walk with me and the dogs, getting in some of her training for spring track, or playing volleyball outside (with another family member).  Inside, she can hit the volleyball against the wall in the basement.  For the 15-year-old, it means playing catch (baseball) or hitting off the tee, or going for a walk.  I told them if they want to go for a bike ride or a hike, we can do that.  We will practice good social distancing when in outdoor public spaces.
  • Make their own breakfast and lunch – this is a good opportunity to develop some new cooking skills. I will try to eat lunch with them when I can.
  • Help with cleaning – vacuum, mop, laundry, wipe down door handles and light-switches, empty dishwasher, etc.
  • Spend 30-60 minutes of family time (e.g. play a board game). This does not include eating dinner together, which we do anyway.

Individual Differences

These are some ideas to get us started, but you’re probably looking at this list and realizing it doesn’t fill an entire day.  I KNOW.  The 15-year-old will spend a lot of time online playing games with his friends.  For now, I’m ok with that because he gets social interaction and that’s good.  In terms of internet bandwidth – for some people that may be a problem, but I have a separate line I use so it’s usually fine.  However, there are times where I have kicked them off the internet and told they cannot play games or stream anything until I’m done.  He’s also started creating videos for his YouTube channel related to all these online video games.  I’m all about creativity and improving any technical skills, so this is fine in my opinion.

The 15-year-old also tends to hibernate in his room; I don’t know if this is an introvert thing, or a teenage boy thing, or both.  But we have to work to get him to do stuff with the family.

I am most concerned about my 13-year-old because she’s an extrovert.  She needs time with people.  For her I’m encouraging FaceTiming with her friends, and with my mom, as much as she wants.  She has an art station where I expect she will spend a lot of time painting, and I plan to make time during the day to do something with her.

My Plan

If you’re wondering when I’m going to get the part about how I work from home with kids…this is it.  I have to have a plan for them.  My schedule changes daily.  Sometimes I have a lot of calls or dial-ins, sometimes I don’t.  I am planning to write my schedule on our chalkboard each day, so they know when I am absolutely not available.  I can also close my office door (which I don’t do that often because there is always a dog that wants in or out).  I will try to get as much as I can done before they wake up.  I will also be working later in to the day, because I’m expecting more breaks.

Again, even though the kids are pretty independent and can fend for themselves, having them at home is a distraction, even if they don’t need me.  It’s a constant battle in my head.  When school starts again, and they have to do remote learning, the days will change in that they will have a larger to-do list, and we will probably create more of a schedule.  Most of the school work can be done independently, but my 13-year-old sometimes needs help because she is dyslexic.  However, the help I have to provide is nothing compared to having a 7-year-old at home.

Lastly, even though I’ve mostly talked about what they need, I am well aware of what I need.  First, I have to workout.   I need physical activity for my mind as much as for my health.  I will probably knock that out first thing each day (and I’m no longer going to the gym, so that means a strength or yoga workout at home, or a run outside).  Second, I need breaks from being with the kids.  I am an introvert, and I need time to myself where I am not working.  This will be my biggest challenge.  I have a list of things I like to do: baking, puzzles, yard work, reading.  I need to make sure that I block off 30-60 minutes a day for one of those things.  If I’m not taking care of myself, I won’t be able to take care of anyone else.

If you work from home with kids, feel free to share additional suggestions below.  If you have a blog, write a post!  I am sure there are plenty of folks in this situation looking for ideas.  Best of luck to everyone who is doing as much as they can while working from home in the current state of the world.  It’s a very unpredictable time, but we can get through it.  Be kind, stay calm, and please don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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