This series is authored by Shalyn Bravens, Director of Family Connects Texas. Shalyn has been with United Way for Greater Austin for more than two years and launched the Family Connects Texas initiative in Austin. Shalyn received her MSSW from the University of Texas and has expertise in family support that spans beyond her time at United Way.
Shalyn is also a mom raising two young boys with her husband. Some of the tips referenced in this blog involve help from her husband and may not be applicable to everyone’s lifestyle. Take it away, Shalyn!
I want to acknowledge that my ability to transfer my job to an entirely work-from-home situation is an enormous privilege. If you have lost your job or income and are struggling to meet your family’s basic needs, that comes first before anything else. There are many people and organizations in our community that has stepped up to help, and you can find them by searching on ConnectATX.org or by calling 2-1-1.
I want to start by saying that I’m not an expert in working at home with children. I’m a modern working mom and balancing parenting two young boys with a full time job. As you can imagine juggling working and parenting was already hard before this pandemic confined us all to our home. As many of us begin our fourth (or fifth – I’ve lost track) week of working from home, I want to share a few ideas with you that have helped me navigate these last few weeks.
Talk with your supervisor about expectations.
As a supervisor myself, it can be challenging to know how to support team members from afar. Open communication is helpful all around! If you are comfortable doing so, be open with your supervisor about the amount of work that you can actually do and what tasks you might need to shift to other team members. Also, ask for clear expectations about how you should document your work, what deliverables might have changed, and how you can help your organization best weather this crisis.
Shake up how you get work done.
Figure out which tasks can be done from a phone instead of a computer and schedule those for when the kids are awake. I can talk to folks I supervise, listen and contribute to a meeting that I’m not leading, and respond to questions from my phone while the kids are snacking, playing with blocks, or making huge messes (this is the most common scenario).
Zoom has a mobile app that has proven very useful – and you don’t always have to turn your camera on! My favorite option is to walk around the backyard while talking on the phone because the kids usually entertain themselves fairly well out there and we all get the bonus Vitamin D.
Get creative with your time.
Reserve tasks like working on documents, leading meetings, or anything that requires more focus for naptime, after the kids go to sleep, or when your partner – if you have one – can be with the kids. Knowing yourself is important here. I’m not a morning person, so I’d rather work after bedtime than earlier in the morning.
Work smarter, not harder.
If you are co-parenting with a partner, try to give each other larger chunks of time dedicated to work. I have friends who have split shifts with morning or afternoon child care, and others have used calendars to work out when they are on child care duty. My husband and I have done a little of both. Most of our projects involve outside collaborators, which means we have less control over when meetings are scheduled so we trade off child care throughout the day.
Talk with your children.
Create a loose schedule and let your children know what to expect each day. If you have more meetings than usual or a big deadline coming up that will cause stress, tell them about it and ask them to be “big helpers.” An example might be, “I’m going to be talking on the phone a lot this morning, and I could really use your help! After nap we can do something special together.”
Recognize where the limits are.
Remember you are human, your partner – if you have one – is human, and your littles are human. Our hardest days around here are turning out to be Fridays. The kids want more attention, the stress of splitting my time gets to me, and we’ve all had too much screen time. I’m learning not to expect Fridays to be the most productive work days of the week.
If you are currently parenting, working, and trying not to completely stress out all at the same time, you’re in good company. Parents across the country are all suddenly thrust into this new reality that will last for at least another month. But probably longer. We need to get things done, we need ideas to keep our kids busy, and we need a break. We are all in this together. Reach out for help if you need it, because in times of uncertainty, none of us can do it alone.
Working from home with kids takes more than just navigating when you can squeeze in productive time. Stay tuned for more tips from Shalyn about how she’s adjusting things to make this time more enjoyable for everyone in the next two editions of this three-part blog series.
Have tips for working from home with children? Want to share what’s been working for you? Let us know in the comments.
Read part two here.