• Mel

Quarantine with Toddlers: 8 Tips To Help You Survive Working at Home with Kids


Understatement of the year: Working at home with kids is tough.


Some days you'll manage it all and feel pretty damn accomplished by the end of the day. Other days... you'll be trying to focus and even contribute to an important meeting with a fussy baby in your arms, while helping your toddler poop.


Inevitably, someone will awkwardly remind you that you've forgotten to mute your microphone as you encouraged your son to "be patient and let the poops come when their ready". Yes, your face will burst into a beautiful shade of tomato red at this point as you apologize to your team.


Since you have a new headset you might not know how to mute yourself from the bathroom so you rush to the computer as your toddler reminds you (loudly) to wipe his butt. On the way, you realize your toddler didn't actually make it to the toilet on time like you'd thought and there is a partially smooshed poop on your living room floor which your dog is now contemplating eating. And this is just 2 minutes out of your work day.


It happens. So give yourself a little grace.


When I first decided that I wanted to work from home, I was pregnant with my first baby and delusional with the idea that working from home with a new baby would be... easy?


Without a doubt that was one of the first #rookie ideas I'd have - and he wasn't even born yet. I learned a lot about myself after maternity leave was over.


I learned that I love working and I adore being a mother. I learned that I can be fantastic at either - but never at both simultaneously.


I do not perfectly balance great parenting and a solid work ethic at the same time. I am a perfectionist, I do not like multitasking. I know its possible. I know some women seem to manage it flawlessly. But not me.


When I couldn't hang as a stay-at-home-working-mom with one kid... I knew I sure as hell wasn't going to cut it with two kids. As soon as we were pregnant with our second baby he was on the waitlist for daycare.


So my children went to daycare part time which gave me the best of both worlds. I was still a bill-payer, I still provided a solid chunk of our monthly income, and I still had my boys home with me 2 out of 5 days each work week.


Cue The Rona


[Enter Scene: Rona]


It sounded like a dream at first, didn't it? The one potential upside to COVID: getting to work from home. Until you realized your kids would be there too, and it would be up to you to feed, care for, teach, and play with them, oh - that and your expected workload wouldn't change.


So now you have 2 full time jobs, no breaks, and you may have melted into a basket case once or twice already. I know, me too.


Whether you've been stuck working from home with littles the whole time or daycare is on a temporary closure, you've got a ridiculous amount on your shoulders. If you're anything like me, you're killing yourself with all the things you "should" be doing better.


But here's the thing. This is new to us. Brand new. We did not see this coming and had no idea that we should have prepared for this. So let's start by not berating yourself because you didn't do it perfectly from the start.


Here are some of my tips from the trenches. Take whatever works for you and ignore the rest - because even though "we're all in this together" its still very different for everyone.


Set Realistic Expectations


First, understand that no matter how many tips and tricks you find, this will not be easy. But it can be done, and this can be an intense time of growth and accomplishment for you and your family if you figure out what works for you.


Second, understand that you really are taking on two full time jobs. And they will both demand your attention all day long.


In general, working from home means you don't get to easily put work down at the end of the day. The work is always there, always on your mind, and always accessible. You don't get the chance to leave the office at the end of the day say "I left it at the office, it will have to wait until tomorrow".


Since you're now juggling kids while trying to get work done, expect that you won't be able to zone in for 4-5 hours like you could before. Expect that your day will be very broken up between focused work and parenting... and it doesn't just end at 5PM unless you strictly have scheduled work.


Get Prepared the Night Before


Do everything that you possibly can in advance. I know, this takes away from that glorious Me-Time at the end of long days. But trust me, it's worth it and you'll thank me later.


Once both kids are in bed, figure out what you're going to feed them tomorrow and get it ready. Chop up the veggies for egg scramble or prep Overnight Oats, pack a cold lunch (or get everything set so you only have to heat lunch up, pull out the baby's frozen baby food (if you make your own), and prep as much as you can for tomorrow's dinner.


It sounds awful and time consuming, and sometimes it is at first. But when you don't have to waste your work-day doing these things it is so worth it!


If you can muster up the mental capacity at the end of the day to do this, tomorrow will start out 10 times better.


Wake up Before the Kids

You've already prepped everything before you went to bed, so why on Earth would you force yourself to get up early? Because you need time to yourself. You no longer get to go on much deserved lunch dates with your best friends without the kids. You no longer get to take an afternoon off work to pamper yourself without the kids.


As mama, taking time for yourself was already probably a special treat. Now, it feels nearly impossible to do anything for yourself or by yourself. This is your chance.


I wake up at 4:30AM and start my morning routine well before the kids wake up. How I use this time changes from day to day depending on what I need, but it is the most uninterrupted chunk of time in my whole day.


Some people adore sleep, with a 3 year old and a 7 month old... trust me, I get it.


But this is my chance to read or write, which makes it all worth it. This is my chance to finish the dishes I didn't get to last night so I can start the day with a clean kitchen. This is my chance to get dressed, put on makeup, and even do my hair without interruption. Sometimes this is my chance to really focus on a work project that I need deep concentration for. And if I were a better person, this would be my chance to work out.


For me, this time is critical and keeps me sane.


Set a Routine


Most days, it feels like there is no end of the day. If I am not working I am taking care of the kids, the pets, cleaning, cooking, etc. So figuring out how to manage my time is a hefty piece of the puzzle.


The most important part of creating a schedule for yourself is to make sure you set aside time to work and time to be a great mom. As I mentioned before, I am a great employee and a great mom - but I cannot do them both simultaneously. I want my children to get 100% of my attention and I want my job to get 100% of my attention. This is how I can do that.


Try laying out a block schedule starting from the time you wake up to the time you crawl into bed at night. I prefer to do 30 minute chunks of time because as soon as you add kids into the mix, the best laid plans can still crumble into a bigger mess than a toddler's granola bar.


Did you know that Bill Gates actually schedule blocks his time in 5 minute increments?! Talk about productivity goals. But right now I have babies that need me, and I'm okay with not comparing myself to Bill Gates.


Here is a loose idea of what my most productive days look like:


4:00AM - Wake up the toddler to go pee on the potty to avoid accidents before sending him back to bed. Then, crawl back into bed for another 20 minutes... because I'm weak.


4:30AM - Wake up - Time to myself before kids wake up and work starts. This is SO important to me because this is often my only time to myself.


6:00AM - Baby wakes up - Feed him and get in some one on one time.


6:30AM - Start making the toddler's breakfast and open his bedroom door (he'll come out when he's ready).


7:00AM - Eat breakfast with the kids and make myself available for work.


Here's where the juggling act really begins:


Every day looks a little different as I have regularly scheduled meetings at different times on different days. I set my schedule so I can rotate between these meetings, focused work, and the boys throughout the day.


It works best for the boys and I when I can block 1 hour or less of focused work time at a time. I try to take a minimum of 15 minutes to stop work to read to the kids, get art supplies ready, run around an obstacle course with them, or just play pretend with them for a few minutes, after every solid hour of work.


Trust me, this doesn't always happen.


Around 11:00AM I try to completely step away from work to get lunch ready. By 11:30AM we eat lunch together, read a story, and then on the best days the boys will nap at the same time. This is where I cram as much work as I can in.


Then the rest of the day, again, rotates between kids and work in blocked chunks of time.


Like the morning, our nights run the most efficiently when we follow the same night time routine of dinner, bath, brush teeth, read books, songs, and bed each night.


Work When you Can


Having said the above, your routine will not always work out. Sometimes you just need to squeeze work in when you can.


Some days you'll get a series of 15 minute chunks to work between the hours of 4AM and 9PM. Its happened before. It feels like a hot gooey dumpster fire inside the pits of hell, but its only one day. You'll make it through.


Even on the best days, you can kiss the sweet times of being able to focus for 4 hours at a time goodbye. You'll need to learn to get it done in the minimal amounts of time you're given.


Maintain the Work-Life Balance


When its time to put work away and pay attention to life - do it.


For workaholics like me, stepping away from work can be ridiculously difficult. Even on days when I'd much rather be playing outside with my children, I can feel compelled to keep working. Even when I've sufficiently done what is expected of me, I can feel compelled to keep working.


This step can be a struggle. But it needs to be done. It doesn't matter how much you love your job, your babies are growing up quickly. There are always going to be times when you can't be available for your kids, it's going to happen. But don't let it happen because you feel like you should keep working.


Quarantining or not - you will never get this time with your children back. Make it count because work will always be there.


Give the Kids Some Serious Attention Before Work


Toddlers get bored and lonely, too. And let me remind you, a happy toddler is much easier to work with than a bored one.


I, myself, prefer to not have a 30 pound human hanging off of my arm while I'm trying to draft up an important email or take a call. But it is not fair to expect him to go play by himself all day long.


The most helpful thing I've done right before I really need to focus is do some serious active play with my toddler. If you can burn up his energy before you need to work, your work will be so much more productive and your toddler will be much happier about playing quietly on his own for a little bit.


Whenever possible, get even more caught up in your babies than you do your work. Giggle with them, pretend, explore, and learn with them. Dedicate your time to them and when you need to work, it will go much, much smoother. As a bonus you'll end the day feeling a whole lot better than if you hadn't dedicated that time to them.


Set Up Games for the Kids


We try to avoid screen time as much as possible. When my toddler does get screen time, he turns into a tiny terror. So any activities that don't involve a screen are always first choice (but give yourself grace here because some days its unavoidable).


Your possibilities are endless when it comes to toddler friendly games while you work, but here are a few ideas to get you started:


  • Get out all those Amazon boxes that are piled out in the garage. Build the kids a new castle or rocket ship or let them just climb around for a while.

  • Set up a pillow and blanket fort in the living room.

  • Bring out a special toy that they don't often get to play with.

  • Set up the ball pit if you have one.

  • Set out toddler friendly art supplies near you (so you can supervise if needed).

  • Set your workstation up in the back yard so they can get some outdoor play time in.

  • If its safe to do so, let your toddler play in the bath for a little while.

  • During breaks, set up an obstacle course to do with them or have a dance party to help burn some of that energy.

I sincerely hope this helps someone out there because this is hard, really hard. But this is temporary and the way you choose to handle it will define whether you grow or fall apart. You've got this!

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