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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

‘Don’t feel guilty about the TV’: Essential rules for parents working from home this week

Chrissie Russell shares her learnings from five years of freelancing with kids in tow.

Image: Shutterstock/Bricolage

THE CLOSURE OF childcare facilities and schools – and the advice to work from home because of the COVID-19 threat – has a lot of Irish parents understandably overwhelmed.

It can be daunting to have to take both your daily childcare and your daily work routine in-house at short notice, so don’t be hard on yourself if everything feels entirely upside down right now.

I’ve been a work from home/stay-at-home parent now since 2014, minding our 5-year-old and 22 month old while also trying to maintain an income as a freelance journalist. I certainly don’t claim to have mastered the juggling act (I’m sure both my kids and editors would testify to that!) but I definitely feel there are a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way about the things that can help ease managing the two roles.

This almost-lockdown situation is going to be our reality for the next couple of weeks at least, so it’s worth putting the effort in to make things as easy as possible for all of you at home.

Take it from me, a long-time veteran: with a bit of savvy scheduling, some child-engrossing tasks and big cardboard box, working from home with the kids in tow doesn’t have to be the apocalyptic event you might be fearing. Here are my working-from-home essentials…

1. Have a flexible routine
People often advise freelancers working from home to act like they are in a regular office – dress for work, set regular hours, have a home office – but this only works if you’ve no kids, someone else to mind the kids, or kids of an age where they have a significant amount of cop on. If you are at home with a two-year-old you are only setting yourself up for disappointment by donning a suit and hoping they respect your office space and hours. Wear what you want and work when you can. Set up a workspace where you can see them, but ideally where they can’t reach your stuff. I find our breakfast bar works a treat.

2. And a clinical mind
I have a bit of a triage system for what I need to do. The most important stuff that needs 100 per cent of my concentration gets done when the children are sleeping or someone else is on hand to watch them. The lesser stuff can get done in spurts or when kids are eating, playing or watching telly. This is why it’s futile to have a nine to five schedule, often my most productive hours are when everyone is sleeping.

shutterstock_1111274927 Source: NazarBazar

3. Go hands-free where you can
Get an ear bud for your phone and, if you’ve a baby (especially if they’re anything like mine and insist on being Velcro-ed to you) buy a sling. Oh, the hours my babies spent attached to me while I tapped on my laptop….

4. Procure a secret stash of toys
New toys are more exciting than old toys: fact. If you want to harness your child’s attention, having a secret stash of emergency toys is a must. You don’t have to spend a fortune and they don’t have to be new, just new to your child. Nothing buys you a bit of time and goodwill like something new to play with.

5. Prepare a list of tasks that are time-consuming for the kids… but not you
Originally I thought painting and play-doh fell under this remit but no, rather than happily engrossing themselves in crafts while I worked, I ended up inundated with requests for help and a massive clean-up operation. In my experience pipe-cleaners (either making or poking through a colander depending on age), Ice Excavation (where you freeze something like a Lego figure in a Tupperware container and get them to ‘free’ him with blunt instruments to chisel with), and stone painting (using acrylic pens – pricier but less messy than paint) have all been relatively successful given the right amount of floor covering.

6. If all else fails, present them with a big cardboard box
Or better still, a lot of cardboard boxes. There is nothing that entertains my two more. I’ve seen them turn boxes into houses, tunnels, boats. I cut some holes in one once and they spent an eternity throwing and depositing the ball-pit balls into it. When you want them absorbed in with minimal intervention from you, you can’t beat a cardboard box.

7. And *don’t* feel guilty about TV right now
But in order to avoid ‘Muuuuuum! Can you put on another episode of Go Jetters/Peppa?’, set your TV so that episodes run seamlessly one after the other.

8. Learn the tech tricks that give the illusion of professionalism
The mute button so that conference call can’t hear the madness in the background, the ‘blur’ function on Skype so no-one sees the chaos of your ‘home office’ – I strongly believe these wonderful things were created by work from home parents.

9. Know when to ask for help
Yes, I know it’s not clear right now what the parameters of self-isolation are but I will 100 per cent hold my hands up and say I couldn’t have done the past six years of work without help from the grandparents and husband. If there are people who can help you, are able to help you and want to help you then take it – even if it’s just dropping some food off so you don’t have to worry about lunches.

10. Be honest
I’ve had to cut calls short because the baby has woken up crying or reschedule work events because the kids are ill and there has never been an instance where the person on the other end of the line hasn’t been empathetic and understanding. If you’re under pressure, say to people, a lot of us are in the same boat.

11. Add ‘going outside’ to your calendar
With all of you in the one place, nerves are easily frayed. Even when you don’t feel like it, make outside time a part of your day – run round the garden, walk to the end of the road, it doesn’t have to be huge – but I find getting a bit of air always improves everyone’s ability to function.

12. Mark out periods of time where the kids can have your full attention
I remember a child expert telling me that kids react to the quality of the time you spend with them, not necessarily how long it is. Don’t spend all day with one eye on the laptop/ mobile and one eye on them, try to be present in parenting and give them your full attention for periods of time either making something together, playing a game, baking… then return to work. You’ll all feel better for it.

13. And always, always have good coffee
My one nod to maintaining an office vibe is good coffee. If you have a milk frother/ Nespresso machine/fancy beans, make those things part of your 11am ritual (stick on an episode of Peppa if needs be). You deserve it.

More: ‘Please don’t pee in the shoe’ – 12 mums and dads share the weirdest things they’ve said as parents>

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