Growing up we all have dreams. Dreams of becoming a doctor and saving lives, flying planes to see the world, owning your own ice cream truck so we can always have first dibs on the best selection.
Being a parent is the only thing I have been certain that I wanted from a very young age. Okay, and maybe the ice cream truck driver thing was a consideration.
Today, I am a parent, full-time video producer at VMG Studios, and now, a teacher. Something I never dreamed of being. Something I am in no way qualified to do.
When we were all forced into shutdown and had to work from home, many parents, like myself, became teachers to our children. We had no choice. Schools closed in March and the learning had to continue.
So, how does one balance it all? How does one make huge day-to-day changes at the drop of a hat? How can you understand, even if you don’t have kids, the stresses many of your coworkers or clients are currently going through right now?
This article will dive into my personal experience and some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way to remain on top of my job while also supporting my family during this strange time.
How I’ve Shifted to Working From Home
My personal situation is that I have a wife and four-year-old. My wife and I both work full-time, and surprise, we are not teachers. This is all new to both of us and I can admit, it is frightening.
My regular full-time job as a producer holds a lot of responsibility. It requires a well-organized daily schedule, juggling multiple projects, each in different phases, client communication, internal team management, and lots of notes!
I need to be on top of my game, every day, to make my clients look like rock stars or hit those very important launch deadlines. The work doesn’t stop because I am juggling these new roles, just like it doesn’t for my clients.
It takes a lot to knock me off course. Or so I thought.
Five months ago, the term “work from home” had a very different meaning. Working from home was a perk. Some people used it when they were expecting cable installation or an appliance to be delivered. Other people used it to handle challenging issues with childcare or a sick kid.
Finding a way to work from home for one day with a kid running around is totally manageable. You find activities, games, and puzzles to keep them occupied in short spurts. You take breaks from your actual work to have lunch together or maybe read a book. This can be sweet, and at times, even enjoyable. One day, eight hours, no problem.
Now, in this time of COVID-19, we are learning that work from home, especially with a child, is like having a second job.
I never thought I would have to find ways to fill my child’s day with more than just puzzles and games, but also with lessons on reading, writing, vocabulary, letters and numbers. I never thought that I would be responsible for conducting science experiments outside of a science fair. I never thought that I would have to hold meetings while my child sat on my lap because let’s be honest, all kids have FOMO (fear of missing out). Yet, here we are.
We have gone from maybe opening one laptop a night to having three laptops and an iPad going all day. My four-year-old has Zoom meetings of her own, which we would think would give us the opportunity to catch up on some emails, make some calls, or review proofs.
Except, having a toddler sit still and listen during a class Zoom call is near impossible. My daughter HAS to talk about how the cat likes to eat her hair and she wants to show everyone the outfit she picked out. Of course, when another kid brings a stuffy to the call, she disappears down the hall to grab her favorite stuffy. I try to wrangle her back to the call. Then she starts to cry when no one is listening to her story, because they are four and they all have a story to tell. So, I have to console her, calm her down, and get her to re-focus. Now the 45-minute Zoom call I was going to use to catch up on work is over and I am back to trying to fill more learning time.
The Challenges of Working and Teaching From Home
To try to make things easier, my wife and I have become a tag team. She covers a few hours of learning and play, while I handle calls and work tasks. Then I take over for a couple hours so she can get caught up. Then we switch again.
This process may extend our working days to get everything we need to get done, but this is what we have found works for us to manage work, school, home, and each other’s sanity!
We do our best to plan out the day for all of our sakes, but we also know that with a toddler, so much is unpredictable.
Inevitably, as hard as I try to not miss meetings or phone calls, I may end up showing up a little late to one or two, because I hear a big thump followed by crying upstairs, two minutes before the meeting is supposed to start.
What they don’t know is that my energy and my nerves are at such a high level, constantly. Always worried about what they are thinking when I am late to a meeting or call. Worried about my kid, my clients, my co-workers, the projects I am responsible for, my wife. All of these things are racing through my head at any one time. I worry if I will remember to schedule time to just breathe.
When does the work/teaching end, and my life begin? When is there time to cut the grass, get the groceries, go to the post office, or keep up with the cleaning and laundry? What about doctor’s appointments or much needed therapy? The weekends are now filled with chores and all the other general “life” stuff. Scheduling everything out includes normal activities for our daughter so she is not alone.
Right now, we are not only her parents, but we are her classmates, her friends, and her teachers. Family time with all three of us is almost non-existent anymore.
At the end of the day, I will do anything for my kid.
Even if that means finding time at night to read materials that I might have to instruct her on the next day. Getting familiar with how math is done nowadays. Searching the Internet for things to do with children during COVID-19 to help them learn and not be stunted by the fact that they are not in a classroom environment. Downloading things, printing things, reading things, and educating myself so I can educate my kid. Doing it with a partner is manageable, but still difficult.
Tips for Working From Home While Being a Parent
Everything about this COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown is a learning experience. There are no guidebooks on how to be a teacher while holding down a job.
However, there are a few things that we have done in our house to ease the burden a bit. It’s a list that will keep growing, but a great tool to have at the ready, if this ever happens again. Granted, this list is geared towards a toddler, but some of these things can help even with older kids.
1. Offer Transparency
Be transparent about your situation with your co-workers, your clients, your partner, your kid. Once I realized I am not alone in this, I knew we would all be okay.
Co-workers and clients are all people too. Some with kids at home are going through the same things, or other struggles I am not privy too … this is the time that we find ourselves in.
Let them know at the start of the call or meeting that there is a chance your kid might try to feed you a strawberry, or the cat will start nibbling her hair while she is coloring and you may have to separate them (okay, you caught me – I was really talking about my kid here).
Even offering this transparency doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with anxiety every time I hear her crying and I know I will have to unmute at any second to speak in the meeting. Or that I won’t have to switch rooms because singing “Let it Go” at the top of her lungs is all my daughter wants to do at that moment.
It’s okay to show a more vulnerable human side to professional associates right now. It may even help them feel less anxious about the same exact thing.
2. Try to Set and Stick to a Schedule/Routine
I know this is likely easier said than done but creating a daily schedule has kept everyone in our house a little saner. Most importantly, we have tried to replicate our daughter’s school schedule, in the hopes of keeping some sort of normalcy in her life.
Having a visual schedule for her to follow gives her a sense of responsibility and owning her day. It also helps me remember what the hell is going on from hour to hour.
I also have my schedule blocked for everyone at work to see, so they know when I need to be with my kid. It helps them plan meetings around those blocks, and it helps my daughter to know when she will transition from parent to parent.
3. Create a Designated Workspace (And Calm Space) For All
We have turned part of our kitchen into a classroom with a table and supply cart. Our living room is a gym, a music room, or a place to have free time. My wife and I have made it a point to keep our desks downstairs, away from where our daughter is learning or playing. It’s important that she knows when mommy or mama go downstairs, it’s work time.
Occasionally, we have to take meetings upstairs during school time. Those are the moments where transparency comes in handy.
It’s also important, in our house, that we keep the working in the work areas. We want the bedroom or the playroom to be the calm areas: places we can all go if we need to take a 10-minute breather. No electronics, no phones, just quiet and calm.
For our daughter, she has her room. When she needs calm rest time, she goes in her room and listens to books. Even at four-years-old, she knows when this situation can all be a bit much and she just needs some of her own comforts.
4. Ask For Help
Unfortunately, having physical help in the home is not an option. Financially, we are still paying for a preschool that is very active in teaching virtually and we are grateful for that. But, it’s also not safe having people in your home.
So, what kind of help can you get?
- If you have a school, start there. Most teachers are happy to help guide you towards lesson plans, or even take on an hour of one-on-one time with your kid. They miss teaching and love these opportunities.
- Technology has saved us, but I recognize it is a luxury some people don’t have. We have a friend who has let us borrow her iPad through this whole ordeal, just so our daughter would have access to learning apps. Ask around and see if you have friends who can help out with a computer.
- Find a neighborhood parents group and see if they have any extra supplies you can borrow for arts and crafts.
- If you have family members, usually grandparents, who can log onto a Facetime call, they can read a story with your kids. If your kids are older, maybe they can have a social hour with them or even help with a school lesson or project.
- And sometimes help is for us as parents, and it comes in the form of a virtual wine date with a friend after the house is all settled for the night.
5. Be Flexible and Go Easy on Yourself
This is new to all of us, and like anything else new we try, you have to give yourself room to grow. It’s easy to over commit yourself during these times. And it’s okay to admit you overcommitted. As long as try to be present in the moments with the people who require it, you’re doing fine.
Our family of three is exhausted and I know we aren’t the only ones. We have found a rhythm that works but it requires an extraordinary amount of attention and planning. So, when the day doesn’t go as planned, we have to be able to say to ourselves, “We tried, what’s next?”
Basically, it’s okay to not be perfect. Give yourself a break.
Finding the Right Balance
When this is all over, I know I will look back at these months and feel so grateful for all this extra time to be with my kid. To watch her grow and read her first lines on her own. I am also extremely lucky to be working, to have a loving wife, and an awesome daughter. But it’s not fully sustainable. I am not being the best Mom, the best co-worker, the best wife, and I have no time to actually be a friend outside of these walls.
Every day, I know I am doing better than the day before. And when I can go to bed knowing I have fulfilled all my client’s needs and deliveries for the day, and my daughter tells me she had so much fun learning with me, I know I did something right.
And like many other working parents right now, chances are good we will continue to do things right in the days to come.
-Written by VMG Studios Senior Producer, Cyndi Butz-Houghton
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