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How to cope with working from home with kids this winter

Faced with uncertainty, families are forced to be “flexible” when it comes to balancing work and family
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With all the looming uncertainties of school closures and Omicron, working parents may be finding it particularly difficult to balance it all.

It’s 6 a.m. on a Tuesday and I’m sitting hunched over my laptop, a tepid cup of coffee held loosely in one hand. I hear the floor creak in the kitchen, and I know that my son is up. I rush to finish typing an email, and then hurriedly hit send before stepping away from my computer to hug him.

As I begin to prepare breakfast, my two girls enter the room as well, and my youngest asks enthusiastically, “What are we going to do today!?”

In my mind I’m running through a checklist of to-do items that need to be done, but my work will have to wait because it’s winter break and my kids need my attention.

The rest of the day is spent teetering between keeping my kids busy and taking care of business tasks, and when my kids go to bed, I return to my laptop and work until midnight. As a work-from-home mom of three, I’ve grown accustomed to this juggling act, but this winter, with all the looming uncertainties, I’m finding it particularly difficult to balance it all.

Post-Christmas break, kids are cuing up for quarantines as Omicron overwhelms our province, and paired with pending pro-d days and weather woes, this winter is leaving parents in a flurry of panic. With all this in mind, working from home with kids seems inevitable. To help you prepare, here are some things you can do to make the struggle a little easier for you and your family.

Plan ahead

At any moment, an email from your child’s school could initiate isolation–and a work week with a full house. Be prepared by prepping grab-and-go snacks so you can reduce the number of times you hear “I’m hungry” throughout the day. Stock up on easy activities that will keep younger ones entertained (stash away some Lego, puzzles, and activity books to prepare for the occasion). Keep your eye on the weather forecast–cause you never know when an atmospheric river will turn into a school closure due to flooding, or a snowfall will turn into a surprise snow day.

Prioritize your productivity

Make a list of top priorities to complete in the day, weeding out the nice-to-do tasks from the must-do items with looming deadlines. Set yourself up with scheduled slots of time where you can complete your work without distractions (consider silencing your social media alerts and working away from spots that have laundry piles and dirty dishes in view).

Communicate with colleagues

Full disclosure is key. Let your coworkers know that you’ll be working from home with kids with a wavering work schedule. Consider updating your out-of- office email signature with an honest note on your current work-from-home status, and book your Zoom meetings around nap times or scheduled downtime.

Stick to a schedule

Section out your day into chunks of time to make it flow more smoothly, allowing for uninterrupted blocks of time work, and regular intervals for work-free breaks. Keeping your kids aware of what’s happening throughout the day will ease their eagerness to interrupt you. But also know when it’s time to log off. Slot in time for a stroll, and plan for some short one-on-one time with each child where they can take the lead on what you do together.

Relax your rules

Now is not the time to tighten the reins on screen time. Download some movies and educational apps to keep the kids entertained when you need quiet time for a call, or an extended period time to focus on your tasks.

Ask for assistance

Swallow your pride and call your parents (or aunts, or friends–whoever can step in and provide support). Swap kids for playdates with your “parent pod”–fellow working parents who may be struggling with the same challenges. And don’t be shy about asking for deadline extensions if your workload is too massive to manage. When it comes to working from home with kids, it takes a village to succeed (or at least to skirt the stress that comes with trying
to balance it all).