How to Work From Home With Children Present

I’ve been living the struggle of working within footsteps of the fridge, television, and the household to-do list since 2009. That’s the year I became a freelance copywriter and started to work from home. I quit my cushy government cubicle job, and dove straight in. I’ve been navigating the pitfalls that come with this setup ever since.

In the last few weeks my work from home situation took a 180-degree turn, when I gained a 7-year-old coworker. My wife is a nurse, so her staying home from work to help manage childcare never really seemed like the right option. We’ve also elected to keep him out of day care, and not send him to his grandparents’ house. Due to a pandemic, we ran out options.

I found myself trying to manage my clients and keep the work that I’ve been lucky enough to have, which necessitated phone calls. In addition to that, I’m monitoring my son’s school work, which is also a critical task. The situation is most certainly stressful. Multiple times in the last few weeks I’ve wanted to bang my head against our kitchen table. But it’s also been a beautiful opportunity — and one I’ll be forever grateful that I had.

It’s given me a window to be even more formative in his education — a window I never expected to have. When you think about it, that’s a pretty special thing. I’m his dad, and I always knew I’d be a resource for him. But I never pictured myself as the grown up that is present throughout his school day.

That’s an unanticipated opportunity that I’m extremely grateful to have. For the newly work from home parents who never expected to be in this situation, I thought I’d share a few of the strategies that we’ve come accustom to in the last few weeks.

Work From Home Parenting Strategies

Take Advantage of Small Time Windows — I usually start my workday somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45. My son knows to come out of his room for breakfast at 7:30. This gives me a small, hyper-focused window to start billable work. I figure out what the most important item of the day is, and I move on that.

Forget the social media. Forget the journaling that I used to start my day with. I’ll work on that stuff later. These windows are a time to find the work that has to get done, and make it your singular mission. This isn’t my only window of isolated time during the day, but it’s typically my most productive one.

Rely on Schedules — I have to fully credit my wife for this one, but she’s had our son on a coronavirus schedule ever since the pandemic started. My son is fully invested in the schedule. He knows it backwards and forwards, and what he’s allowed to do in those windows. There are blocks of time for reading, quiet time, and creative time. At those points in the day, he keeps occupied.

Don’t Forget to Relax — It’s stressful to have a coworker. Especially one that doesn’t really contribute to your normal daily objectives. But the thing is, the situation is pretty darn stressful for him, too. So. Every day for a few minutes before lunch, we have a Nerf gun fight. It’s been a pretty awesome way to take the edge off, before the afternoon begins.

Negotiate Your Truce — I’m lucky. Navigating this quarantine with a young infant or toddler would be an entirely different ball game. But my son is 7, and he can follow what we ask him to do fairly well. I try to time my phone calls for a window when he’ll be occupied in his room. I’ll go and check on him before I get on the phone, and then I’ll make the call. There have been a few interruptions, but generally this has been a system that works.

Prioritize Your Children, too — I fully admit, I’m bad at watching my son when he was sick. I’d plop him in front of the television so that I could go on with my workday. A questionable parenting move, probably. But these days were exceptions to the rule, and it allowed me to keep working. The situation stressed me out.

But this, for some reason has been different. Because of a lack of options, I knew what needed to be done. And sure, it’s been stressful, but I’ve managed, too. Because of his schedule, I’m able to prioritize both his learning and my ability to get some work done. During lunch, I quiz him on multiplication or spelling.

We’ve done some virtual tours of aquariums, and doodle sketch times with children’s authors. This is a scary moment in time for your kids, too. Even when you’re working, it’s important to give them at least some attention. Nerf gun fights work wonders, too.

There Are No Perfect Solutions

Working from home is far different under these circumstances than it’s ever been. These considerations are more than the traditional food, television, or to-do list-related work from home mental dialogs. This takes discipline and patience, and a whole new level of stress management. It takes an ability to realize that some days aren’t going to go the way that you originally intended for them to go.

It takes an ability not to live on news sites and social media. It takes a commitment to being productive despite the noise buzzing around your head. In the wake of what happened, I needed to process it in a familiar way. I took the time to write. A lot. And what I ended up with was a nearly 10,000-word letter to my son, for him to read at a later date.

The Virus and Us: A Letter from Father to Son in the Midst of a Pandemic

I wrote precisely because I couldn’t fathom what was going on. I wrote because I didn’t know how to express the thoughts I was having to my son. I self-published it, because in the interim I’m hoping that work from home parents can benefit from it, too. Even if you’re just stressing out about the current state of the world, I’m hoping that this can help.

The book sets a historical context for the Covid-19 outbreak and what it means for my generation. It talks about the beauty and the difficulty in working from home while monitoring his schooling. It talks about struggling with an autoimmune condition at the same time as a pandemic, and much more than that.

For now, I’ll be donating half of the royalties on the book to a local hospital Covid fund as well, so the purchase goes to helping those most impacted by this pandemic.

If you’re looking for a copy of The Virus and Us it’s available on Amazon.

Matthew Brennan is a Chicago copywriter and copy editor. He is also the author of The Virus and Us and Write Right-Sell Now.



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Matthew Brennan, Copywriter

Bridging businesses to their customer base via top-notch content. A sucker for music that rocks and a good football game.