Many of us have become accustomed to working from home but it's still a struggle balancing work and family life. Mette Theilmann from Predictable Parenting shares her tips on managing working from home as a parent.
During the pandemic I have worked very closely with a number of parents who have had to work from home while having their children around. Although the world has started to open up again, many of us have still not returned to our usual places or routines of work. We might work for an employer who has realised that we can do our work just as efficiently from home which saves on office space and commuting time. Others, like myself, are self-employed and have had to move their businesses online, working from home during lockdown and will possibly continue that model on a full or part time basis.
Working from home comes with benefits and challenges. We don’t have to travel, so there is more time to do what really matters, and we also save money. But it is not always easy to adjust to this new way of working. When I support parents working from home, I share some simple but powerful tools with them to make sure the benefits outweigh the downsides. And that means planning and preparing.
Challenges that many parents experience:
- They feel that they don’t get anything done properly because they are always multitasking – supporting kids with homework while working on a project, doing laundry during their ‘lunch break’ etc.
- When working from home parents often feel that they never get any time off – household chores, looking after the kids, juggling various projects and tasks for work.
- They often feel like their job is not taken seriously while they are working from home. As they don’t have to put on work clothes and actually GO to work, they find that their partner, kids and friends often ask for small favours during the day. Or drop in for a chat. Or when the kids are sick, they end up looking after them since they are at home anyway!
- But parents also interrupt themselves. Either physically – doing household chores, watching television, scrolling through social media and getting distracted; or mentally – thinking about everything that needs to be done in the house, with the kids, work and various worries that pop into their head during the day.
The result of all the above means that parents feel stressed and less productive in all aspects of their life. They often let their emotions hijack their actions and thoughts and end up ‘losing it’ more easily, which they later regret. They feel guilty most of the time because, even though they have the kids around them all the time, they are not spending quality time with them; they simply don’t have the time or the energy. And they feel that their work suffers too because they can’t give it as much focused attention as required.
So, what can we do?
- Communicate with family – work with your ‘team’
We need our ‘team’ – family – behind us to make working from home actually work! Have weekly family chats where you create a sense of teamwork and co-operation. Talk about your new work/life structure and what working from home looks like. Explain what you have to do and the expectations from work.
Talk about how you need them to support you, respect and accept your new working life set-up. You can talk about your boundaries and how you plan to manage this: ‘I will be in my office from XX until XX and I would really appreciate it if no one comes in. In return I promise to leave my work in my workspace and not attend to it when we are together’.
- Set boundaries
If you feel that your work time and work space are not being respected you can communicate with those around you in a way that sits well with you and your values. ‘I feel that when my work hours and space are respected then I am a better parent/partner/friend to you.’
When people ask you for something you can say NO in a respectful way i.e. ‘Thank you for asking me out for a coffee, I would love to, can we do that on Friday afternoon when I’m finished with work?’. Or, ‘Of course I will help you, but right now I have to finish this work. I can do it at 4 o’clock when I have finished work’. Learn to say no successfully and guilt free.
- Set your timer
While we can’t make more time in the day, we can choose how we spend it. Agree with yourself (and write it down) when you will be working, doing household jobs, spending time with family and attending to your own needs (self-care).
Be strict with your time: once you have done this try to give each task your full attention. When working, allow yourself to be 100% focused and don’t think about your other commitments that are scheduled for later. When you’re with your child, give them your full attention – this sends a signal that they are important to you.
If you get distracted physically or mentally, STOP and BREATHE and have a re-think. Write down what just popped into your mind. Add it to your planner so you can return to it later and go back to what you need to do right now. Try to let it go, knowing that you will come back to it and get it done later.
When you start taking charge of your working from home life you will find that you become more productive and feel much more satisfied knowing that you have done a great job with work, that you’re not stressed out over household chores, you’ve given your kids the time and attention they need AND you’ve even had time to sit and chill with a cup of tea. This all means less guilt.
You will start feeling more in control and less stressed which gives you time to pause and think about how to respond to any challenges in your life. You will be more open to listening, understanding and problem solving instead of resorting to getting angry and snapping – and you can be proud of raising a family based around co-operation and teamwork. Home then becomes a nicer place to be.
Right now, you might feel that your new working life is challenging. But something that the pandemic has taught us all is that we DO have the ability to adapt to new situations, and what was normal before doesn’t have to remain this way for life to work well. Control what you can and accept the rest.
Mette Theilmann is a parent & family coach, author and founder of Predictable Parenting. Find out more here.