“I am going to lose my job. My son shouts all the time, and I just cannot work like this.” Many of my consultations begin with statements like this nowadays from parents working from home because of the pandemic. It is not easy to choose between making a living and giving love. But that is a choice that almost every parent is being forced to make every day and all the time through the pandemic.
But do we need to choose? Not really. We can have both. The key is to strike a balance. Here are some tips for balancing work and parenting while working from home.
1. Understand tantrums
A tantrum is a need masked by a want. Your child needs to feel connected with you because it makes them feel safe. This need for connection remains unmet when you start working from home. Because to get work done, you shut down your emotional brain and start using your thinking brain.
With the emotional brain shut down, your child feels disconnected and unsafe. This prompts your child to misbehave or throw a tantrum about something they want. If you look closely at the tantrum, you will find that it is not about the ‘thing’ that your child is asking for at all. Because it will not go away when you give the ‘thing.’
The tantrum about ‘I want’ is your child’s way of asking for your attention and focus. It is difficult for our children to see us physically present and emotionally absent. That is why they try to trigger our emotions. It does not matter that what they finally get from us is a negative emotion – like anger.
They welcome any emotion because it activates your shut down emotional brain and reestablishes your connection with them. The solution is to convey to your child that you are connected even when it appears that you are not.
Here are a few tips to prevent tantrums during meetings:
- Before meetings, explain to the person on the other side that you are working with a child around. Set the right expectations so that you are not embarrassed if your child interrupts.
- Connect before you disconnect. Before you begin work for the day – spend quality time with your child – talk, laugh, make eye contact, hug, and kiss. Do the same for a few minutes before your meeting.
- Start your child off on some activity and tell them when you will be back to join them.
- During the meeting, make eye contact with your child at frequent intervals and smile.
- Do not keep looking into your phone when you are not working. Connect with eye contact, hugs, and kisses.
“You will never find time for anything. If you want time you must make it.” – Charles Buxton
The key to succeeding with parenting while working from home is – effective all-round communication. Clear communication with your child, with the organization you work for, and your spouse can make work from home comfortable.
Here are a few tips to communicate effectively:
- Communicate with your team and explain your need for a flexible schedule and a slightly relaxed environment because of your child. If you pull your share of the workload, your team is unlikely to object.
- Coordinate your schedule with your spouse such that one of you is relatively free when the other is engaged in crucial work.
- Explain what you do at work to your child. Elaborate on how important and impactful your work is. Remember that your child wants you to succeed. Your child wants you to do great things that they can feel proud of. Once they know that you are doing something great, they will encourage you and help you.
- Share your daily challenges with your child. Brainstorm for solutions. For example, say – “You know Mamma designs cars, right? So tomorrow I have a crucial meeting at 4 PM about how to make wheels that will allow cars to go fast. Now that is the time when I usually give you milk. What can we do so that I can attend the meeting? Can you help me? Let us make a plan.”
3. Plan your workday
Unlike the office, where the environment is almost always conducive to focused work, the home environment shifts and changes all the time. If you want to get your work done on time, you must cater to these shifts.
What is the best strategy to get work done during work from home?
- Look at the work you need to accomplish in a day. On the list, you will find some work that requires intense focus and your undivided attention, and some work that you can do even with a little distraction. Try and schedule work that requires intense focus early in the morning or late in the night when your child is likely to be asleep.
- Plan the rest of the day such that you are taking a 5-10-minute break every hour. Write out your schedule and mark out the breaks in red. Share this with your child.
- Then create a schedule for your child. Sync your breaks.
- Plan something fun in each break. Plan to go look out of the balcony for 10 minutes in the first break. Plan to feed the birds at the kitchen window for 5 minutes in the second break. Plan to put the washing out to dry for 15 minutes in the third break. Plan to lie flat on the ground for 5 minutes in the fourth break. And so on.
- Work on a schedule and from a particular desk and chair. Do not work all the time from everywhere.
Knowing what to expect and having something to look forward to is the secret to a calm and happy child. Begin and end each day with gratitude. Remind yourself that many people would give anything for a job and a healthy child. Plan and prioritize and triumph over the pandemic.