How to Be a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom: 5 Practical Tips
Before we all became Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Moms, I was a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom. Let me tell you something you've already figured out while social distancing: it is really hard to juggle both. Here is what you don’t know, and what you aren’t giving yourself enough credit for...this gig of yours is WAY harder today than it was for me just one month ago.
One month ago, no one else needed our home office. Ninja Turtles could hide under the desk and eat "pizza" whenever they wanted. Now I am awkwardly pulling screaming Ninja Turtles out from under that desk while daddy is on video calls with his entire team. Should I wave, or pretend I'm invisible? So awkward--insert heavy sigh here. Not sure what I am worried about; I bet their wives are wearing their raggedy robes and cozy llama knee-high socks this morning, too.
One month ago, I could easily find a time slot for grocery pick up. If I was out of diapers, we simply went to the store, without homemade masks, and grabbed what we needed--all while my kids happily licked the shopping carts.
One month ago, I could break up the day with a trip to the park or plan a playdate. I could get a dose of adult interaction while my kids could get a break from each other. Or if I needed help, my mom could swing by and play with my babies while I cranked out a couple of hours of work. I had breaks.
One month ago, working from home while having children to take care of was not a walk in the park. It was difficult. Today it is much more challenging. So here I am, offering you some advice from one Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom to another. Hopefully, the following 5 tips will grant you a little extra time to get your work done or possibly relieve some unnecessary pressure.
1. Expect Interruptions
Do you hear the cast of High School Musical singing, “We're all in this together” every time you hear someone say, “We are all in this together”? Whether this song is your internal soundtrack right now or not, we keep hearing this phrase and it couldn’t be more true...we are all in this together. As you are trying to work from home, just know that there will be interruptions. Your kids are going to need you, the dog is going to bark, your internet is going to drop.
Try not to get frustrated. Remember to breathe. If you can, laugh. You are not the only one in your virtual staff meeting with someone yelling, “Mom, Mommy, Mom, MOOOOOOOOM”. You are not the only one with a dog barking at a squirrel during your live read-aloud.
Interruptions are not something new to you. Just remember how you handled the “Mrs. Furr, we need your attendance” interruptions during morning meeting or the, “It is my uncle’s birthday” interruptions during your math lesson. You have a master’s degree in interruptions.
When I conferred with readers and writers in my classroom, we had a 3 B interruption rule. You could not interrupt someone else's conferring time unless you were bleeding, barfing, or broken. If your problem didn't fit in one of the 3 B categories then you needed to be a problem solver or keep reading/writing. Guess what? The 3 B rule can also be applied to your own children while mommy is teaching a virtual lesson.
So, expect the interruptions. Accept the interruptions. We're all going to have them. Try not to be hard on your kids, your dog, or your internet. We're all in this together.
2. Good is Good Enough
I am often haunted by my first classroom observation. My principal wanted to see a guided reading lesson. I spent a ridiculous amount of time prepping for that 15-minute lesson. I had written notes to myself on sticky notes and placed them all over the book. I wanted that lesson to be perfect.
The second the lesson was over I regretted trying to be perfect. Those notes I made myself just got in the way of my teaching. If I would have just been myself and taught like it was any old day in Room 5, I wouldn't carry such guilt today. By trying to have the PERFECT lesson, I distracted myself from the teaching I was already capable of.
As teachers, we get really comfortable with the audience we teach in our classrooms. The second we add someone else to the mix (like all the parents who are now at home while you are teaching virtually), it can be intimidating. Just be yourself. Don't try to be perfect. Treat each lesson as if you are in your classroom--teaching to those same kids that adore you.
When creating digital lessons, stick to one-takes. Don't record and re-record in hopes that this time your dog won't bark or you won't say voice with a lisp. Hit record, teach, hit stop. Be done. With ALL the demands you are currently facing, please remember: good is good enough.
3. Prepare for What Your Little People Might Need
Like you, I have had a lot of virtual meetings lately. They usually run anywhere from one to two hours. This means I am often planning how to keep my littles busy and safe while I work. I think about what my kids might need from me and I plan accordingly. Honestly, it is a little like planning a birthday party--just without the cake, presents, and a house full of other people's children. Here's what you will need:
A Quick Tidy-up: right before your guests arrive for a party you probably do a quick trip around your house to make sure your home is in tip-top shape. Right before I start working, I do a quick glance around the house to make sure my house is safe...lord knows it isn't clean. A few weeks ago, I cut up apples for the kids before a meeting. I left the knife and cutting board out on the counter and got to work. Five minutes into the call, my 4-year-old proudly brought me some cute apple slices. My heart stopped. I counted all his fingers. We got lucky. I told you this gig was hard.
Drinks & Snacks: I make sure each child has a water bottle filled and accessible. Those people of yours will be thirsty. I set out a snack tray. Yes, you read that correctly, a whole tray. I fill it with pretzels, nuts, fruit, cheese, carrot sticks, anything I can find in the pantry. I promise you they will be hungry.
Activities: My children know that when Mommy is working they can color, draw, read, build, or create. Together we make a plan for acceptable, independent activities. Magna-tiles, good. Making slime, bad.
4. Set Boundaries
Let's face it, we are all aware that our job consumes much more than a 40-hour workweek. We are used to bringing our work home with us, usually in five different brightly colored bags. We already have a hard time setting boundaries when it comes to lesson planning, professional learning, email, etc. Now that your classroom is living under the same roof as your family, it is even harder to set boundaries. It is important that you figure out where to draw the line with work-life and home-life and begin setting some limits now.
Set work hours. Whether you set them or your district sets them for you, have a schedule of when you will be working and stick to it. Communicate those times with your school families and your own family, too. While you are at it, tell your mom, too. Now that she isn't working, she needs to know the appropriate time to call you and tell you about the strawberry cheesecake she just made.
When I first became a mom, I made myself a little rule. When I got home from work, I set my phone on the charger in the kitchen and I didn't pick it up until after Molly was in bed. I deserved that time to be with my daughter. I realized really quickly once I had kids that the emails could wait. Now that your kids are home full-time and navigating virtual learning, they deserve your time, too.
5. Get Yourself a Babysitter
Babysitters are key when you are trying to work from home with littles. I know babysitters are scarce right now, but let me introduce you to the one I like to use. Her name is Screen Time. The kids really love her, she is really patient with them, and she won’t charge you. Well, technically she isn’t free, but you know what I mean.
Right now there is a lot of guilt around kids and screen time. We all know screen time needs to be limited. Can I be the one to tell you it's okay? Good, thanks. It's okay for your kids to watch a show while you get some work done. It's okay for your kids to do one of those drawing classes on Youtube while you plan a lesson. It's okay if they play a video game while you catch up on email.
Right now you have work to do and your kids need to be safe. If it means they are getting screen time, please DON’T beat yourself up over it. Once you get through your work, you can get back to spending quality screen-free time with your kids. Your kids are going to be just fine and darling, so are you.
Here's a picture of my little middle's latest artwork-- in our bathroom. He created this masterpiece during my last virtual meeting. When I found it, he smiled proudly. "It says I love you, Mom". We hugged, I snapped this picture, and then I showed him how to erase it. Please remember, what we are currently facing in this topsy-turvy world, is NOT typical. This is challenging work. All of it. Be kind to your kids. Be kind to yourself. Best of luck to you and your bathroom walls.
If you have any tips for how you manage life as a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom, drop a comment below because like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens told us long ago, "We're all in this together."