Parenting While Working from Home: Finding the New Normal

parenting from home

Like many people across the United States and the world right now, I find myself tasked with the challenge of supervising the learning of my children while working full-time from home. I’ve been a home-based worker for the past several years in varying capacities, and while my children normally attend public school, we have to deal with many of these challenges each summer, so we’ve had a few years to craft our approach. Here’s what we have found to be successful—take these ideas, adapt them to meet your needs, and get going!

Start with a basic daily schedule for each family member. 

At our house, I expect both my kids to be up, showered, dressed, and ready to start their day by 9 am. We have a morning work period that goes until noon, when we break briefly for lunch, and then an afternoon period that has a little more free choice built in. They also have daily chores that have to be completed. 

Establish ground rules and expectations.

Both my children groaned mightily when I explained to them that they would not be allowed to veg out until their teachers contacted us with the school curriculum. Having a plan for what our days together would look like—even if it’s different from their traditional experience of school—was important to set the tone that life (and learning) goes on, even in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances. Our basic objectives have been for them to maintain daily reading, writing, science, and math activities, as well as some kind of creative work and physical play. 

My kids have also had to adjust to me not being able to drop what I’m doing to find a lost pair of scissors, or to make them snacks. They also know that when I’m done, they get my full and undivided attention on them, but when I’m working, I’m working, and any interruptions should not be casual. 

Make short lists of what each person needs to accomplish that day. 

If I have specific calls or online meetings that I have to attend, I let my kids know the timing while we’re eating breakfast that day, and remind them about 10 minutes before. I also start all my days with a short to-do list, so my priorities are clear and I have a straightforward plan of action.

My children benefit from a similar process, though shorter and a little less structured. I try to give them a list with 5-6 things on it for them to accomplish each day. They have freedom to determine what order they’d like to tackle their activities in, but the deal is that their work day is not “done” until their list is either completely or mostly finished. 

Embrace a broad definition of learning. 

My son has been learning to cook, do home repairs, and help rear our small flock of chickens. My daughter has been assisting me in our garden, taking online art courses, and enjoying playing JustDance. They’re both writing personal journals to record what life is like for them in this unique moment. In addition to acquiring academic skills and knowledge, a healthy blend of self and home care round out our daily approach to growing and striving to be our best. 

Flexibility and choices help.

At 9 and 13, my two are old enough that once they’re set to a task, they often don’t need much supervision. Still, there are times when close proximity is helpful. My son sometimes struggles with getting started in the morning, so we’ve established that the first 90 minutes of our workday will take place with all of us at the same table. If he stays on task for that first chunk of the day, it’s no problem for him to slip off to his room to write in his journal or read for a while. My daughter, on the other hand, tends to be laser-focused, and prefers to work right alongside me. Unless I’m on a call, this usually works well for us. 

I try to complete my lower-demand tasks at times when they’re more likely to need my assistance, and my higher-demand tasks at times when they’re doing independent activities. 

Accept that some days you’ll fall short of your goals. 

More than anything, I think it’s important to recognize that as parents and workers alike, we are facing unprecedented challenges. Some days, our best-laid plans may go astray. If you find you or your children are frustrated with the way things are going, it’s okay to take a day to pause and re-center on what you can do better, or how you can change or adapt what I’ve laid out here. This is just one way to do this—I’m confident that you and your family will find your own way to do it, too!

Katie O'Connor-Ballantyne

Katie O'Connor-Ballantyne is a composer, conductor, and music editor. An active clinician, adjudicator, and presenter, she previously taught choral music and theater at Johnson City High School in upstate New York. She holds degrees in Music Education and Vocal Performance from Ithaca College and the Irish World Music Centre.

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