Balancing Work, School, and Kids at Home

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You may be asking yourself these days, “How on earth do I manage my job and family, my kids and their schooling – all at home, all at once?!”

Or, more succinctly, “How do I keep my sanity during these times of quarantine and uncertainty?”

Two words: Time and Place.

We all need structure.  Familiarity.  Routine.  Some of us like a little more or less, but we all crave the comfort of knowing what we’re doing.  Of having some sense of predictability and stability in our lives.

Now, at a broader, existential level, it’s important to recognize and accept that nothing ever stays the same.  Things change.  Birth and death.  Beginnings and endings.  Comings and goings.  From physics to metaphysics, the only constant is change.

It is vital for our ultimate health and happiness that we make peace with this truth. We aren’t in control about much of our lives.  We can’t predict the future.  We can’t change the past.

But nested within this “outer circle” of things we can’t control, there is the “inner circle” of things we can control.

We can create some sense of consistency in our days.  We can find new rhythms that work for us, when the beats and tempo of life have changed up on us.

We can set boundaries that protect us.  We can set limits that serve us – and our children.

One simple way to do this, is to clearly define a TIME and PLACE for:

  • Work and School
  • Family Chores and Meals
  • Social and Solo Play (Online and Off)
  • Physical Activity and Rest

Set up a clear, separate space for your In-House Office and your child’s In-House School.  (Notice I didn’t call it a Home-Work space or Home-School space – that blurs boundaries and “hits too close to home!”)

Anyway, define a room in your house, or a corner of a room, that is ONLY for your office-work and your student’s school-work.  Have your kid’s take ownership and help decorate and supply their work space in ways they think can help them be more comfortable and productive.

Then set up a few blocks of time (perhaps morning block and afternoon block), with specifically scheduled starting times and ending times, just for work.  Set notifications on your digital devices (yours and your child’s) or use old-fashion alarm clocks.  Just like at school, the bell rings, you go to class.  The bell rings, you leave class.

Same with you.  Remember, self-care for the care-giver comes first.  You must practice what you preach.  Set clear limits to your work day.  Beginning and ending times.  Focus in that time and place.  Make clear to your kids that, short of a life-threatening emergency, you are NOT available.  You are at work!

Set boundaries.  Close doors.  Use Do-Not-Disturb signs.  Use headphones.  Play soft background music. – Anything that creates physical boundaries between you, your kids, and your home responsibilities (to-do’s) or temptations (fun!).

Take scheduled, time-limited breaks.  Get up.  Stretch.  Walk.  Fresh air.  Fresh cup of coffee.  Return and repeat.

The goal here – for you and your students – is work efficiency.  Not perfection.  Do the best you can, with the limited time and energy you have.  Period.  Show up for work, focus on work, during work time.  Forget-about-it afterwards.  Close the laptop.  Close the door.  Leave it behind.  Then go tend to your family.  Go relax and play, guilt-free!

Don’t over-schedule or micro-manage, but do set up a few basic parameters to your day and your child’s day.  Yes, even in these days of home quarantine – especially in these days stuck at home – set clear starting and ending times to the day.  Get your kids up at a reasonable hour (8 or 9:00 am) and keep reasonable bedtime curfews in place (varying from 8 to 11 pm, depending on age, temperament, etc.).

Set clear expectations for family chores (a few) and family meal times that will be shared (at least one) each day.  Give your child some choices within limits for when and how they’ll do them.  Leave them a short, daily “To-Do” list on a Post-It Note or Whiteboard on the fridge.  At lunch time or dinner time, conduct an inspection – schoolwork is completed, or it’s not.  Chores are done, or they’re not.

You may decide to set clear consequences to go along with successful completion of daily tasks or goals. WHEN you’ve completed this… THEN you may enjoy some of that…  (More on effective consequences another day.)

Set clear expectations for some type of physical activity each day – indoors or out (maintaining social distancing, of course).  Schedule it.  Set alarms and notifications. Do it. You and your kids. Otherwise, it’s just a good idea that’s doing you no good.

And finally, be sure to include down-time for you and your children.  Seriously, make sure there are free-spaces in your day.  UN-scheduled time.  Time to just be, not do. Rest.

Rest for an hour or two or three each day, in whatever brings you joy.  Spend time with whatever nourishes your body and soul.  Make the time.  Choose that time.

Give your children the gift of that choice and time, too. Spend some of it together. Spend some of it blissfully alone.

These are things we can do, realistically, to keep re-balancing the never-ending demands of work and home.  We’ll never find the perfect balance.  In fact, don’t think of work-life balance as a noun, as a specific end-state to be achieved.  Ain’t gonna happen.

Rather, think of it as a verb – balancing – as a dynamic dance to the music of life.

Pause.  Breathe.  Smile.  And keep on dancing!