Working from home (with kids)

by Marissa Marangoni

A good percentage of you out there are still working from home. I’ve been working from home for a few years now, and I know that making your home your office all the sudden can be jarring. I was lucky in this quarantine that my only adjustment was to suddenly have my husband and child home full-time.

Prior to this development, my biggest WFH hurdles were my barking dogs, people who think they should ring the doorbell, and Target. Oh, and my wandering focus. For those of you new to the WFH gig, all I can tell you about it is that breaks are your friend, snacks are great rewards for responding to emails, and backup plans are crucial in case your computer decides to die a catastrophic death when you are overloaded with work and never saved your files anywhere else besides on your computer that won’t even turn on long enough for you to log in. OK, so, also, make sure you save your files to some sort of cloud or external hard drive. It’s (probably) also great if you can manage to make yourself a routine and follow it, but I know very little about that.

The addition of my husband and child to the homestead during the workweek was a little fun at first. It was nice to see more of them. However, when our stay-at-home order began, I wasn’t overloaded with work. My work ebbs and flows — I’m either spending time searching out new clients or completely overwhelmed and awake at hours when no one should be to “just finish one more little thing.” In the beginning, it was OK that I made J lunch and we went for long walks more than once a day, and I got in an hour of work here and there — but then I got busy, and things got hard.

My husband has to keep traditional work hours and because I dictate when I work and when I don’t, the childcare during the day fell to me while J was at home full-time. Parenting was first, working was second. 

Being a night owl worked to my advantage, as I quickly realized that I had to put in most of my hours at night, starting at 5pm. I don’t recommend this schedule, but I know there are many of us who figured out it was the only way forward.

Narrowly escaped death on a walk (Photo: Marissa Marangoni)

Like I said, I did try to work during the day, but there were a lot of things that prevented me from doing so successfully. For starters, J doesn’t have much interest in typical kids’ toys. He much prefers jumping off the back of the couch and narrowly avoiding death than he does playing with his Octonauts figures and their Octopod home that we spent way too much on as his big Christmas present. He loves to capture worms and shovels even more, and it is challenging to keep him in the house. Due to the nature of my job, I can’t actually work outside while he uses the hose to liberally water the neighbors’ roof. If we can be outside, we are outside. And if we’re outside, I’m not working.

Other things that kept me from being productive were J’s love of running the vacuum when I’m on a call, harassing the dogs, and running around the house at top speeds until he smashed his head into something. My child is all noise and all movement, and all that is to say it was near impossible to get anything done while trying to contain him in my tiny office as he’s trying to sneak clicks with my mouse or pushing the delete button on my keyboard. I couldn’t be productive with him at home while he was awake — until the tablet. 

I know there are probably parents out there much better than I who managed to work during the day with their children at home without screens, but I am not one of them. I am not proud of this. I never anticipated J having any of his own technology this soon. He’s only 4. I have hang-ups about screens, and until last summer, his favorite things to watch on TV were videos of actual garbage trucks picking up trash. Spoiler alert: if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, but man do little kids love garbage truck action.

It became pretty apparent that screens were going to be a thing in J’s life much sooner than I ever wanted them to be, but to be able to occasionally sleep more than 5 hours a night, it didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. 

We started off with an ABC Mouse account (which I highly recommend) on a very old iPad mini that I won at a conference years ago. J was immediately enthralled, which my husband and I expected. He would happily sit under my office desk and play, as he calls it, “ABCDEFG Mouse” while I worked. He was learning things, I was getting stuff done, and it wasn’t such a bad set up. 

Except then the iPad died. So, enter the Kindle Fire for kids. It has been a lifesaver, with solid parental controls and plenty of free educational downloads (and, you know, not educational downloads) to keep a little one entertained. J’s learned some pretty cool things from his tablet, I have to admit, and so far, he is pretty good about handing it over when we ask him to. 

The tablet saved my sanity a little bit, and more than that, it lets me feel slightly relaxed because when I wasn’t working, I felt like I could still have time that was fully focused on my child instead of worrying about how I was going to work or being so tired from working that I was falling asleep while he served me pretend pizza pancakes and ran his toy shopping cart into the couch. 

The hardest part during the 10 weeks I worked from home with J was that I felt like a bad mom and a bad worker. I couldn’t perform either of my roles at the standard to which I hold myself, so everything I did felt bad. When I was working, I felt guilty because I couldn’t pay full attention to what I was doing, and I felt guilty because I couldn’t pay attention to my kid the way he expected me to. And, funny as it is since I have ADHD and having 100% of my attention on one thing is extremely rare, all this kind of made me realize that I like to give as much as I am able to what I am doing. The lack of any semblance of balance was hard.  And all parents know that there is always a lack of balance when it comes to families and work, but this whole quarantine and WFH situation really added to that in a whole new, terrible way.

So, moral of the story? Get your kid a tablet.

Ha. Ha. Maybe it’s not a great solution, but it worked all right for us. There’s also TV if you have a kid who will watch it. Sure, sure, screen time be damned and all, but when you have kids at home that you never expected to and a job that you still have to do, I don’t see how you can do much better. 

The guilt will eat you alive—but only if you let it. So you aren’t making homemade bread or babysitting a mother glob for your upcoming batch of kombucha — so what? There’s a pandemic, you can buy bread on the cheap, and no one wants that gross glob taking up container real estate anyway.

I’m not the parent I wanted to be during this time, but I was the parent I had to be, and we survived. If you’re reading this, you survived, too. Maybe your kids spend all day on their phones because you’ve got back-to-back Zoom calls and a report to turn in by tomorrow morning—it’s fine.  

Do what you have to do to survive. Let things slide, whether it be the quality of your work, the number of times your kids get bathed per week, or texts you simply don’t answer because you just can’t deal with making the effort. 

We will get back to some sort of normal at some point, but until then, if you’re working from home with your kids, be the parent you have to be to keep your job and your kids living. Worry about being the parent you wanted to be at a later date.

Marissa is the co-author of Urine Luck, but sometimes she writes about things other than bathrooms. Marissa has been writing for the Devil Strip since August of 2015.