In my household, working from home is the norm. My husband has worked from home our entire married life and I, in recent years, have balanced my writing commitments with being a stay at home mom. We’re old pros at this; our children have never known anything different.
Maybe it’s new to you, though, in these strange, uncertain times. While we have office spaces set up and our routines in order, I imagine this isn’t the case for many of you as we all attempt to navigate a new normal.
We’re several years into this routine and have learned—often through trial-and-error—how to balance work and home when they’re both under the same roof. As many of you experience having a partner work from home for the first time, or work from home for the first time yourselves, here are some things that have helped keep our household sane over the years.
Keep a Schedule
Working from home should be no different than a job you commute to. My husband works from about 7:00 am – 4:00 pm each day. He gets up with the kids around 6:30 and gets them started on breakfast while I get ready in the morning. While we both often work in the evenings, it’s after the kids are in bed. Even though his office (and phone!) are so very accessible, they are off-limits for work-related things between the hours of 4:00-7:30 pm.
Setting a schedule is important for my own life, too. I try to get the bulk of my own work done the three mornings a week my youngest attends preschool. The other two mornings we try to get out of the house for errands and playdates. Our afternoons follow a routine of lunch, quiet time, screen time, snack, and outside play and/or indoor creative play.
Dedicate a Work Space
We have a bedroom upstairs that serves as my husband’s office space with—and this is important—a door that locks. If you don’t have an extra room, especially if working from home is a temporary situation, consider converting a corner of your bedroom or infrequently-used room in your basement as an office area. It helps mentally to have an area dedicated to work and could also help your kids understand that when a parent is in that space, they need to focus.
We learned, after a couple of years, that communication is essential. My husband needs to tell me if he has an important meeting that absolutely cannot be interrupted. And, while it’s wonderful to have no commute, it’s still respectful for him to tell me if he has a meeting that’s run long at the end of the day, so I’m not fuming when he comes downstairs 35 minutes later than usual. Likewise, I need to tell him if I have pressing deadlines so we can come up with a plan together on how best to accommodate each of our work needs.
It’s also important for my husband to communicate with his co-workers. By now they all know he has kids at home and that’s just a part of his daily life. Giving everyone a heads up that “Hey, I have kids at home and you might hear them” is especially important to communicate now – and to know that many of your or your partner’s co-workers may be in the same boat!
If someone else is home, it’s only fair they shoulder part of the household responsibilities. My husband does laundry as needed, loads the dishwasher if there are dishes on the counter, and when our kids were smaller he was able to keep an eye on a napping baby (or three!) while I ran an errand during the day. While I don’t expect him to tidy an entire playroom over his lunch break, there are ways he can pitch in so the burden doesn’t fall so heavily on either one of us.
It’s possible you’ll need to work in shifts, especially if both your partner and yourself are working from home with children. When I have several deadlines at once, my husband often takes a half-day, with one of us working in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
Children Live Here
All that said, it’s not my job to keep our children quiet all day every day. It’s their home, too, and it’s an unfair expectation that our house would be as quiet as a library. They’re loud, they scream, they fight, they cry. Of course, if my husband has an important meeting, we either leave the house or do something to keep them quiet (hello, screen time)—that’s basic respect. But a family lives in this house; it’s not only my husband’s workspace. He and his employer have to be okay with background noise and the occasional interruption from a child who wants to ask their daddy a question or show them a picture they drew at school.
When they were younger, before any of my kids were in school, I made a point of leaving the house every morning. It worked well: my husband was guaranteed at least a few quiet hours each day and it was good for all of our mental health. Of course, in these unpredictable times, that won’t be happening. We’ll at least head outside as much as we can each day where the fresh air and sunshine will do us all some good.
My youngest now knows many of my husband’s co-workers by name. He likes to go into my husband’s office if the door is open to say hello while they’re video chatting. He asks to see Joe’s puppy and tell Nick what LEGO set he’s been working on that day. My husband’s co-workers have been very accommodating, and our interactions with them have normalized his work-from-home life. We can all extend grace to each other in these weird times by acknowledging that we’re all in new situations, talk through how to make things work for our own families, and shake our heads in solidarity at the absurdity of it all.