If you’re a parent, working from home is the best, except for the many times when it’s a goddamn nightmare. These competing situations exist in equal measure; the price of making your own pace, work environment, and slipper decisions is how you’re automagically on the hook whenever there’s a snow day. Or a teacher’s in-service. Or when someone wakes up at 4:30 a.m. chorking all over his Last Jedi bedspreads, hypothetically. It may not be equitable but it’s logical: Person in the house gets the short straw on sick days.
The good news is it’s certainly possible to do an occasional work-from-home day with the kids around, if you don’t mind smooshing your work and home life together like some mashed-up PBJ sandwich, except gloppier. If you think it sounds easy, it’s harder than you think. If you think it sounds hard, it’s harder than you think. Here, then, are a few humble tips to get through eight hours of double duty without losing your mind.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Stay-At-Home Parenting
Build a Wi-Fi-equipped subterranean shipping-container cavern in your backyard.
Holy shit, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Just get some shovels and canned fruits — there’s probably a prepper convention around you somewhere.
If you cannot build a subterranean cavern, you’ll have to set boundaries inside your (comparatively boring) house.
The work-from-home people whom I know (and am) deploy all manner of strategies to get through their days, but those strategies all share a common thread: dedicated space. Designate place for work, then guard it jealously. If you can spin a spare room into an office with a lockable door, do it. If you can carve out a desk in the kitchen, do it. If you have to hide in a half-sized cubby in a back corner of the garage, it’s a little weird, and you should keep ant-killer on hand, but do it. The key is to establish functional, dedicated real estate that your brain equates with “work time,” so you can lock into a work mindset. Otherwise, you’ll be pulled by not only the children in the other rooms, but the unfinished projects as well, and that will blur the work/home more than you already are.
Keep this workspace free of Paw Patrol swag as much as is feasible.
This is to say, make sure your kids don’t have any claims on the space. A mighty order, naturally, but also easier than you might think. In keeping with the concept of a dedicated workspace, do your best to make sure the kids don’t claim your workspace for any variation of playing, that they know that this space is Dad’s “office”. This sounds more dickish than it is, especially in a house teeming with small children, but you’re doing it already: You already don’t let kids play in the garage, or near the oven, or in the fireplace. Set a rule early that your space is a Lego-free zone, and enjoy fewer boundary-related discussions later.
To entertain kids, turn on the television.
Sixty years’ worth of plummeting national math-test averages agree: When it comes to distraction, TV is a winner! Until you come to terms and realize that’s probably not the best idea and have to…
Entertain the kids without subjecting them to a shapeless stew of furious ADHD animation.
While you can easily buy yourself 90 minutes with The Emoji Movie, that’s 90 minutes you have to deal with the low, sick sensation in your stomach. The solution here is an only slightly impractical one: Break up the time into little pieces. Of course you’d be more productive if you worked in one shot, but this simply might not be possible. If that’s the case, have your ids watch a show for 30 minutes, then break for a game, then watch a show for 30 minutes, then break for lunch. Micromanaging your day in this manner will be frenetic, even obnoxious, but it’ll also feel better than flicking on four solid hours of Netflix.
Realize this one horrible fact: You’ve been mixing up work and home anyway.
In addition to all the other things its ruined (politics, movie endings, the ability to form meaningful connections with your family), your phone has already done a bang-up job of murdering the former line between your work and home life. No one with WiFi clocks out at 5 p.m. So, think of it this way: in working from home, you’ve just leveled-up a little bit.
Give yourself breaks.
On this work-from-home day, and many others, you will neither accomplish as much as you like, nor be the parent you wish. Much like rip currents, Chinese finger traps, and genetic hair loss, fighting this will only make it desperately worse, and the sprint will only wear you down and make you act like a dick at dinner. So, then, book a walk outside, or a break to the park, or an impromptu afternoon visit to a coffeeshop. A half hour to clear your head might seem like a lot but it’s saving you far more than that in space-out time. Besides, you’re not going to get all your stuff done today, and it’s not going to work as well as you want it to. But like other parenting compromises that briefly postpone something great, it still leaves room for pretty good.