“Hey, that’s mine! Give it back!”

I look over to see my 9 year old running off, brandishing an Iron Man figurine and his 4 year old brother in hot pursuit.

“Slow down! You’re both going to break something!”

I yell out as I sneak a peek at my laptop screen to see how much of my face was in view in the little square of my Zoom meeting.

I pick up my phone to check the time. 11:12 AM and I’m already tired. Is it too early for wine? Wait a minute! Why is my 9 year old running around?

Aren’t you supposed to be in class?
Yup! But the link’s not working!

He replies, speeding around the dining table where I’m set up.

11:33 AM. My 9 year old is finally back online. My 4 year old is momentarily placated with a bowl of grapes and the promise of a new toy. I return to my ‘desk’ – the dining table that hasn’t seen any dining for the last couple of weeks. I plaster on a big smile and click the ‘video on’ button.

I’m back! Sorry, I had to take a call earlier!

You would think that after a cumulative year of having to work from home, I would be a seasoned pro or at least have some kind of system going – a standard operating procedure I could kick into place the moment the government calls a lockdown, right? Nope! Most days are just a variation of the above scenario (Ok, I lied. Some days are worse! Think crying, slamming of doors, hair pulling, missed meals, unmuted outbursts and embarrassing breakdowns caught on Zoom). So, how do others do it? How do you work from home with kids around?

To answer this tough question, I did the most logical thing – I hopped on to Google and searched, “How to work from home with kids?” (Don’t roll your eyes at me! I already get plenty of that from my kids). I went through what felt like a gazillion websites (exaggeration, another skill I’ve picked up from my kids) and compiled the best 7 tips to try with my family. If you’re still reading, you must be just as desperate, so hopefully, these ideas work for you too!

Hold A Family Meeting

First things first, you need to have a game plan! After all, as the saying goes, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!’. So, huddle up and brainstorm. Involve the kids and let them have a say in what they think will work best for them. Agree on responsibilities and chores, rewards and discipline, number of minutes (or hours!) of electronics time, and anything else they can think of – then, shake on it. After all, the kids need to be in on the plan, so the more they are a part of it, the better!

Note to self: Call a family meeting with the boys – but first, should I bribe or threaten them to get off the iPad and come meet me in the living room?

Define Clear Zones

Next, define clear zones in your home. The home can very quickly morph into a battle zone if spaces aren’t clearly defined. So, set out specific study/work only areas, parents-only rooms, the loud and rough areas and the quiet zone. Once you’ve decided on the different functions of each space in your home, draw it out, label the spaces and stick it on your fridge so everyone can keep referring to it.

Note to self: Define clear zones in the home – get a bigger house with more rooms to achieve this. In the meantime, get those noise-cancelling earphones I’ve been eyeing from JB Hi-fi.

Set A Loose Schedule

While going ‘freestyle’ may work for some families, most would function a little better with a schedule. A schedule will give our little bundles of energy an idea of what needs to happen daily in order for them to be prepared for the day. So, grab a large cardboard, think of everything that needs to happen (brushing teeth, meal times, online classes, etc) and throw in a few fun activities (TV time, outdoor play, family game time) and write it down. There doesn’t need to be military precision to the schedule, just a loose one to give everyone an idea of how the day will flow. Again, plaster this onto your fridge so everyone can refer to it.

Note to self: Set a loose schedule for the kids. Is 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon followed by 2 hours in the evening too much iPad time?

Get up early

Another fairly popular tip among parents who seem to be able to ‘do it all is waking up early! Setting your alarm clock just an hour before your kids wake up will give you a whole extra hour in the day to get some work done. If work isn’t your cup of tea, you could use that one hour to have a leisurely breakfast, get in an hour of yoga, finish off that level on that PS5 game you never seem complete or just relish in the peace and quiet and prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the day ahead.

Note to self: Google up ways to get kids to stay in bed till 8 am then set alarm for 7 am.

Prep, Prep, Prep

From my intense Google research, most parents laud the importance of being prepared. Prepack snacks into small containers, prepare games they can play on their own or with each other, preselect some books they can read or browse through, set up activity stations and do this all the night before. Hungry child? Grab a snack! Bored? Here, try this game. Hopefully, you’ll be able to carve out a little uninterrupted time to work if their needs are all met.

Note to self: Prepack extra snacks for myself, don’t forget the chocolate.

Loosen Those Rules

Remember that awesome game plan you made during your family meeting? And the schedule you set up? Well, some days it may be better to set those rules aside and go with the flow. It is inevitable. It will definitely happen. Despite our best efforts, some days are going to be more challenging than others. You may have agreed to just one hour of screen time but if two hours is what it’s going to take to get you through the day, then so be it. If your quiet zone is infiltrated by a mob of giggling mini versions of you, let it go. You accidentally missed serving breakfast and now its lunchtime? Call it brunch. Just loosen those rules, and start again the next day.

Note to self: Rules are made to be broken, yes?

Be Gentle Eith Yourself

Finally, be gentle with yourself. This pandemic has placed unprecedented pressure on everyone. For most of us, this may be the first time we’ve had to juggle work and life within the confines of our home. There is no one right way to get through this and we’re all learning what works best for our families. So, forgive yourself for days you may feel that twinge of irritation or the moments you wish you could just lock yourself away in Rapunzel’s tower. After all, you’re not just working from home with kids around, you are working from home with kids around during a pandemic! So, cut yourself some slack, you’re doing alright!

Note to self: Yes, I’m doing alright!