How to thrive between home office and home schooling as working mom

So, phase one of the crisis is over. Now, phase two has started – maybe the new normal. Even though some kids go back to school, it is not school as we know it. Even though some people go back to their physical offices, it is not work as we know it. The constant stretch between paid work, care work, schooling, you name it, is not over. It might be getting even a bit more ambitious coordinating all the different blended models that slowly start to arise (school every morning from 8-10 for one child, no school for the second, being in the office every third day with the same few people, but not the rest of the team while child care is still closed).

How can we keep our moods and energy levels up, stay positive and maybe even thrive in this set-up? Here is my personal essence after nine weeks with four people at home trying to keep up a sense of normalcy. As weird as it may sound, while the obvious things make times a bit hard, some things got easier, when you look at them from a different perspective.

1.     Providing routines and agreeing on rituals

My personal top item on the list to keep the kids at bay when it comes to home schooling. We have established a fixed time slot for school in the mornings with fixed planned breaks and a daily rope skipping challenge before school starts (oh my, the kids are getting really good at it!). If they finish earlier than school ends they are encouraged to do some arts or crafts (the teachers luckily provide plenty of inspiration for that). With this, we keep the afternoons free for them to do whatever they please. At night they have a rather fixed bed time and additional time in bed to read or to listen to an e-book. In our case the free afternoons are totally new to them: normally they are in day care until five, go to sports or music classes and have a tight schedule. Now, they have a way more relaxed life, making new connections (at distance of course) and making their environment their playground. 

2.     Sharing is caring but needs planning

There has been written a lot about how families fall back into the old role models, mom doing her job, schooling the kids and taking care of most of the household chores. Lately I feel it has become more balanced with all of us being at home. There is more to do as well, but there are also more shoulders to distribute chores on since everyone’s here all the time. My husband and I do a loose check-in in the morning comparing schedules and then plan around it. We know each other’s absolute “do not disturb” slots and take on the ownership of catering to the children. Regular “do not disturb” and “I am not here physically” appointments are transparent in our shared digital calendar. To make it transparent for the kids, we are on a three-step escalation: door open means “yes, you can come in”, door closed means “if it is important, you may come in but rather not – check the other parent’s door first”, “do not disturb sign” on the door means “by no means do disturb”. For the rest, it naturally falls into place – the person with more time takes care of the meals and shopping.

3.     Taking time for inspiration and re-skilling

Two weeks ago I visited an online seminar on purpose and leadership – 2,5 hours spread over 5 days. Normally this would have been abroad 5 days full time. Only this week I listened in on republica, followed a talk on employee engagement in remote set-ups, and took part in a leadership mini seminar. The missing unplanned inspiration that I typically get in the office through coffee-machine conversations gets not only compensated but expanded by external expertise in an increased amount. Normally I would not have gone to these three events in two weeks, not even in two months. But now, the time you spend is just the actual time of the online event. There is an endless pool of resources for online inspiration and learning out there that fits every interest and skill: content is more comprised than offline, easily accessible and at reduced charge. For me, where travelling is always a hazzle regarding child care juggling, this is just perfect. And if you say, networking comes short, I realized that – depending on the format – you can also network remotely, just differently.

4.     Connecting with others

No woman is an island – exchange with closer connections in some weird way got easier. No babysitter needed, no location to pick that meets everyone’s commuting requirements, no doodle to find a date that suits all (well, the latter might change rather soon). Set-up a video call and share a glass of wine and some good conversations. I tend to spend more quality time with some of the more remotely located friends than before. Additionally, it is easy to connect with relatives that are currently not allowed to travel or would be risking their health. In sum we have set-up video-breakfasts with remote family, ad-hoc story reading time with grandma, and several regular virtual meetings with different circles of friends (basically matching the most frequented WhatsApp Groups).

5.     Planning time off

Everyone’s time is easily absorbed because everyone is around everyone all the time – no escape route. I did some thinking about what is good for me, made a list and started to explicitly schedule free time alone: going running, taking an afternoon break, simulating a work commute with a lonely morning walk. Awareness experts call this defining daily micro-practices. And this seems to be a much better term, because something micro is something you can squeeze in, no matter how filled your day and head is.

6.     Reflecting and going with the flow

So, how can we keep strong and positive in this constantly changing situation? The rituals, agreements, plans that suit our state of mind today might be obsolete tomorrow. I am trying to be present and aware to notice if there is a need for adaption. If something does not feel right, finding out why and trying to fix it with the rest of the household. One anecdote from last night that warmed my heart. My 7-year-old asked for a “family conference” in their bedroom before they went to sleep. She said: “Now everyone will tell us how they felt today, what good things happened and if there is a question one likes to have answered.” We then agreed to slightly adjust the schooling schedule and the wake-up routine and had a really good family conversation.

I hope this random piece of thought is useful for a few fellow working moms out there. Let´s stay positive and creative!