WFH without childcare: Top tips for making it work

Being able to work from home during the pandemic is a privilege, but with many camps and childcare facilities closed, you may be saddled with the Sisyphean task of being a full-time employee on top of a full-time parent. Read on for some reassurance and solidarity from members who are handling the juggling act—PLUS some tips on navigating conversations around remote work with your manager.

 

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First of all, as New York continues to reopen, you may be grappling with your company’s return-to-office requirements. If you’re wanting to continue working remotely even after your office reopens, we have some tips on navigating conversations with the higher-ups, courtesy of awesome PSP member Allie Schwartz.

  • Start as early as possible; don’t wait until they say they want everyone back in the office. If you wait, there’s more urgency and less time for thoughtful consideration around what’s best for each employee. Plus, if you bring it up proactively, you can frame the conversation as you raising the topic in advance because you care about your job and want to promote open communication.

  • It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to create broad policy change, but managers may be open to making exceptions for employees they have a good relationship with. If you start the conversation with your manager now (or with another manager or an HR rep, if your relationship with your direct supervisor leaves something to be desired), they can advocate on your behalf with the higher-ups.

  • Finding a new employee is extremely expensive and time-consuming. There’s a lot of value in keeping an employee who is already trained and has the institutional knowledge. Try to play this card—talk about how you’ve been producing high-level work remotely, and continuing this way would allow you to create the most value you can in light of your caregiving needs and responsibilities.

  • Put out feelers to find out who else in the company is dealing with this question; then you can approach the employer together as a voting bloc. Also, if others are allowed to work remotely but a caregiver is not, then that’s discriminatory.

Ultimately, if your employer doesn’t respect your needs and your value enough to create an arrangement that works, then you may choose to go elsewhere. We Work Remotely, Built In NYC, AngelList, remote.co, remote.io, and The Muse have lots of remote job listings. You can also filter for remote work when job-hunting on LinkedIn, and search #remotejob and #remotework on Twitter.

 

 

If you’re partnered, sticking to a clear schedule and division of labor can be a lifesaver:

 

“I think the biggest factor in surviving is having a partner who is willing to work equally. Yes, I am one of those straw-feminists who divides everything mathematically 50-50, and I feel great about it. The simplest metric IMO rather than divvying tasks is quantifying your time. X hours of work time in a day, and idealistically Y hours of rest time but I know that is zero at that age, but if your husband has any rest time whatsoever then that means you get some too. 

 

Right now, my husband and I have roughly settled on a schedule where I schedule all my meetings in the morning & sequester myself in my office, then in the afternoon I come out of my office and work on my laptop on the couch. I try regularly to say okay what's working about the schedule, how are we deviating from the schedule. Obviously with a little baby there is no real schedule but you can still schedule who's on duty for what.”

 

“I have a very very helpful partner.  As a team we structured our time. Even though he works full time and runs his own company, he stayed home the days that I taught, came home early on days when i had a deadline, did all the dishes always, took on tons of baby tasks as his own (bathing, cutting nails, mixing formula). I did not have to micromanage and plan his activities and chores.  We both knew what to do. this is probably the key to how it all worked. note:  your partner can also get paid family leave.  for the sake of society men should also  take PFL. You don't have to take it all in one chunk.  My husband took it one day a week. in this quarantine time, I have heard of other couples where mom takes morning care and dad takes afternoon care . make it fair!!!”

 

“I wish I could tell you we had some magical formula for what to do, but we don't. What ended up working for us was this: 

 

- I woke at 4am to pump (I have a low supply and had to keep up the 4am pump in order to supplement during the day). After I pumped, I did a few hours of work before the baby woke up and then took the morning shift to watch/deal the baby. During this time I was able to respond to emails but not really do substantive work. 

- My husband woke up at 9 or 10, made breakfast, and worked until 1 or 2 pm. 

- I then did a few more hours of work, and stopped at 5pm to make dinner while my husband put the baby to sleep

- After dinner, he stayed up till 12, 1, or 2 am getting work done. 

 

And repeat.”

 

“Hello, we’re lucky to have flexible hours at the moment, and we’ve found we can just about make it work by spreading those hours over seven days / week. I work 7am-noon, and my husband works 1pm-6pm. We eat meals together, and we usually both work again in the evenings. I go to bed early and he stays up late.”

 

 

Create a clear division between “work time” and “family time”:

 

“I found that when [my child] was up I had to either attend to her needs or involve her in household chores.  She is not helpful with typing ... but she is helpful/fun with cooking laundry cleaning etc.  I found she took better and longer naps if I did stuff actively with her while she was awake. I'd keep a list and get on it the second she fell asleep. no time for social media tho. no lie, the list often got really long. My work is project based and less scheduled. so this worked.”

 

 

Although you might also find success strapping baby to your body while you work:

 

“baby wearing.  I found she was happy as a clam when she was tiny if i just wore her all the time to do everything.  I got tons done with her strapped to my body.”

 

“We've never been able to manage this successfully, but having ended up having to "finish up" things at work with the first two kids during my leaves, and now, with the third (age 6 weeks) trying to plan for the unknown future, the one thing that has really helped beyond everything that was already mentioned is an improvised standing desk.  You put the baby in a carrier and a folding tray on top of your desk, with your laptop on it (I have an IKEA folding tray).  For a few months you might get 30 minutes at a time to work while standing,  A high countertop can serve this purpose as well.”

 

“baby wearing is huge and helpful. Once baby is big enough to be worn on the back, I did a bunch of babywearing on the back with my laptop on our mantle. Front works too. Often standing was easier for me.”

 

 

Find ways to keep baby occupied while you’re on calls and in meetings:

 

“On days I have video calls, I shower in the morning and put my baby in a Bumbo seat on the bathroom floor and play peek-a-boo. I have a bright, colorful shower curtain that he likes looking at and keep it partly open.

 

Today I put the rainbow doughnut tower on top of our robot vacuum cleaner and faced my baby in that direction in the Bumbo and he amused himself for a long time. 

 

I also put on Debbie Brukman's music class ( ) while he's in his crib and he just stares at her and smiles and wiggles for 30 min. I pick him up and dance with him for a little but then he entertains himself after that.”

 

“I picked up an exersaucer at the clothing swap and it's been a life saver. I have my laptop in the living room and put my son in the exersaucer so he can see me while I'm working. I find that if I just talk to him when he's in it, I can usually get a bunch of emails written before I need to pick him up/play with him. It breaks my heart to leave him in the exersaucer, entertaining himself, but I try to console myself that it would be worse for all of us if I wasn't working.”

 

“My first loved Baby Einstein she would watch if for as long as I would let her. It’s free on Amazon Prime. Just throwing it out there as a suggestion that might buy all of you working from home parents some time here and there.”

 

“I do expect as work really amps up I'll be on more evenings after he goes to bed and maybe some weekends. He does love his Babybjorn bouncer and Lovevery activity mat so I usually get some time to do things when he's on those...I am sort of (but not really) ashamed to admit I have put him in front of TV to buy myself 20 minutes of time before...baby Einstein or Mickey mouse club did the trick...but that's a personal choice of course.”

 

“I just went back to work last week and am trying to figure it out myself!  I have the Baby Bjorn Bouncer which helps, got an attachment for it (the Tiny Love Meadow Days Sunny Stroll Stroller Arch you can find on amazon and it’s cute) and my 4 mo daughter can sit in it and bat the hanging bee while I pump (i exclusively pump and the ziploc hack for storing your pump parts in the fridge is a game changer!) or check emails in the couch for a good 20-30 minutes before I take her out. She might be able to stay in longer but then I feel a little guilty leaving her in there for too long.”

 

 

Reconfigure your apartment to suit your needs:

 

 

I've been home with my 6 yo since March. While I only have one kiddo, it's been interesting to navigate the best arrangement for 'work space' vs. 'living space' in our cozy 2bdrm. In short a floating work station in each room has been our go-to. Not sure how much this more detailed account will help your situation with 2 little ones...but for better or worse here's what has helped in my world:

 

Keep bedrooms as bedrooms--this way any kiddo and/or adult that needs to sleep can do so without interruption (regardless the time of day). I do a lot of writing with my work and get a good amount done late at night, while my husband is an early bird; we really couldn't survive without having 2 separate workstations. For us, this is our dining room table and a corner desk in my bedroom. My kiddo has a 3rd makeshift space in his room. It's a nice setup for all things Zoom, but he always does miles better with 'work' when he's at the table with me or my hubby...or even if he's on my bed with his iPad. Even if both adults are focused on working, he plugs in his headphones and gets to task much better this way. I think it's just hard for kiddos this age to get to work in their rooms...supervision, even if passive (and mostly just physical proximity!), has helped my little guy.

 

It takes some juggling, but in our apartment my bedroom has been designated the 'quiet' work room. So if one of us has an important meeting or phone call, that person gets the bedroom... the door can be closed for some real separation, and for the most part my kiddo understands not to barge in (took a few months, ha!)

 

Since we have one child, his room has been designated the 'play and make noise' space---but of course, he doesn't do so great playing independently in there and just craves being in the same room as us. So essentially, if me or my husband do work in the living room it's with the understanding that we'll have to wear headphones....or take turns working in the 'quiet office' (bedroom)."

 

 

"We moved our bed to the living room, got a loveseat to replace the LR couch, and moved the couch to the bedroom, which is now the nursery/playroom/office. If our kid is sleeping, we both work from the living room. If our kid is up, he’s either in the nursery or outside (until he starts daycare next week which we decided to do because this set-up won’t be tenable once the weather is bad, and it’s a stretch even now).

 

The hardest part is that the most comfortable work station is in the nursery, and the calmest work time is when he’s sleeping, at which time we can’t be in the nursery. So if you’re configuring work space now, I’d consider that."

 

Plan naptimes strategically:

 

“This is controversial, but we have never put her to bed at 7 like other babies. this is because i really really really appreciate a nice long nap in the middle of the day for getting work done during 9-5hrs.  i know that some people really appreciate the after 7pm work time.”

 

“got a solid nap game plan...ours is using the snugabunny swing as a crutch which buys us 3-4 hours of great naps plus results in a happier daytime baby...till we're ready to nap train that is, we're still on night sleep training”

Think through the realities of the situation in order to plan for contingencies and create sustainable solutions:

 

“How have your employers handled childcare policies for other parents? Are they reducing expectations for parents of young kids? Does that come with pay cuts? Are your jobs meeting-heavy where you need to be available to other people? Is your job "flexible" - meaning you still need to put in full time hours, but it's ok if it's happening at 10pm or on weekends? Do not discount the importance of needing time to unplug, time to yourself, time to be a couple. Will you be stressed out that you're not working when you're on your ‘shift’ with the baby? 

 

What's your baby like, so far? Are they on a pretty regular schedule? Can you handle it if (and when!) that changes? Are you going to breastfeed? It's easier to schedule specific times and block them out to pump than it is to nurse on demand. If you're going to breastfeed/pump, what does a ‘fair’ split with your husband look like?”

 

 

Be transparent with your employer and coworkers:

 

“This advice only works if your employer is a reasonable and decent human being, but if so I think it probably applies. All we really want to know is (1) what can we expect, and (2) are you operating in good faith. Be transparent with your arrangements and your routines. I get anxious when I don't hear from an employee but when they say "ugh I'm so sorry my baby xyz" I'm like "oh right ok". We just want to be kept in the loop and to know that you can fulfill your obligations. Its okay to say "I don't know if I can handle that right now" and is much worse to take on more than you can handle because then you start making other people anxious.”

 

“I have found that for the most part, people are understanding if they hear my son in the background. I usually start my calls by saying, I'm working from home so you might hear my baby (knowing full well that of course they are going to hear him, I'm holding him three inches from the phone and I can only press mute so quickly!) I find that it usually gets people to start talking about their kids/families so then they’re more focused on their own issues than my son.”

 

“-When someone is being harsh in a meeting, turn the camera on and show the baby and they are suddenly nice!

-Get to a place of informality with your co-workers, if that's possible. Being able to call and have a chat can avoid so many emails or powerpoint decks.

-Make your primary role getting the people on your work team to get to a decision quickly. It will inevitably save you a lot of time. (If you have a team.)”

 

 

Don’t beat yourself up for making some compromises:

 

“My first daughter, I felt like I had to be occupying her and playing with her every moment. My second one I felt like I did not play with her enough due to the aforementioned work situation. I felt guilty for years but the truth is she loves playing by herself with her toys, drawing, she really is comfortable keeping herself occupied. I think there is a happy medium in there somewhere, but in any event my younger girl is a super super happy, smart, and well-adjusted girl - I don't think they really need as much attention as we think they do.

- Yes, it sucks. Those days are a blur for me. I had huge signs hung up around my house that said things like "BRUSH TEETH FIRST". I remember the mad scramble when they fall asleep like omg what do I do first okay I'm supposed to pump gotta check email gotta do the dishes, I have to eat, etc etc. Ugh. Remember it's temporary.”

 

“Ashamed to admit it, but I don't sterilize my pump parts daily. Maybe every 3 or 4 days. I rinse all the parts after every pump, and my baby is fine. And laundry only on weekends.”

 

“When it all goes to sh*t just remember that what you're trying to do is nothing short of heroic.”

 

 

Resources on Park Slope Parents to help you out:

 

And if you decide to seek out childcare or a shared podding/homeschooling situation, check out our articles on Best practices for hiring/bringing back a nanny in the time of coronavirus and Podding/Bubble Families.