work from home with toddler

How to Work from Home with Your Toddler During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How to Work from Home with Your Toddler During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Our daughter Poppy is 3, and, like most of the world, we’ve been practicing some mild self-isolation and social distancing over the past few days. 

That means the whole thing: no daycare, working from home, and playdates on lockdown. 

I’ve been working from home for remote companies for the past five years, and I have a great system. 

95% of the time, my toddler is in daycare during working hours. The other 5% is when she’s sick or it’s a holiday.

#1: Shift Your Working Hours

The best hack for working from home while your toddler is stuck at home with you? Waking up 1-2 hours before your kid and grinding it out. 

I’ll admit this is tough to get used to if you’re not a 5am vet like I am, but desperate times call for desperate measures. 

You need to get important work done. You also need to be a parent and keep your child occupied inside during working hours. The best way to ensure you get your most important things done each day is to do them first thing, while your child is still asleep. 

I wake up at 5:00 every morning and am working by 5:15 (coffee comes first). 

Poppy isn’t allowed to be out of her room until 7am, which gives me a solid hour and a half to get the important work done. This is the most productive time of the day, since it’s easier to minimize distractions and immerse yourself in deep work when the rest of the world is asleep. 

Another huge benefit of having a toddler is that they’re in bed so early! Bedtime in our household is 7:30pm, so we can get a couple of hours of work done after that if we still have outstanding items from the day.

#2: Practice Self-Directed Play

I’ve found that now is a good time to work out the kinks in your relationship with your child, if only out of necessity. 

Poppy will be an only child for the next couple of months until baby #2 is born. Then it’ll be over a year until she has a playmate who can keep up. 

Perhaps as a result, we have struggled to encourage self-directed play. 

But self-directed play is necessary for healthy development, and not something that a child is either born with or not. Now’s the time to encourage this. 

Over the past few days, we’ve been practicing Janet Lansbury’s strategies for fostering independent play, including ensuring we have a safe “yes” space, setting scheduled independent play times and setting respectful boundaries. 

It takes a few days to get the hang of this, but when you do, you may be surprised as to how independent your little one can be and how long they may become immersed in something. 

It’s true that it’s tough to get the important, deep work done during these times because you do still have to be aware of your surroundings. But it’s possible to be productive during these times. 

#3: Use the Tools Available to You

Confession: we’re one of those families that doesn’t own a TV. 

We aren’t huge fans of screen time, and we’ve only recently loosened the rules a bit to allow 20 minutes of Netflix Kids 1-2 times per week. 

But before recently, we weren’t in a pandemic. Daycares weren’t closed, self-isolation wasn’t recommended, and we didn’t have to try to make working from home with a toddler ever-present work

Over the past few days, Poppy has been watching 3-4x more TV than she normally would, and we’ve put our ideals on a shelf for when they’re more appropriate. 

Kids shows do one thing really well: they grab and hold children’s attention. They're designed to do so. We can use Netflix to get an hour or more of concentrated, deep work done. 

Perhaps working from home frees up the time that you’d normally be commuting so you can avoid evening screentime in favor of getting outside as a family. That’s been the case for us with the time savings from daycare drop-offs, and makes us feel less guilty about all of the Max and Ruby our kid’s been watching. 

If a ton of screen time helps you get your shit done, do it. Guilt-free. 

#4: Harness Nap Time

Most toddlers don’t nap for hours a day like they may have used to, but until they’re around 5, they still need daytime sleep. Poppy’s naps are usually between 1:00 and 2:30pm, though if she had a particularly active morning she may sleep for an additional half an hour. 

While I’m tempted to get dinner started in that time, or have my own lunch break, it’s a better use of my time to take a break while she’s awake and use the precious nap-time to work.

#5: Stagger Your Work Day with Your Partner’s

If you have the support of a partner, and your partner is also working from home during the pandemic, you may have another secret weapon in your arsenal: the ability to stagger your work days and therefore childcare duties. 

For Ryan and I, that means that I work earlier in the morning and spend the late afternoon hours with Poppy. He works into the late afternoon and spends the morning with Poppy. 

Here’s how our days have looked: 

  • 5:15am – 7am Sarah work 
  • 8:30am – 3:30pm Sarah work 
  • 9am – 5pm Ryan work 

During our “on” times with the kiddo, we both employ the above strategies to ensure we are fulfilling our responsibilities to our employers. 

We’re both lucky enough to have flexible work that can generally be done outside of regular business hours. For calls and meetings that fall outside of our (new) normal working hours, we trade off with each other. 

It’s Not Impossible to Work From Home with a Toddler

This is a frustrating and extremely challenging time to be a parent of young children or to be human at all. Balancing your career, your family and your life is difficult when there’s not a viral pandemic. 

When you have to try to do so cooped up at home with no childcare or office to retreat into? That adds an extra layer of fun onto the already stressful working-parent paradigm. 

But it’s not impossible to balance this all within the confines of your home. If you have a flexible work schedule, some patience, and the ability to let go of some of your rules, you can still get stuff done. 

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