How I Manage Working From Home While Parenting an 18-Month-Old

When the pandemic changed everything, creating a family schedule helped us to stay on track and ease anxiety.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, and the likelihood of working from home was increasing, my husband, Brian, and I had a conversation about how we would manage that.  He is a first responder and has to go into work every day, I have a full-time job, and we are the parents of a very busy 18-month-old boy, Hunter. We have an amazing nanny, so at first, it seemed simple. Brian would go to work as usual; we’d set up a little office space for me in our apartment, and our nanny would come in. We sat together that night after working out the plan and told each other, “This won’t be an issue. We won’t miss a beat.” 

I wake up today in a completely different reality. One day after we started working from home, my nanny fell ill, so she could no longer come in. And even if she hadn’t gotten sick, with the government issuing a “stay home” mandate, and with my husband working in the field every day, we didn’t want to risk getting her exposed to anything in our home. We had to completely change our plan, and were suddenly much more anxious. And we’re not alone. Over 90% of Americans say that the coronavirus outbreak has them nervous about their family, according to a Thrive Global original survey of 5,000 people about coronavirus pain points. 

Eighty percent of those surveyed also say that the outbreak has them nervous about how best to support their family. My husband and I were definitely among that 80%. We needed to come up with a new plan to take care of Hunter, show up and give our all at work, and maintain our mental and physical health — and fast.

I set up a meeting with my manager to make sure she knew I would be getting my work done, but that my hours might have to shift a bit. I explained that I would need to start work after Hunter went down for a nap, and would be working from that point forward — barring any unforeseen circumstances that came up with my husband’s schedule or the unpredictability of a toddler.

Now, we have a system that is working. It’s not perfect, and we need to be flexible every day, but it is helping us keep as much normalcy as we can. Some days I feel I have done a better job as a mom; some days I feel I have done better as a working professional. But I am learning to be a little easier on myself during this time.

Adopting the Microstep of setting a clear schedule, and sticking to it, has helped me enormously. Setting up a schedule that works for you and your family, however it may shift, is really helpful in keeping calm and easing anxiety in an already stressful time. Take a peek into our new normal day at the O’Connell household: 

5:30 a.m.: Brian is up and out for work.

5:45 a.m.: One Thrive Microstep is to make sure you find a moment for movement throughout the day. Chasing a toddler around absolutely counts, but I want to do something just for me to help boost endorphins each morning. I either do a free 305 Fitness dance workout or a Peloton workout. Then I take a quick shower, and if Hunter hasn’t woken up, I’ll start cooking or sort laundry.

7:00 a.m.: Hunter wakes up and we are off! As we can’t have any playdates and need to limit our outside time, I get creative. I’ve tapped into my mom friend network to give me ideas to keep Hunter entertained. We’ve made a ball pit in the bathtub, a water table in the kitchen, and baked banana muffins together.  

7:00-12:30/1:00 p.m.: We stay on Hunter’s normal schedule. That is the one schedule we make sure to keep, as it is essential for a toddler. We have set meal times, playtimes, and nap times. 

I also do laundry and meal prep as needed within this time to make sure we are set up as a family.

12:30/1:00 p.m.: Hunter goes down for a nap and I begin my workday in earnest.

1:00 p.m.: I immediately log on, and dig in. We have daily check-ins with our managers to update them on priorities. This is helpful to know what is going on within the company and maintain connections.

2:30/3:00 p.m.: Brain gets home. As he’s been outside all day, he immediately goes in to take a shower. This is when Hunter will start waking up from his nap. If timing is perfect, Brain gets him up. Or, if he’s still cleaning up, I’ll grab Hunter and get him set for the handoff. 

3:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.: Brian is on Hunter duty and I am working. It is a system that has been successful for us, but of course there are little things that come up from time to time that we handle.

5:30 p.m.: Brian and Hunter start making dinner together.

6:00 p.m.: We take a 30 minute break as a family to have dinner. It is a time for us all to connect and be grateful for what we have. 

6:30 p.m.: Back to work to finalize all the projects I’m working on.

7:00 p.m.: Bedtime routine starts. I give Hunter a bath while Brian starts to reset the house (picking up toys and getting Hunter’s room ready for bed). Then we get Hunter dressed in PJ’s, we read books as a family, brush teeth, and then I get 10 minutes of quiet time singing to Hunter before putting him in the crib. 

8:00 p.m.: This is the one hour we come together as a couple. We catch up on each other’s days, plan for anything we need the following day, and just enjoy each other’s company.

9:00 p.m.: Start winding down for the night. I make my to-do list for work the next day so I can jump right into it when naptime begins. It is a way to keep me on track and organized — and has alleviated a lot of work-related anxiety. I also wipe down all the surfaces in the house, disinfect the bathroom and sinks, and if needed, clean the floors. 

I do have the goal of reading, meditating, or journaling before bed, but if I am honest, I am so tired from the day I typically just fall into the bed for sleep after getting things sorted.

10:00 p.m.: Lights out!

I have to admit, I still feel that working-mom guilt. I feel like I should be working in the morning when I am with Hunter, but I know this is what we have to do to succeed as a family in these challenging times. I do try to remember, too, that this time with my son is precious, and I normally wouldn’t get these moments — so I’m not taking that for granted.

If you’re managing working from home with a young child too, check out these Microsteps for helpful tips and inspiration. 

Today, take five minutes to create a daily schedule for you and anyone else staying home with you, and put it where everyone can see it. Sticking to a schedule helps you stay on task and focus, and the same is true for your children or other family members who are staying home. It will also give everyone clarity on when others need their space, like for a meeting or call.

Together with your kids, come up with a rule to help them understand when you’re available. Maybe it’s a specific room, a colorful sign you make together, or a open/closed door that helps them understand when you’re working and when you’re not. A healthy boundary will make it easier for all of you. 

If you have kids or other family obligations, communicate your work hours to your manager proactively. Being compassionately direct about your needs will help ensure that you’re able to be your best at work and at home. 

Schedule time on your shared calendar for non-negotiables. Be clear with your partner about what you need to thrive. If you need focus time first thing in the morning and your partner requires a mid-day exercise session, say so. You’ll get clarity with each other and avoid resentment later.

Create a plan with your partner to make meals for each other. Depending on the demands of your work day, one might be able to cook lunch, while the other can take on dinner. It’s a great way to share the load and find time to connect — and having a plan in advance will help you avoid throwing together last-minute unhealthy meals.

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