When I tell people I work from home with my two kids — 5-year-old and 18-month-old daughters — I get one of two reactions: "You are so lucky, I would give anything to be home with my kids and still work, that's just the most amazing thing ever, you're so lucky," or "How do you get anything done? There's no way I could be home with my kids all day, I'd go crazy."
There's no right or wrong reaction here. Parenting little kids all day is tough, but at the same time I am really lucky that I get to make a living at home with my kids. And as a national emergency closes schools and extracurriculars and work, millions of working parents are going to find themselves living the life of a stay-at-home parent, too, whether or not they think they can.
Remember That Every Day Is A Fresh Slate
Here's one big piece of advice: Treat each day as exactly what it is — a new day. I'm ashamed to admit that I have felt straight-up anger at both of my children for "ruining" a work day. You know, because one of them took a three-hour nap the day before and today only took a 45-minute nap and now I can't finish this piece without them whining. Or one of them has suddenly developed an aversion to Play-Doh — the same item that kept them solidly busy for two hours the day before.
But it also goes the other way.
If you had a really terrible day yesterday, that doesn't mean your kids are going to be just as whiny and fussy and all-over-the-place today. People love to talk about being a working parent as a balancing act, but I'm not convinced they mean it in the traditional way of every day being a balance. The whole thing is a balance, and that means you may have a terrible day where everyone cried (including you) and you were up until 11 p.m. finishing the laundry, followed by a day of your kids playing outside together like little angels while you tackled seven spreadsheets and had a hot cup of coffee.
Once a week, someone asks me for advice on how to get things done with kids at home. They want to know how I do it when they feel like they can't, they want to know all of my tips and tricks, they want to make it work.
Just Give Your Kids 15 Minutes
And here's the one that saves me from losing my cool with my kids: Fill up their cups.
Like, not just their sippy cup, which they will absolutely be draining every three seconds as if the entire world depends on them staying overly hydrated (you have no idea how much your kids think about their own thirst or hunger until you're in a house with them for 24 hours), but fill them up, tend to their needs, and I swear to you, your entire day will change.
I'm often working as my toddler throws me board books and as my 5-year-old comes home from school begging me to play Barbies with her. "I can't, I'm doing something right now" means absolutely nothing to either of them. I am here. I am their mother. Why am I not 100% available to them?
Sometimes, they can be distracted by something else. And when that works, you'll furiously finish the dishes or your lunch or your work and bless the gods that created stickers. But when it doesn't, it's so very easy to get frustrated and to absolutely lose your sh*t. I've done it so many times, and every time it makes me feel like a total jerk.
Because all I had to do was fill up their cup for 15 minutes. I just had to pause my editing session, sit on the floor, and join the very dramatic world of a Barbie witch that stole a baby and won't return it with my 5-year-old or read a book three times in a row to the toddler. And once I've poured into them — like really poured, without my phone or computer near me — they're full. I promise you, this works. Every. Single. Time. I say I don't have time to do it, but I do. I have 15 minutes to take a break and play with them, and they are completely and utterly satisfied with this. Once my 15 minutes are up, I tell them I need to get back to work, and the whining is gone. They're fine with it. They got their fill, and now they can play by themselves again.
Nobody Is Born Knowing How To Do This
Look, maybe you've been a stay-at-home mom since your kids were born and you still feel like you haven't got it all together. That's fine! It's more than fine — it's human. Once a week, someone asks me for advice on how to get things done with kids at home. They want to know how I do it when they feel like they can't, they want to know all of my tips and tricks, they want to make it work. And I'm honest — sometimes nothing works. Sometimes you do all of the "right" things the blogs give you: You set routines, you go with the flow, you keep a schedule, you don't watch the clock, you focus on them, you let them entertain themselves. It's all back and forth because nobody actually knows how to make this the perfect situation 24 hours a day. You will have 15 minutes of pure bliss as the baby naps and you answer emails and the toddler is engrossed in Little People, followed by 45 minutes of wailing for a Popsicle and thrown crackers and a lost remote.
Nobody knows what they're doing, not the veterans, the newbies, the temporaries. We're all just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks and what doesn't — and even then, things will change.
I've been a stay-at-home mom that is also a working mom for over five years now. Calling myself a work-from-home mom doesn't quite do it justice. Because I don't take my kids to a day care or a babysitter and then work from coffee shops or my desk. I pause work projects to cut up strawberries and rewind Elmo. I talk in meetings with the toddler balanced on my knee as she, often, screams to get down so she can hurl herself down the stairs. I am a stay-at-home mom. And I want you to know that whether you're also remotely working as you parent or parenting without the added responsibility of your job, it's all hard. But you can get through it.
You're going to be home with your kids for a lot of days — do them — and yourself — a favor by remembering that each one stands alone.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.