Tips for surviving lockdown when you’re working and have a toddler
I read a great meme recently that said ‘We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm’.
Lockdown looks very different from one person to the next, and while I can’t pretend to know what is going on in other people’s minds, I know I am far luckier than many and several of my friends and family are having a pretty tough time at the moment. But while we are all struggling to some extent, and for any of us there’s probably always someone who is in a worse position – that doesn’t mean our own worries and obstacles aren’t still valid.
So what is lockdown like for me so far? Well, I’m working full time from home in my financial services marketing roll, and can do everything I need to on the computer with the help of Zoom video calls. My husband similarly is working from home in his IT role. So we are both on full pay and really enjoying not having an hour plus commute on a packed train- and we didn’t really have a social life to be missing lately anyway!
The most important part of the lockdown experience though is my daughter. The mini moo (or moo as I often call her these days) is 2 years and 2 months old, and until 20 March was at nursery five days a week.
It’s been absolutely wonderful having all this extra time together. I’m amazed at how quickly she is developing – her language in particular is coming on in leaps and bounds and in the space of the two months we have been at home she has become so much more conversational and is coming out with new words and phrases all the time (admittedly some of them have clearly been picked up directly from Peppa Pig). She’s just the most adorable easy going little girl which does make things a lot easier – though for the first month of lockdown we went through a period of very difficult bedtimes which needed both of us spending an hour plus upstairs every night (not forgetting the one night where she wouldn’t go to sleep at all and I ended up sleeping in an armchair downstairs with her on me).
I feel like we have gotten to know our gorgeous girl better by watching her play and explore, and I can see it being a big wrench for all of us when she goes back to nursery. I just love having her around and the amount of cuddles and kisses I get every day – and how excited she is when I come down from the study when I’ve been working, and the same when my husband comes down and we switch.
Working from home with a toddler is, I imagine, very different to having an older child – and many of the sites I’ve read giving advice on working from home with a child around assumes you can leave the child to play or get on with their schoolwork for a while. On the plus side, a toddler is probably less likely to understand what is going on or feel worried about coronavirus, though no doubt Sophie has recognised a change in her routine and is missing her usual activities and friends at nursery – but she seems to be really happy spending all this extra time at home. We also don’t have to worry about her education or proper homeschooling. We have been doing various educational activities (that is, as well as learning through play) like flashcards and an amazing app called Reading Eggs, but there’s no pressure to stick to a curriculum or get through a certain amount of school work every day.
On the other hand, an older child would be able to understand there are times when we need to be on work calls and be able to play independently more. Sophie likes playing with us and doesn’t always need or want us there – she can play quite happily by herself for a while. But there are other times when mummy or daddy is an integral part of her game and she gets quite upset if we won’t lie down on the floor and pretend to sleep so she can cover us with a blanket for instance. Also, I’m trying my best not to be a helicopter parent who is always hovering, and learning to leave Sophie on her own for longer without always needing to watch her – but I don’t think that a just-turned-two year old still can’t be left on their own in a room for more than a couple of minutes. Aside from making sure there are no pens or crayons within reach (my husband’s lapse of attention meant Sophie drew on her table and chairs and the door, but luckily it came off), she loves to climb and if you turn your back for a minute she could have climbed up the back of the sofa onto the windowsill or be contemplating how to scale the bookcase. Some parents are more laid back about that kind of thing, but not me.
10 tips for working from home during lockdown with a toddler
Assuming you are working full time, and have spoken to your employer already about flexibility and workload and what you are realistically going to be able to do during this unprecedented time – here are some tips for managing to work from home during lockdown with a toddler.
- Planning and scheduling is the only way we have been able to stay afloat. We have a shared calendar where we each input our meetings to make sure there are no clashes, then allocate the rest of the time in between during 8-6. That makes sure we have an equal amount of time during the standard working day to focus on our work, and then can add whatever time we need outside those hours.
- If you are sharing work and childcare, as well as looking at when you each need to work – whether that’s due to meetings or the need to collaborate with colleagues or be reachable within working hours or if you can do you more of your work outside the 9-5 – also consider whether you are a morning person or prefer to work at night and whether you can share responsibilities like preparing meals, as it’s no good if you are the only one who does bath time or makes dinner if that’s falls in what is supposed to be your work time.
- Be flexible. Sometimes you will find that something comes up with work and one of you needs to ‘borrow’ the other person’s working time. As long as you can do this without feeling like one of you is falling behind.
- But also, be rigid – when it comes to getting up in the morning. If you have agreed one of you will, say, be working from 8 and the other is on childcare duty, they need to be up and dressed before your child. Otherwise having to break into your scheduled working time to get your child breakfast because your partner isn’t dressed yet is fine occasionally (we all oversleep sometimes) but not on a regular basis.
- Remember your toddler is probably used to eating meals earlier than you are if they have been at nursery pre-lockdown. We went through a phase of the mini moo being hungry around 11.30 and we hadn’t started lunch yet so she had a snack – and then didn’t want lunch. It took a few days before I remembered they eat lunch at 11.30 at nursery.
- Meal planning helps. I always used to meal plan but stopped when I went back to work after maternity leave as there wasn’t enough time in the day for everything and I had to let a few things go – though the time spent in planning meals (it doesn’t have to take long) really does pay for itself. During lockdown it’s been even more important, though I haven’t managed it every week. As we have little time during the week and lunchtime always seems to be busy for us both with meetings, we tend to just have a sandwich for lunch. But as we are getting groceries once a week we often run out of bread (or it isn’t fresh) by the end of the week so it’s helpful to have a list where a quick glance will remind you of what’s for lunch that day. It’s the same with dinner – at the end of a busy day the last thing I want is to have to rummage through the freezer and think of something and with a plan, half the work is already done.
- Take some time off. After eight weeks of lockdown we had a week off, as we were supposed to have been at Butlin’s. I was a bit down about that at first as I think my daughter would have absolutely loved it but we ended up having a really lovely week – in fact we had ten days off including the weekends and bank holiday. It was great to have such a long period where we didn’t have to juggle work and family time and we actually ploughed our way through a massive to do list of jobs around the house. Which doesn’t sound much fun but actually it was very satisfying and helped sort out some things that had needed doing for a while and had been getting on top of us for the last two months of lockdown. Some of my friends who work part time – three days a week – are using a day of annual leave every week so they are only working two days a week, which seems a bit of a pipe dream for me… but if you can use annual leave to ease the pressure on yourself or your partner if you have one, then do. Obviously this won’t work for everyone – if you have certain responsibilities and are missing a day every week or every couple of weeks, or if by taking a day off you have to work twice as hard afterwards to catch up. But many employers are being even more accommodating than usual in this difficult time and are aware that their employees are in some cases dealing with a lot.
- Make the most of your time off. As well as the list of tasks we completed, we also did our best to recreate Butlins at home (which will hopefully be the subject of another post!). During our week off the lockdown rules were eased slightly meaning we could now drive somewhere for exercise or to spend time in a public place like a park. But we didn’t go anywhere – none of the local parks were especially appealing as we have a nice garden which although fairly small is plenty big enough for a two year old. And while I would have loved to go to the beach like a lot of people seemed to be doing, we live too far away from one – and also, that’s what a lot of people seemed to be doing. My husband in particular was quite concerned about how busy public places would be and that it just wasn’t worth the risk.
- Schedule in some ‘me time’. I’m particularly bad at this as I can always find a chore that needs doing, and at the end of a tiring day we just sit in front of the TV as it’s about all we can manage. I haven’t even blogged from one month to the next which is very disappointing but I class that as me time and that’s just not something I’ve felt was possible with everything else going on. But if you can, try to book in some time even if it’s only an hour a week on a weekend – whether that’s when your partner is looking after your child, or after they have gone to bed – for some pampering, reading, a zoom call with friends- whatever you want to do for just you.
- Embrace the mess – but don’t let housework get on top of you. My husband abhors a messy house (which often makes me wonder how he manages to live with me). In lockdown particularly after the first few weeks we found things were really getting on top of us so made a concerted effort to tidy up, so at the end of every day, we only have to put away toys in the living room, clear anything that’s built up that day on the kitchen counter and so on. But at the same time, we don’t worry too much about mess during the day. As our time is precious, and we are either working or spending time with our daughter, we try to do the bare minimum e.g. put plates into the dishwasher – but don’t worry about other chores during the day.
And most of all – remember this won’t be forever. In the UK some schoolchildren are going back to school as early as 1 June (aside from the children of key workers who have been able to go to school or nursery throughout the pandemic if needed) – and it doesn’t look like it will be that much later for some of the others, though many parents say they aren’t comfortable sending their children back to September. Either way, there will be a finite limit on how long we are working from home and looking after a toddler – which brings with it a whole new challenge. How are the mini moo and my husband and I going to cope when we don’t get to see each other all day? I’m going to miss having her around so much!