As the possibility of school closures became more realistic, you probably felt a sense of panic set in. Sure, for the scary unknown outcomes of COVID-19, but also for the known monsters about to be trapped in your own home. As a working mom, you are used to being away from your kids many days during the week, and you might be questioning whether you’ll survive social distancing when you’ll get no distance from your offspring.
I’m a stay-at-home mom with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. Which means it is survivable for at least 3 years and 4 months — we’ll see what the next weeks bring. It isn’t always easy; it comes with different (not harder) challenges than work. And while I certainly don’t have it figured out, I have found some ways to bring more structure and sanity to our days.
Get dressed: Unless you’ve declared it a pajama day or movie day, everyone should get dressed like normal when they get up in the morning. That way, when you need to get out of the house because you just cannot be in those four walls for another second, you don’t get derailed by having to get yourself and kids ready when you’re far out of your routine. What normally takes 15 minutes somehow takes 45 when you try to do it at 11 a.m. Come up with a loose schedule for eating, napping (line up naps/quiet times if you have multiple kids so you get a break), and activities so you’ll all know what to expect.
Prep for activities the night before: As a working mom, you’re probably used to preparing each night for the next day. Instead of packing lunches and backpacks, use that time to prepare an activity or two. Whether it’s a craft, game or educational activity, gather and make all the components so it’s ready to set out either at a scheduled time or when you sense things are going off the rails. Some Instagram accounts to get you started on activity planning: Days With Grey, Busy Toddler, and Naturally Curious Children.
Use TV strategically: If you turn the TV on first thing in the morning, it’s really easy to let it set the tone for the whole day. Even if you tell yourself it’ll just be one episode of Wild Kratts while you drink your coffee hot and catch up on news, it’s tempting to just let the next episode play and soon half the morning is gone and your kid will be begging for TV the rest of the day.
Come up with a daily time limit, share it with your kids, and turn the TV on when you need them occupied, like during a conference call or when you’re cooking dinner. I’ve found story podcasts to be a good alternative to screen time if a kid is begging for some entertainment: The Story Store, Little Stories for Tiny People, Story Pirates, to name a few.
Save the best toys for times when you need to be productive: Most kids (after a certain age) can play independently given the right toy, and you probably have an idea what toy that is for your kids. Mine likes animals, dinosaurs and cars (he only tells me 12 times a day), and even the 1-year-old will leave me alone for a while if I let her go to town on neatly folded piles of laundry. Put those types of toys away and bring them out when you need time to concentrate or get tasks done without “help.”
Get out of the house: This is something most stay-at-home moms will tell you: You’ve got to get out of the house at least once a day. I know the whole reason we are in this predicament is because we aren’t supposed to go out (and you likely still have a full load of work to do), but even just a walk around the block or a drive in the car helps. You all need a change of scenery, and it helps to break up the monotony of the day.
Take time for yourself: You’re used to juggling kids and work (that’s seriously no small feat), but you’re now facing the double whammy of handling them both at the same time for days on end. You will probably feel like you have no free time and that you’re not doing either job well. Besides setting aside some time just for your kids and just for your work, give yourself some time or you’ll burn out. Even if it’s just 15 minutes before bed and 15 minutes in the morning before the kids get up, it’ll help you recharge as a person, not just a mom and employee.
And just remember any time you’re about to lose your ever-loving mind, there are millions of moms around the world who are also cursing their kids under their breath and counting down the hours till bedtime. If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, I don’t know what will.
Photography: Lauren Samuels Photography