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Elasticians share: Strategies for working from home with kids

I volunteered to write this post a few weeks ago at the beginning of our state’s shelter-in-place order. Like many parents at Elastic, I had some hard-won wisdom on the topic of working from home with kids around. From child illnesses to school holidays, to that time our caregiver started her new job three weeks before my boys’ school was back in session, I’ve had my fair share of experiences when work and home life collided. So I started pulling my ideas into a google doc and polling my fellow Elasticians on our #parenting Slack channel, the result of which are the tips you’ll read below.

I do stand by these tips — they’ve been helpful over the past few weeks. But to be frank, there is no playbook for such an extended period of time caring for children at home while also meeting demands at work. There is no one or two or three tips that can make things feel normal or, on some days, even OK. And circumstances keep changing, which adds significantly to the challenge.

On the one hand as parents, we’re sort of used to that, right? Our kids change all the time, and we have to find a new normal several times a year, or several times a season. Even before the pandemic, I found the most challenging part of working and being a parent to be having to reassess my entire life — priorities, schedule, finances, all of it — about every six months as my kids, partner, and job changed. Now I think many of us are reassessing all of those things on what feels like a daily basis, and it’s exhausting.

All this to say, there’s no one good way to meet the challenge of working from home with kids for an extended period of time during a global pandemic. But I’m happy to share a few strategies that might ease the days just a bit. Most of these may be gentle reminders to do what you already know works well. Some might be new. Either way, I hope they help you feel a little solidarity with all of the parents out there just taking it one day at a time. We’re all doing our best, and we’re all here to support each other in any way we can.

Prevent burnout with reasonable self care

It’s cliche, but it’s true — put your mask on first. If you go down, the ship goes down with you. I went pretty hard the first few weeks of our shelter in place — getting up super early, sometimes staying up late to finish work. I wasn’t exercising or doing any of the things I normally do to take care of myself because there just wasn’t time, and you know what? It was terrible. I got vertigo and a migraine in the same week. I wasn’t happy, my kids weren’t happy, and we all suffered. As the shelter-in-place sprint has turned into a marathon, I’ve made a concerted effort to get back to the basics of preventing burnout — getting enough sleep, taking vitamins, getting outside when I can. I’ve taken a few hours of COVID time off every week (thanks, Elastic!) and readjusted my expectations so I’m sleeping enough and getting exercise in, even if it’s a family walk or bike ride. I also highly recommend doing art or yoga or something that refreshes your mind once a week if you can swing it (LOL did you see how I didn’t put daily in there because we are parents). If you’re already doing all of these things, gold star. If you’re not, consider this permission to adjust expectations in other areas of your life so you can reprioritize a bit of self care. It’s essential.

Art therapy (one of my projects and one of my son’s projects):

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Get flexible with your schedule, and schedule everything

If you have any flexibility in your working hours, shifting your schedule can give you more availability to be with your kids during the day. After I settled into a better routine, I found that working early hours in the morning was effective for all of us. I could take care of a good amount of work before the kids were up (my partner’s job is considered an essential service, so I’m solo with the kids most days). Then I’d be more available to prevent my two boys from cutting their own hair, getting into physical altercations with each other, or whatever other dangerous ideas they have during their waking hours.

Some folks prefer to put in a few hours of work after everyone is in bed. That’s great — do what works best for you. Diane Tretault, Director in Product Marketing at Elastic, also shared a great tip. She recommends scheduling everything out in advance — from breakfast time and a noontime walk with the kids to your 4:00 p.m. conference call — so everyone knows what to expect throughout the day, including you.

Use hacks for moments of desperation

Sometimes it’s crunch time and you just gotta make it through, no matter what you had planned or what your kids had in mind. As we transitioned all of our in-person Elastic{ON} Tour events to a virtual format, there were several times where I just had to be in meetings or heads-down working at a less-than-ideal time. Here are a few great hacks for handling those kinds of moments from the #parenting Slack channel:

  • Super important conference call? Secure the children, then take it from your car in the garage. — Dustin Smith, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Kibana
  • Stuck working with your kids right next to you begging for attention? If you can, talk them through what you’re up to and why it matters. — Raya Fratkina, Director of Engineering for Kibana
  • Working during lunch time? Pack kid lunches the night before so they can grab and go while you’re tied up. — Ryan Anson, Manager, Training Operations

Do the things that really matter to you as a parent

Reading to my kids, cooking with them, doing art projects together, and getting outside together all make me feel like I’m being the parent I want to be. On busy days where I know it’s likely I’ll go to bed having done a less-than-stellar job at balancing work with parenthood, it’s great to have done at least one or two of those things. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of reading before bed or a 20-minute walk outside, it’s a positive parenting moment I can reflect on at the end of the day and feel great about. This has been my absolutely best trick during the six weeks of sheltering in place, as it’s proved to be as much a mental challenge as it is a physical and logistical one.

Bike ride to our old school with the kiddos always makes me feel like an A+ parent at the end of the day:

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Use positive parenting self talk

Let’s be real: this is an incredibly stressful time for humans everywhere. Between work disruptions, kids out of their normal routine, and parenting stress that children are amazing at picking up on no matter how careful we are, it’s a recipe for short tempers and moments where we’re not at our best as parents. In those moments, it’s helpful for me to have a mantra that lets me clap back at the negative thought spiral. Here are a few I use. You can try muttering them under your breath for the next few months:

  • Today is not forever.
  • I am not a jerk. Therefore, my kids will not be jerks.
  • It’s not over until it’s over.
  • I have many more days and years to raise my children than today.
  • Just being me and being present is enough.
  • My child feeling seen by me is enough.

Lemme explain. No wait, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

Parenting in a pandemic while working from home (for an organization that is trying to weather the effects of a pandemic) doesn’t always go well. Sometimes it goes terribly. No matter what we do, things probably aren’t going to be ideal. Case in point: my son’s “letter to your parents” assignment. He wrote this during week two of being homeschooled. After reading his first draft, I had to remind him the assignment said to include positive feedback. He reluctantly added the sentence “Good job.”

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I’m sure his teacher really enjoyed this honest review of my homeschooling skills. But the good news is she’s a parent too. Just like all the moms and dads out there, I think she knows I’m just trying to do the best I can by my kids and our family. And it might not look great, but it’s good enough.

Hang in there, don’t forget to take care of yourself, and focus on the things that matter most. Nothing is normal right now, and we’ve never been through anything like this before. But as parents, we’ve been practicing changing our expectations, routines, and priorities as quickly as our children change since the day they were born. We can do this.