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Working from home with a child? I’m working on it…

Working at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) is a privilege that I know I am lucky to enjoy. Getting to know McGill University instructors and learning about their innovative teaching methods, being on the cusp of cutting-edge learning technologies, and having one of the best staff communities I could ever ask for are among the highlights of being a member of this team. Another benefit I have also loved and have occasionally taken advantage of are the work from home days. They were always a highlight of my week. After the covid-19 crisis subsides, I suspect that this will no longer be the case. The bloom, as they say, is off the rose.

When the University closed March 13, at first just for the day and then for progressively extended periods, I knew that a key element of making this work from home period successful would be the establishment of a schedule that closely mimicked the typical progression of an in-office working day. Get up early, eat a healthy breakfast, be at my desk from 9am to 12pm, eat lunch, go back to work from 1:15 to 5pm. The early mornings and evenings would be reserved for stimulating physical activities and meditating. No sweat, right?

The major wrinkle in my plan is three years old and needs his mommy and daddy to administer regular hugs, prepare snacks and meals, approve every drawing and piece of art he creates, and be present and attentive all 16 waking hours of the day for any other need that may arise. My husband and I are trying to fulfill the roles of activities director, chef, therapist, educator, and playmate. Fitting in a full workday under these conditions is challenging, to say the least – and we only have one kid. Sometimes the frustration of trying to balance these roles is the biggest challenge of our lives, a telling sentiment in a time of a global pandemic. Our kid is also stressed out, missing his friends, and unable to understand fully why his life has been so upended. Altogether, it is an explosive combination.

Our makeshift craft table (formerly my living room coffee table), abandoned in favour of Paw Patrol.

My husband (a McGill doctoral student) and I struggle to find equilibrium in this new normal, we’ve attempted to elucidate some key tenets to anchor ourselves during this uncertain time.

Here are our principles (drafted by two imperfect people):

1) Forgive yourself: We are living in extraordinary times and some days will be better than others. Some days may involve an exponential increase in the screen time you would normally allow your child, regular meltdowns, and bribery in the form of chocolate peanut butter cups. Others may involve science experiments, outdoor adventures (socially distanced, of course), and gratifying professional output. And there will be days that are a mix of the two extremes. Accept that this is a reality of our circumstances, and don’t beat yourself up over lost opportunities. Most importantly don’t aspire to perfection – it’s a sure path to disappointment and further frustration.

2) Accept a different kind of work schedule: Without daycare or school schedules that take over childcare during working hours, your work time might have to shift to unorthodox hours. I find my workday has moved from being time-based to task-based, offering me more flexibility to get things done when I am available to do them. At TLS we have heard from instructors who, in the absence of their regular childcare provider, worry about being able to remotely teach their usual 11:30am to 2:30pm class time. There are ways to work this out. For instance, rather than teaching synchronously consider prerecording your lectures. Many resources exist offering best practices for teaching via video recordings (and here).

3) Go outside (at least while we still can!): We’ve had some beautiful weather lately – take advantage of it by going out and taking a restorative walk. Studies show that physical activity helps keep us well, both physically and mentally. Take the kids, as they definitely need the fresh air – just warn them, in age appropriate terms, to keep their distance from others.

A recent outing to the Domaine St-Paul – it did us a lot of good!

4) Eat at regular times and make healthy choices: Over the past few days, the panic over food supply seems to have mostly subsided and my husband and I have developed alternative means of procuring our weekly grocery shop (we favour curbside pickup). We’ve had some definite lapses (panic buying of the aforementioned peanut butter cups from an online vendor is one example), but generally speaking we’ve managed to eat and sleep at fairly regular times. One of the perks of working from home is that you can get up from your desk to stir a simmering homemade pasta sauce on the stovetop. I intend to take advantage of this.

It’s a work in progress. We’ll do our best as long as our current circumstances persist, but we’ve never appreciated our daycare educators more than we do now!

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