When my children were small, I was a freelance writer and homeschooling mom. When they were older, I went back to teaching and they went to school. Now that we’re on an indefinite hiatus, it feels like slipping into a familiar pair of worn jeans. But what about parents who didn’t sign up for daycare duty and homeschooling? How do they keep sane in uncharted waters? Here’s some wisdom I gleaned from my stint as a work-from-home parent.

Designate a quiet work zone.

Once you envision your work space, it will help you fill in the blanks. Create a work area with access to electronics and a door you can shut so you can concentrate for a specified, uninterrupted amount of time while your spouse is in charge or kids are napping. This space is for work that needs your most focused attention. Do not feel guilty about shutting the door. These are unprecedented times.

A tip for parents of babies through five-year-olds: You’re an exception to the closed door. Your children may have to play next to your desk. Still, keep a designated quiet zone for those times when you can work alone.

Move around with a laptop desk.

Purchase a lap desk online and have it delivered. This has been crucial in allowing me to work in any room in the house. When my kids were little I answered emails, made work to-do lists, researched on the web and jotted notes while they played on the living room floor or watched “Sesame Street.” I wrote on my laptop at the kitchen table while they ate.

A tip for parents of tweens and teens: You may still need a mobile work system because they may need the office or community living space to do school work.

Plan realistic schedules.

Make a schedule that is different than it would’ve been two weeks ago. If you’ve limited screen time in the past, give more now. Make time for reading, academics, physical exercise, unstructured play and chores. Don’t introduce any activity that you can’t live with indefinitely or that is too rowdy while you work. Give the schedule time. Kids are suckers for routine.

Work at weird hours.

Get up as early as you can, but tiptoe because, no lie, kids hear every creak and cough and they will get up with you at 5 a.m.! Stay up late if you’re a night owl. If your spouse can care for kids in the afternoon, make those your new office hours. When I’ve done this, it allowed me to separate work time and kid time, and they got to have all of me instead of me on a computer.

Create busy bags or boxes.

Every evening make sure your children have bags or boxes with items for them to keep them busy the next day. Include books, coloring books, crayons, markers, colored pencils, worksheets, educational games, arts and crafts. Include kids in choosing, so they have lots of items they’re interested in.

Pull out that old fridge box.

Grab empty Amazon boxes, or if you saved that refrigerator box, now’s the time to reveal it to your kids. When my son Andrew was 6 and my daughter Gracie was 3, they built an elaborate “cave” system from old moving boxes in our den. It kept them busy for hours, and I got lots of work done.

Reward them.

If your kids let you work for a specified amount of time during the week, reward them with a special activity like a game night or cooking or baking lesson.

Admit you need help.

There is no shame in saying “I can’t do this alone.” But how can you get help with social distancing? Why not let a relative or friend FaceTime with your kids for chunks of time while you work? It might be the next best thing to an in-person nanny.

Be kind to yourself.

At some point everything will derail while you’re on an important conference call. Keep doing the best you can. That’s all you can do.

Embrace the positive.

None of us were expecting to work and parent at home indefinitely, but there is a bright side. I’m getting to enjoy more time with my kids. My 13-year-old and I played a kiddie board game yesterday and laughed the entire time. Treat this time as an unexpected gift and make memories.

– Janeen Lewis

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