Many Americans – tax pros, accountants and Intuit® employees included – have shut down our offices and are doing our best working from home. One of the many challenges I’ve heard is that our children, as wonderful as they are, often interrupt our day. Sometimes they are bored or hungry, and other times they are looking for help with schoolwork. While I cannot your kids with their science homework or feed them dinner, I did collect a bunch of tips and ideas from my colleagues at Intuit to help you stay sane, and help your kids stave off boredom and hopefully learn something while they are at it!
Brittany Westdyke, EA, senior tax analyst programmer: My husband and I have four boys, ages 5, 4 and twin 11-month olds, so it has been nuts, let me tell you!
Some things that have worked semi-well for us:
- A flexible schedule is a must. Our meetings are at various times throughout the day, so we plan in advance which one of us will watch the kids, or if we have both have a meeting, how we will split them up.
- When possible, we try to work in 90-minute to two-hour shifts, where one of us will be the primary parent watching the kids so the other gets uninterrupted work time.
- We make sure to put the twins down for their nap at the same time each day, and we let the big boys have their Nintendo DS time. That usually results in a couple hours of uninterrupted work for both of us at the same time.
- We rotate meals. I’ll wake up early to work before they all get up, then I’ll handle breakfast. My husband will handle lunch. That way, both of us can work through a meal as well.
- The key for us is having a flexible mindset and adapting as we go. For instance, the other day one of the twins was particularly fussy and just wanted to be held. I set up a stand-up desk, put him in the baby carrier and continued to work. That has been a lifesaver!
- We decided that every day each of us gets one hour of kid-free time to do whatever we want and get a sanity break. Since the twins still wake up in the middle of the night, nighttime isn’t really a break, so we wanted to make sure we had some time to decompress without compromising what sleep we do get. I’m not sure if any of the things above are unique to any other work-from-home parents, but that is what we are doing right now.
Jasen Stine, tax and accountant education leader: Expect that your kids are going to interrupt you for nonsense, like just wanting attention or asking for a snack – and your colleagues’ kids are going to interrupt them, too. Be kind and patient with everyone. We are living in unprecedented times, but don’t be afraid to set boundaries. I have to do this for the times when I have to give a talk. Everyone in the house knows when something is scheduled, and they make it a point not to interrupt me during those times.
Brady Suggs, group product manager: Mainly, I’m trying to make sure I keep my son active with a loose schedule through the day. He does schoolwork in the morning. We have added a few daily chores, go out during lunch every day to walk our dog, and in the afternoon after work, he picks an activity we can do together outside, such as soccer or riding his bike. We also have tried to do one science or art project a day that is fun, and where he can learn something. We’ve mainly gotten the ideas from YouTube, and there are a ton of step-by-step videos he can follow. We also have had a few parades in our neighborhood to celebrate birthdays. Some teachers did something similar to be able to say hi to the kids at a safe distance. Pictured is my son in front of our truck before we led a parade for one of his buddies.
John Mark Wendler, CPA, tax content analyst: I have four kids I love dearly. Some things we’ve done around the house now that I’m home include converting the garage to their homeschool space with tables, chairs and strong Wi-Fi for their class meetings in Zoom. If my one-year-old child is crying, noise-cancelling headphones have been a game changer for staying focused on work, so I can resist the urge to scoop her up and start rocking her to sleep. My family also takes multiple walks a day, and lunch with the entire family is one of my favorite parts of working from home. To keep us all moving, we’ve started doing Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube together every night.
Martin Eggert, digital marketing manager, web: We only have one dedicated office space in our house, so my wife and I have been splitting time in the office and being available for kids. I’m also trying to leave the office at set times every day, but I’m not doing very well at that one. We’ve also found iPad apps to help the girls learn a new language (Duolingo and a preschool-targeted app), so they’ve both spent an hour a day learning Spanish. By the end of this, they’ll be able to talk back at us in a language we don’t understand!
Lori Porter, senior financial analyst: My kids are fully back in school and have been since August. Sports also opened back up for them around October, so that all helped tremendously with their stir-craziness.
One thing I actually miss from the quarantine days/months is the evening walks we took together every single day. Before sports started back up full force, we actually had time to eat dinner together and go for a walk every evening. My kids were actually spending time with me because they couldn’t play with their friends. It is selfish, but I’m back to being the invisible chauffeur. I miss that alone time with them, but I’m glad I got to have it.
Rama Radhakrishnan, senior manager, CRM marketing: Working from home can indeed become “worrying from home!” I have three boys who are full of energy, and here is what has helped me:
- I create a schedule for everyone, include the tiny one in the family; it’s a visual schedule for the little ones who cannot read yet. During the week, I explain the schedule and ensure it’s followed consistently.
- I tell my children that I will leave my office door open when they are allowed to come in and talk to me, but if the office door is closed, they know they have to follow their schedule until I can come out.
- We have a planned reward for each day, such as ice cream day, a virtual play date with a friend, board game night, movie night with the family, and so on.
- We schedule a 15-minute outdoor break in the backyard every two hours.
- We prepared a dedicated workstation for everyone, including the preschooler, so that they have an organized space to work and place. Most importantly, help the little ones (and remind yourself!) to enjoy this new way of life and get creative!
- Most of the anxiety for the little kids is in not knowing what to expect during unstructured days. We have started discussing the summer schedule with them, and how nanny will take them around to pool, park, and sports. We have also explained how we will add more fun with trips to zoo and museums over the weekends in the summer as things open up.
- As we get more guidance from school districts on back to school in the fall, we have started discussing what it might look like and what to expect.
We are looking at every moment as an opportunity to teach them life skills and be in the moment to enjoy with them. We want to look back and say “oh yes! We had some fun, too.”
Stephanie Friswell, senior communications manager: Be flexible and roll with things as they come … even if your five-year-old digs deep into your personal archives during a video meeting.
Create boundaries for yourself and communicate with honesty. Being a good parent and a good professional, at the same time, isn’t sustainable. Choosing day by day which role you want to focus or which role needs you most is important.
When my children are home, I inform my stakeholders so they are aware. I don’t apologize for the potential interruptions; instead, I express appreciation for my colleagues’ understanding and support. On the other side of that situation, I am clear with my children when I am in meetings or when I need uninterrupted work time. When my door is closed, please do not interrupt. When my door is open, knock first, and then we can talk.
On top of all of that, my partner and I communicate every morning what is happening that day so we both know what most critically needs our attention that day. Then, like relay racers, we hand off our responsibility baton when we need help from the other. This only works if we think and act like a team, being flexible with each other’s priorities and communicating what is most important for that day.
Editor’s note: This article originally published on April 8, 2021, and was updated with new content on May 3, 2021. Visit the Intuit Accountant and Tax Professional COVID-19 Resource Center for information and tools to help you and your clients navigate these challenging times.