Many parents are now working remotely, and they have new office mates — their children. Families have to navigate how to work and play together. Even if you’ve worked from home before, managing your children at the same time is likely a new challenge.
“It’s all about communication, coordination and time blocking,” Rob Bertman, founder of the Family Budget Expert, said.
We talked to parenting experts on how to navigate parenting during the coronavirus. Here’s what you need to know.
Communication is key
Bertman has three school-aged kids — ages 10, 8 and 3 — and is currently working from home with his wife.
“I’m living it right now,” he said. “It was definitely a struggle starting out. You’re just in survival mode.”
Communication is essential. Parents have to be on the same page as their partners.
Sit down and map out a daily schedule with your partner. Decide how to best split up work, child care and household chores. If one partner has more flexibility in their schedule, it may be best for them to cover most of the child care needs during the day while the other partner takes over at night.
“My wife works pretty much full-time, so I’ve condensed my work into time frames a couple days a week, and working more in the evenings,” said Bertman.
Talking to your kids about coronavirus
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the risk to kids isn't as high as the risk to adults, they can still get sick. Your children may also be worried or anxious about the new and unfamiliar changes going on around them.
Be upfront with your child about the coronavirus crisis and the potential risks. Bertman said it’s important to be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic, but calm.
“I told them, ‘Hey there’s this bad virus that mostly affects older people, so we have to be responsible and keep our distance,’” Bertman said. “I wanted them to feel like we are part of a community and everyone is looking out for each other.”
Encourage your kids to ask questions, and follow the CDC or other government officials to get the best up-to-date advice. Avoid fear-mongering — there’s no need to stress your children (or yourself) about something you can’t control.
Focus on what you can do to stay safe, taking the proper steps to protect you and your family. Wash your hands regularly, clean and disinfect regularly touched surfaces and avoid people who are not in your immediate household, especially those who have been sick.
If you want to learn more, check out this guide from the National Association of School Psychologists on helping children cope with coronavirus changes.
Rethinking your household budget
You'll likely have to increase your spending on food staples and nonperishables, household cleaners and necessities like paper towels and toilet paper. Have at least a 30-day supply of daily medication on hand, including common medication like painkillers. If you have small children, load up on diapers (it may be a good time to switch to cloth) and wipes.
It’s a smart idea to look for ways to trim your budget in times of financial uncertainty. First, take a hard look at your subscriptions, including gym memberships, streaming services and meal kits. Consider subscriptions ones you don’t regularly use or that won’t operate during the crisis.
Next, call your utilities, cable and cell phone providers to see if you can negotiate or qualify for lower payments. Consider making lunches and dinners at home instead of ordering delivery or takeout.
“The old rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved for emergencies,” said Bertman. “And that may not be enough anymore. With everything uncertain, it’s best to save where you can.”
Bertman recommends keeping your money as liquid as possible in case of a medical or other emergency, like job loss.
If you or your partner have recently lost your job due to the coronavirus crises, you have options. Check out our unemployment resource guide to learn more.
Working from home with kids
Set up a designated work space away from your child’s playroom or communal living area, if possible. Set boundaries, and make it clear to your children and partner what time blocks are dedicated to work. Consider placing a “do not disturb” sign on the door to signal that you aren’t available.
“Try to keep your workspace tidy. You’ll get out of whack if things pile up,” said Melissa Vera, parenting blogger at Adventures of Frugal Mom. “And work whenever you can. I would work sometimes on the bed at night while my kids watched TV.”
Next, be upfront with your employer about your situation. Chances are, they’ll understand and give you a bit more leeway.
“Most employers and clients are very sympathetic and understand the current situation,” Bertman said.
Stay in contact with your child’s school to hear of any changes or updates. If your child’s school is offering online classes, Vera recommends setting up a designated space and time for them to do schoolwork.
If you can, think of other family members or friends that could entertain your children virtually, or plan activities that don’t need supervision, like educational games or shows.
Some day care centers or private schools are offering refunds for lost tuition. It doesn’t hurt to call and ask what their policies are, and if so, “that money should go straight to your savings,” said Bertman. “You want to be able to have a safety net with whatever possible.”
Here's a guide to replenishing an emergency fund.
Preparing for the long haul
Family fun time may have to get a bit more creative. While you and your family can’t go to the park or a museum, you can play a board game or watch a movie.
Take a long-term approach to supporting your kids during the crisis, said Bertman. While it’s unknown exactly how long social distancing will last, keeping calm and remaining transparent will ease your kids’ (and your) anxieties.
“It’s tough being holed up,” Bertman said. “But it’s important to just remind your family that, ‘Hey, this is going to come to an end and we are going to be okay.’”