If you’re like me, you know the struggles of working from home and parenting at the same time. The following phrases have become all too familiar in my house:

“I need a snack!”

“Play with me!”

Or, my personal favorite (as the mom of a 4-year-old), “I pooped! Wipe me!” 😂 (Right in the middle of video conferencing with a client.)

If you’re like me, you’ve also tried to figure out a magical success formula for juggling work and your kids at once. Maybe you’ve scoured the internet for articles on how to schedule your day or on keeping your kids occupied and happy, and you’re stumbling across this one now.

As someone who’s spent hours researching this and trying to make sense of it all, I’m going to spill some truth for you: there is no magic formula. No one was meant to do this. We’re all making this work in the short-term (whatever that means) while COVID-19 is still prevalent. But long-term, this juggling act is just not a thing that we all can do without losing our minds.

So, rather than pretend like I have the answers about balancing work with kids (and if you have answers, please — I’m all ears), I’m sharing some practical tips I’ve learned along the way that makes the chaos just a little bit easier to manage and sets you up for better (but realistic) interactions with your colleagues or clients.

  1. Communicate with your colleagues and clients ahead of time and set the stage. For me, my child is with me half the week, so I’ve made sure to communicate my schedule to everyone I work with to let them know when they can expect me to crank out more work versus when it’s going to be louder and chaotic. I also let them know when nap or quiet times are and try to set up the majority meetings then. And for meetings taking place when my kid is present, I let them know to expect interruptions and general craziness.

  2. Mute yourself in video conferences when you aren’t speaking. I try to at least do my colleagues the favor of not having to listen to Little Baby Bum in the background when they’re trying to talk. That being said…

  3. Let your kids appear on camera with you. We’ve seen humorous news reports about kids sneaking their way into the background of Zoom meetings, much to the parent’s surprise. For me, this is just commonplace now, and the people I work with expect it. I let my child wave and say hello to my colleagues, and he often sits on my lap while we chat. In my case, it lends for a more personal connection between me and my colleagues, and it helps my son feel like he’s participating and working with me.

    (I am aware that some places of businesses really discourage this, and I’ve even heard horror stories of employees getting written up for their kids appearing on camera. If you’re an employer reading this and you have a problem with kids in the picture, please have some empathy for your team right now. Seriously. It’s bad for morale and retention otherwise. Prove yourself to be a kind and compassionate person. Thanks!)

  4. Use a virtual background on your Zoom calls. I sometimes don’t mind the hurricane of toys that appears behind me, but other times, I do like to have a more professional appearance on camera. If I’m meeting with a new client, for instance, I’ll sometimes turn on a virtual background that looks like a nice set of bookcases or a clean desk. Some backgrounds look so real, I’ve even had people believe it was actually my house. (I wish!)

  5. Or turn off the camera altogether. I have many days where I’m just a mess and can’t seem to pull myself together to feel confident on camera. And that’s okay! Don’t be afraid to tell people, “Hey, I’m leaving my camera off today, but rest assured I’m here and listening.” I use a professional photo of me all dolled up as my Zoom profile picture. That way, when my camera is off, people at least have a nice picture of me to see rather than just my initials, which are the Zoom default for profiles.

  6. Invest in some good Bluetooth headphones for calls. It’s super helpful for me to be able to step away from my desk and still listen in on a meeting or have the person on the other line continue their thoughts while I’m doing something mindless for my kid, like making a snack or supervising in the restroom. (Yes, I know it’s weird, but that’s the reality.) I got a noise-canceling pair that also helps tune out the TV and noisy toys when my kid is having independent play or downtime.
  7. Accept this situation for what it is. I’ll reiterate that this is not an ideal (or even suitable) situation. It’s an impossible scenario, and we’re all doing our best to try to make it work. Expect there to be stress, tears, and what you may perceive as shortcomings. It’s okay, and although it sure feels like it, it’s not forever. Be gracious and compassionate with yourself and with your co-workers. We’re all in this together.

Do you have any tips to add to this list? If so, let us know in the comments below!