How I survive working remotely with 4 kids

5 min readJul 15, 2020

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Around 30 days into the lock-down I got seriously annoyed at all the working-from-home-as-a-parent tips. A list of 20 tools you can use to entertain your kids or support their learning is just information overload. What should have been said on every article offering help, every tweet or podcast is:

Tell your boss that you will work less hours as you are at home with your children.

Yes, tell your supervisor that this is the reality on the ground. You can’t combine your normal work load with your new parenting load. Even if you have a partner and take turns between work-shift and parent-shift.

By the way, talking about taking ‘parenting shifts’ sounds like factory work, and a lack of ownership and agency on the side of the parent. Parenting isn’t done in shifts. It happens around the clock.

Tell the school that you’ll do as much as you can, given the resources, time and equipment, you have.

Teaching isn’t an easy task. In most country you need a degree if you want to become a teacher. I teach (young) adults. Doing that good is hard and they have the cognitive and emotional skills to interact with you. Teaching kids is so much harder. My oldest was at home until grade 1. I took care of teaching her the basics of reading, letter formation, number recognition etc. At one moment it hit me “I can screw her up for life”. Yes I call this teaching even if a lot looked like playing. That’s the way kids learn.

My situation

I’m a single mother with 4 kids. The youngest is 5, the oldest is 10. I have experience working from home, but did not have a proper workstation at the start of the lock-down. I have a PhD in management science, teach online and offline, and offer my services as a data analyst and innovation & collaboration expert. In some ways I was prepared for the lock-down. I often had to get stuff done without any other person helping me. The kids are used to helping around. In some way the lock-down liberated me from certain structures that society imposed. That doesn’t mean I’m enjoying it. The tips I’m sharing below worked for me. Every family is different. What works for me could be a complete disaster for you.

The two things that helped me

Now that we are on day 124 since the school closed and working-from-home, these are the things that helped me.

Tip 1: Let your kids stay up late so that they sleep in

Let the kids stay up late. I mean way past their bed time. I’m talking midnight. I made the switch when my class for Northwestern University began. I know that a regular bed time is important. My students are professionals in the US. We begin teaching when they are done with work. For me this means lecturing from midnight until 1:30am. This might sound crazy, but it’s a great class to teach. One week before class started, I moved us to a different time zone: 3 hours ahead of Chicago, 3 hours behind Ireland. In this way, we still got some sunlight, but I could go to bed around 11pm. That sounds better than 2am. Class stopped a month ago, but we kept the habit of going to bed late. I can get up at a normal time and work uninterrupted until at least 10:30am, when the youngest wakes up.

Of course if your kids can’t handle staying up late and are in a bad mood the next day, don’t do that.

Tip 2: Integrate your kids in the day planning to give them structure and ownership

Give the kids household tasks or in some way give them space to influence daily life. For example, my children have kitchen duties. In pairs (to stimulate team work), they are responsible for seven days to set and clear the dinner table. Of course, if the two youngest are in charge I help with loading the dishwasher and cleaning the table. Admittedly, they are not super excited about being on kitchen duty. The only silver lining is that they get to sit next to me and chose who gets to eat from the prized blue plate.

Another task we have is that the 3 oldest have to make dinner once per week. To help us implement this habit, it’s always the same day. As they have to cook they can also chose what we eat. At least to some extent. I’m not going to the grocery for just one item. Also saffron flavor rice with gravy is a pretty weird combination. I give them time to think about what they want and help them make tasty suggestions. As a consequence, we had more mash and gravy during lock-down than we had in the first 3 months of 2020. The 7 year old loves to makes salads as a side dish and the oldest attempted to make paella, inspired from her abuella’s cooking.

Tip 3: Your mindset towards work

Don’t stress about work. Really don’t. I wish I could say I’m doing this consistently, being calm, and not worrying about meeting deadlines. But I don’t. However, every day I give it another try. It’s just work.

The two resources that helped me

Finally if you’d like to see one of those parenting-under-lock-down-articles that I found helpful, have a look at the one created by HelpScout and the webinar by Quartz.

If you have school aged children, an important message from the Quartz webinar is to pay attention to your children’s emotional well-being. It’s too easy to just focus on academic skills. They are easier to learn, more apps available to teach them. But if you can give your kids some of the skills necessary to cope with this situation, the lack of human interaction, missing friends, they’ll be better off.

Other productivity tips

While not stated explicitly, the topic of productivity is part of this article. What helped me worry less about my productivity is to decide the day before or at the beginning of the day what I want to focus my attention on. On my Roam diary I have this prompt

To feel productive I need to pay attention to …

It’s a combination from tips by Gonçalo Hall on the skillshare and an article by Adam Grant on productivity.

Also if possible I group my tasks to limit task switching. There is enough distractions going on around me, a constant chatter of voices and requests that they are allowed to bake (seriously the amount of flour my kids go through is astonishing), that I don’t need to add constantly shifting my focus.

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Behind every problem is a web of connectors and links. I look for patterns and offer solution. — I’m also raising 4 humans: I know problems can be solved.