My family is like so many others right now. My husband and I are both working from home, trying to manage our demanding jobs in a small apartment – with a toddler afoot, because his daycare is closed. We are practicing social distancing and doing our best to follow all the CDC and local government guidelines.
We're not doing this perfectly by any means (who is?!), but we have developed some strategies that help us make the best of our situation.
Schedule in focused childcare shifts
Toddlers need direct and focused attention. They're active and curious, yet they have very little sense of hazards and danger, so they need to be watched closely to keep them safe. Their attention spans are short, so they can't even be distracted by screens for very long. Plus, toddlerhood is such an important time in a child's development – we want to be present and engaged, giving our son the same kind of stimulation he would get at daycare. So we made a decision to schedule shifts throughout the week.
Every day, one of us takes care of our son in the morning up until nap time, while the other is 100 percent focused on work. When he wakes up from his nap, whichever one of us took care of him in the morning goes to work and the other spends the rest of the day with our son. This gives both my husband and me a focused chunk of time to help us maximize the amount of work we can get done each day. It's not easy, and both of us still have to go back to work after he goes to bed at night. But for now, it's what's best for all of us.
Set up two different workstations
Like many apartments, our main living area is a combination of our kitchen, family room, playroom, and office, where we have a desk. One of the best things we did when we realized we would both be working from home was get a second desk, so that we can both have our own space when we're working at the same time. We set up the new desk in the bedroom so that whoever is working can close the door when things are especially busy or we're on calls – or need to be out of sight, out of mind for our son.
Here are a few recommendations for building out your second workspace:
- At less than 40 inches wide, this inexpensive but stylish desk doesn't have a huge footprint, but is still roomy enough to accommodate work essentials without crowding. You still may have to rearrange things even though you love them right where they are, but keep in mind this will likely be a temporary solution and let go of decorator perfection. We had to move a favorite chair and fiddle some music equipment out of the way to make room for the desk in our bedroom.
- It's important to get an ergonomic desk chair, versus commandeering a kitchen or dining chair. You're going to be spending a lot of time at your home desk, so make sure your chair is comfortable. This one is on sale for $65 – it's fully loaded with ergonomic support, but doesn't take up a lot of space. It's height-adjustable and comes in a few different colors.
- Even if you're lucky enough to have lots of natural light in your workspace, don't forget to add a desk lamp to prevent squinting during those evening hours. And, you need good lighting for all those video conferences! This small cordless lamp is convenient – no wire to trip over – has several lighting settings, and can charge your phone, too.
- If you are more comfortable with a mouse and keyboard, equipping your second workstation with them doesn't have to be an indulgence. Overstock has lots of options of varying price and functionality.
Over the weekend, my husband and I go over our calendars together and choose which portion of each day works better for our respective schedules in the upcoming week. If we have conflicting meetings, we figure out a way to give the other coverage. Be as flexible as you can. Also make sure you communicate your availability to your coworkers. I block out the times that I am scheduled to take care of my son on my calendars so everyone knows when I am unavailable for meetings.
Go with favorites at mealtime
Our toddler's menu is currently a rotation of PBJs, scrambled eggs, and pasta, because those are his favorites. When we offer a new food, he often outright refuses and throws it on the ground – and this always stresses us out! Not only is it a mess, we end up worrying if he's eaten enough. We're trying to remove unnecessary stressors as much as possible, so familiar and well-loved foods work best.
Get lots of fresh air and physical activity
We have been taking our son out twice a day, no matter the weather. We stick close to our apartment building, and he does lots of walking and steps. The fresh air and physical activity have really helped getting him to sleep long and hard – both during nap times and overnight.
Choose toys and activities to keep him busy
When we can't be outside, we rely on some simple and fun toys and activities. We're trying our best to encourage toys that help him learn new things, be creative, and problem-solve.
- Coloring: My son has just started to really enjoy coloring, so he is spending a lot of time at his little table (we have this one from Oribel, which converted from a baby activity center). And I have drawn thousands of buses (his constant and only request). He has enough dexterity now to use standard crayons, but for younger toddlers, I love Honeysticks Crayons, which are chunkier and easier to hold; plus they are made with beeswax, not petroleum-derived paraffin like many nontoxic kids' crayons, and food-grade pigments, in case your toddler likes to take a bite out of them (as mine used to!).
- Puzzles: We have spent endless hours putting together this vehicle floor puzzle over the past few weeks. He likes to put it together, then take it apart, then put it together again (after all, practice makes perfect!). He has gotten so good, he can largely do it by himself now.
- Pom-poms: I ordered a bag of 1,000 pom-pom balls on a whim a few weeks ago after reading about all kinds of fun activities you can create with them. My son enjoys throwing them in the air, transferring them from one container to another, and stuffing them into toy trucks, among other things … all while shouting, "Balls! Balls!" over and over again.
- Learning laptop: We have had this Leapfrog "laptop" for a while, but never has my son used it so much! There are a few different modes, including learning letters and numbers. He has gotten so good at identifying letters and associating them with animals! He will sit with this toy for a good stretch; it's great for solo play.
- Play food truck: We've had this Fisher-Price food truck in our living room for a few months (thankfully it doesn't take up too much space), and while it's a great role-playing toy (similar to a play kitchen), it has other bells and whistles that our son really enjoys: shape sorting, interactive buttons, fun songs, and just a great little space to play some good old-fashioned peekaboo.
- Story time! At daycare, our son gets story time a few times a day, where he sits with the other kids and all eyes are on the teacher. While I can't replicate that experience exactly, we gather up all his stuffed animals and sit them on the couch with him, and I read a story to all of them together (making sure to acknowledge each stuffed animal friend as we go along). The big hits so far have been Little Owl's Night and The Pout-Pout Fish.
Don't attempt any big transitions
This is already a massive change for your family, so avoid attempting other big transitions. I had toyed around with the idea of trying to potty train my son while we are self-quarantined. After all, when else will we have the opportunity to have him home for an extended period of time, without any social activities to go to? But I realized that throwing this huge challenge into the mix, at least right now while we're getting used to our new lifestyle, would just add more stress for our son and for us.
Give yourself a break
It's okay if you're not the seemingly perfect mommy right now. Be there for your family and do the best you can at work.
Don't forget to focus on gratitude
Focus on the positives. I remind myself daily, if not more often, that we're incredibly fortunate to be able to continue working during this time, as challenging as it is. I am also loving all the time I'm getting with my son – hearing him say new words, seeing him learn how to solve a puzzle, and the extra cuddles while putting him down for naps. It's not all good, of course - but it's not all bad, either.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.