Please enjoy this blog post authored by Helen Stocklin-Enright, Senior Manager, Development & Operations, Perkins Coie, Perkins Coie LLP.
Working remotely as a parent of young children is a mix of experiences—deep joy at being present for more childhood moments along with copious opportunities for personal growth and learning as work and life happen in close proximity, demanding a deeper inquiry into how to be present for both.
I returned to work remotely in April 2020 with a four-month-old and a three-year-old. The early days were a blur. Ideas and resources were being shared from all directions about how to navigate the situation skillfully. One of my children has a disability, so I was also learning to quickly adapt to supporting his needs in our new remote environment. It was hard to read and remember, much less implement, the many suggestions about how to do this. When I tried some of the advice, I found myself exhausted and disheartened after diligently following someone else’s idea of what would bring balance to my life, only to feel worse than when I started.
Fed up, I tapped into my experience as an integral coach and started to experiment with what worked for me that day, week, or month. I examined more closely why those things succeeded or didn’t, what the quality of my work and parenting felt like when they succeeded, and what I would change the next time. I tried self-reflections, scheduled exercise, impromptu exercise, new types of exercise, less coffee, more coffee, mindfulness, meditation, reducing my screen time when not working, and much more. The list of what I tried is less important than the process of trying what was on it with a curious mind, learning, and failing often. But in that failure, a few gems surfaced—things that sometimes worked. I started feeling better and found spaces where working from home with young children even felt harmonious. What resulted is a more refined process for responding to new challenges, finding what brings me balance, and changing it up when life circumstances change. I still use it today.
Several significant factors contribute to successful remote work with young children, including having consistent, affordable childcare. Because so many have covered this topic, this post focuses on seven tips that have arisen from my experience, but none of these would be possible in the same way without consistent care for my children.
1. Recognize that the quality of focused time often depends on the quality of time spent not focusing. My work often requires periods of uninterrupted concentration, which means I have to bring focused energy into my workday after a full morning with my family. Remote work can involve blurred boundaries, such as the lack of a commute as I shift from home to work in the short walk up the stairs. This has given more urgency to the need to be mindful of my energy and vitality. One key to sustaining my energy is taking breaks away from screens; I build in time with fresh air on my face and body movement in some form.
2. Cultivate a proven productivity strategy that will work when exhausted. Even though I pay attention to my energy levels and seek optimal ones, young children and lack of sleep have sometimes been (and still are) synonymous in my home. I had to find a way to pace my energy while getting work done at a high level. For me, that is the pomodoro technique.
3. Hold on to compassion and kindness. Parenting is hard. Start with self-compassion. I have navigated a lot as a parent, including serious medical events. I hold deeply to the idea that I do not know what other people may be going through and act accordingly.
4. Make a list of things to not take on or to actively let go. I am not suggesting that you don’t complete necessary projects and tasks or that you don’t show up as a parent; there are certain things that must be done. However, we are often weighed down by a list of additional things that would be nice to do but that are unnecessary. Instead of carrying these obligations around in your head, write them down as things you are giving yourself permission not to do. My list right now includes things I always pictured myself doing, like volunteering for the PTA.
5. Communicate often and reassess communication styles and formats periodically. Doing so on both the home and career fronts is critical to making remote work with young kids possible. Effective communication can affect everything from school drop-offs to timely completion of work projects to developing professional relationships that will advance your career.
6. Find and cultivate community. Have a place where you are known, where people see you, and where you can share your hardest parenting and life moments. I have a dear group of friends across the United States and Canada who each have a child with the same diagnosis as my son. They’re funny, kind, and supportive. I can ask them anything; they always have an answer. Experiencing this level of support helps me show up fully as a professional and a parent.
7. Get professional help. If you are struggling with your mental health, seek professional support. Even if you are not struggling, talking with a therapist may enhance your ability to navigate issues that can arise when working remotely with young children. Sessions with a coach in some circumstances may also be beneficial.
Good luck on your journey!