As I wake up to my alarm clock ringing on my phone on a sunny morning in Beirut, I remember that it’s week five of school closure and week two of lockdown in Lebanon, which includes a 7pm to 5am curfew. I hit the snooze button. With no travel time to work I can afford a few more minutes of sleep. After snoozing for the third time, my 9-month-old starts to make his presence known to remind me that its time to wake up and have milk and as soon as I head towards the kitchen, my toddler yells “mummy…where are you mummy” from the other room.
I sigh and realise that it’s another day of working from home in lockdown. I reminisce about a time before coronavirus when I used to jump up, get dressed, kiss my husband goodbye, drop my toddler at nursery, grab a flat white from Backburner (my Beirut coffee fix) and head off to the office. Back then, my main preoccupations were things like the traffic and where I was going to order my lunch from that day.
I take solace in the fact that I am not alone. Latest stats from UNESCO state that around 1.5 billion learners have been affected by school closures, meaning hundreds of millions of parents around the world are having to deal with some sort of home-schooling and quarantine, as well as contending with that other thing: our jobs. Many parents now have to juggle working from home with some sort of e-learning, entertainment, child-friendly activity and constant cooking. This is accompanied with daily pangs of guilt as to how this situation and lack of attention is going to impair your children’s long-term mental health and future educational attainment, and the constant threat and worry about coronavirus itself.
However hard it may be, here are my top tips for trying to make your lockdown with kids and working from home as smooth as possible:
- Always have a shower, get dressed and be ready to sit down and start to resemble a normal human being by 8.45am so that you have time to check some emails, have a coffee before you start your working day.
- Clothes – its ok to wear sweat pants but try to mix it up with a clean top, maybe even a piece of jewellery or even try to wear an ironed top one day….that will at least make you feel half decent and stop you sliding down that slippery slope to slobdom.
- Video calls – beware that there is always one (annoying) colleague/person that you will have to remotely meet with that will insist that you use video. This calls for an emergency stalling to make sure you look half decent before you meet online.
- Snacks – avoid eating snacks throughout the day, and keep them healthy. Try and stick to a piece of fruit or unsalted nuts and seeds. Working from home, especially when you have kids, can be a slippery slope. Unlike adults over 30, kids are growing and have incredible metabolism. It’s also ok to give them a bit of chocolate so that you can get on with that conference call…
- Exercise (a good segue from snacks). One of the positive points about this crisis is the generosity of fitness experts/yoga practitioners/gyms etc in providing free, online and live classes. Instagram is a gem for finding these. I usually set aside an hour every day (9.00pm to 10.00pm) when my children have gone to bed for exercise or yoga.
- Having good internet is going to make your working life and family life much better. Make sure you also set your working area somewhere where there is good range and its not going to cut off. You also may need to boost your internet if you have multiple users (children, partner and yourself) online at the same moment. More importantly when relaxing in the evening, you really don’t want to keep pausing during your Netflix fix or while making your TikTok videos.
- Lean on your nanny/helper if this is an option (ok this is where I hold my hand up and admit that one of the perks of living and working abroad means that I have a nanny who looks after the baby and does housework while I go out to work). If you don’t have a nanny or a cleaner, then think about getting one of those robot hoover things to help you with the cleaning at least.
- Television – this is one for all the worried mothers in Beirut who I have had countless discussions with on the danger of TV. It’s really ok to let them watch TV now and then – especially if it means they stop jumping up and down on the sofa and screaming “mummy I don’t want to wear clothes anymore”. Thank god for TV. Peppa pig seems to be a favourite for my toddler and I’m a big fan now too. Embrace the TV and if someone judges you – block them from WhatsApp as you don’t need that negativity right now.
- Connecting with others – now is the time to be reaching out virtually to that old-friend-that-moved-to-Alexandria as well as families, grandparents, close friends and colleagues. Everyone is at home and there is no excuse to not be able to schedule a quick call, video or House Party chat. Its also a great way for children to keep in touch with self-isolating grandparents and we make it a daily ritual now in our home just before dinner time.
- Lastly, remember there are days when you are going to lose it with your children and/or your partner/husband/wife. At the first instance try not to yell every swear word under the sun when this happens….try to get away even just for 10 minutes alone to get it together. If you can and the country where you are quarantined permits it, go for a quick walk outside (avoiding contact with others), get a fresh breath of air and then come back and give those little monsters a big hug. After all, they are super cute and (hopefully) soon we will miss the days when we used to be lockdown with them at home.