Working … with toddlers

Mother with kid working from home

So you’re working at home — with toddlers! Congratulations. This probably means you’re not an “essential worker” (no offense; we are all essential), putting your life on the line for the sake of Old Glory. This probably also means you still have employment, which is huge in this COVID-altered world!

In other words, you are among the lucky, the blessed, the (somewhat) financially secure. And if you’ve been working at home with your kids for any length of time, you are probably in some state of unraveling.

If you’re having a tough time being “on” as a parent and an employee 24 hours a day, I feel your pain. As someone who has worked from home for a solid eight years — often with children at my side — I know how challenging it can be to get work done when your kids are always there. With many years of hard-won lessons behind me, I proudly present: Shannon’s tips and tricks for working at home with toddlers!

Tip #1: Pool your resources

If you’re parenting with a partner and you’re both working from home, implement a “divide and conquer” strategy. This might mean you work from 8:00 to noon while your partner watches the toddler; then you switch roles from noon to 4:00. You both finish your remaining work late at night or early in the morning. Then you collapse for several hours, wake up and do it all over again.

Or you could expand your circle and partner up with another family. (While being COVID-safe, of course!) One of my friends went with this arrangement for several months. Between two families they had four adults and three young children. Parent #1 would watch all three kids in one house on Monday, while the other three parents worked in a separate location, and so on and so forth for the rest of the week. Of course, your employer would need to sign off on this arrangement that would keep you out of commission for at least one day a week. But these are unusual times, so anything’s worth a try.

Tip #2: Impose structure

So you’re working from home, and you’re on your own. Well, we all know kids thrive under structure, right? Devise your daily schedule — say, breakfast at 7:30, with work starting promptly at 8:00. Set your toddler up with some “work” of her own, Montessori-style. Something self-directed and engrossing, ideally. This will hopefully keep young ones busy for seven minutes or so. Consult your detailed schedule for next steps.

Struggling to keep your child occupied during hours of back-to-back meetings? Remember, a change of scene can be good for toddlers. Consider moving your “office” to the backyard, or even better, the local playground. (Remember to bring your hand sanitizer!) I’ve had more than one client meeting while pacing around the perimeter of Bryant Square Park.

Tip #3: Hire some help

So your toddler just chased you through the house screaming (while you were on an important call, of course), like the final scene in a pandemic horror film. Well, there’s always daycare, right? Oh wait, those are all full — or closed. Grandparents? Probably not safe. What’s a parent to do?

Tip #4: Employ the digital babysitter

I know — screen time is bad. But you know what else is bad? Not having a steady source of income during a global pandemic! If there’s one thing this crisis has demonstrated — and oh how I wish it was only one thing — it’s that the rules are arbitrary. And if an Octonauts marathon is what makes it possible to meet a deadline, well so be it.


Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to [email protected].