Even without a pandemic, it can be a challenge for the self-employed to reconcile business and education. There are usually regular times in everyday life when the parents are in the office and the children are in kindergarten, school or daycare.

Now that everyone stays at home, many have to reinvent this everyday life. As with most parenting questions, there is no perfect answer. Nevertheless, we asked some of our CWT Advertising colleagues for their insights from the past few days.

Everyone agreed on a few points:

  • Young children don’t understand your schedule, so you have to be flexible.
  • As an adult, you understand that the whole world is in an exceptional situation, but children don’t quite understand it yet.
  • Accepting from the start that you will do less work than in the office makes it easier for you.
  • Planning is everything. It is important to have a plan and follow through on it.
  • Taking care of your own psychological well-being is absolutely necessary, especially in such exceptional situations – not only for you, but also for your children.

As a result of all these points, we have put together the following tips for you:

Schedule meetings and determine who focuses on work

The parents we spoke to all share their temporary home office with their partner. This gives them the opportunity for one parent to focus on work and the other parent to do easier tasks and be available to the children.

For single parents, asking friends and family for help becomes an important part of self-care (more on this below). Depending on your current relationship with the other parent, you may need to consider which of you are best able to take care of your child (easily said, but a really difficult decision in real life). Take a look at financial aid programs that might be suitable for you.

You should try not to have both parents sitting in meetings or video conferences at the same time. If this is the case, you should clarify with your conversation partner whether it is okay to miss a meeting so that you can take care of your child. Or you ask if you can have it on your lap. That seems self-explanatory, but you should definitely talk to your conversation partner about it. This will avoid any misunderstandings.

A good example of time management within the family was a colleague whose partner adapted the watch for the children. The hands on the clock indicate which parent the child may interrupt at work. Employment suggestions for the children are also on the clock.

A picture of a clock that was redesigned for the home office with children.
Red is one parent, blue is the other. With the help of the small pointer (with embellishments), the child can see who he can turn to. Image by Lars Kitzig

After a few days, it became very clear to our parents surveyed that these regulations should not be too strict. If your child wants to show you their drawing or is curious about what happens during your video call, then let the interruption go. Most of the work is not interesting for children anyway, so they quickly disappear again. And if you sacrifice a bit of your concentration, everyone will be a little happier in the long run.

Concentrate on tasks, not on working hours

How well do you estimate your chances of doing two hours of uninterrupted, highly concentrated work while your child is playing in the same room? It might work. Maybe. Theoretically. Unlikely.

In practice, it makes more sense if you focus on what you want to do and not on how many hours you want to work in total. So try to make a list of priorities and work on what matters most.

To cope with interruptions, you can try the Pomodoro technique. You work on a small, clearly defined task for 25 minutes and then take a short, five-minute break. This approach can help you work better in short, concentrated periods of time. Start early so that you and your child can quickly find a common rhythm. If you give your little one regular attention, this can save you from having to interrupt your working hours.

Of course, you will still be interrupted, but with clearly defined tasks, you can definitely remove some things from your list of priorities and feel more productive at the end of the day.

Include wherever possible

The situation is particularly strange for your children: you are there all the time, but you have no time for them. They just want your attention. Several of our colleagues mentioned that they are therefore trying to involve the children in their normal household chores.

The “help” that a small child provides may slow down cleaning, washing up or cooking. But in return, you get time that you spend together. So let them put the laundry in the machine or collect the matching socks from the dryer. In the end, it is only important that you talk to them about everything that is important to them.

Use meals and naps to plan your day

Since everyone spends so much time together, nobody should get the chance to become a hangry. One parent told us that they put together a menu for the whole week so they could shop more effectively and cook meals in advance. If the meals are ready, you will save valuable time.

Eating together is a break for everyone and a good opportunity for parents to swap roles between concentrated employees in the home office and “contacts” for the child. This exchange also helps you to plan your meetings more easily: This way your team knows that you are only 100% available after lunch.

And when the child’s lunch is followed by a meal, the parents can use this time to do some work in silence. Between playing with the child and making video calls, this could be one of the few times of the day when the house is quiet.

Tip: Between meals, children always seem to be hungry when you want to concentrate. So give them a chance to help themselves. Provide your child with fruit or small snacks and tell them that they can help themselves at any time without asking you. The child is happy and you save yourself a few unnecessary breaks.

Find out where you can work best

Some parents organize their working days in shifts at home. The working parent sits in a separate room and only comes out when his shift is over. This works especially if you have older children that you can leave alone.

Others ensure that they are always visible to their child. So “finding the missing parent” is not an issue. When your child sees you, it satisfies their curiosity, but your concentrated “thinking pose” prevents them from interrupting you.

You can inform older children about important work events or calls in advance and ask them not to disturb you until the meeting is over. Communicate clearly when your meeting starts and when it ends. Also ask your children if they need anything before the meeting begins. For younger children, you can try setting an egg timer or an alarm clock. Then the children will know when you will be available again. After the meeting, take a moment to pay some attention to the children.

Use your contacts, especially as a single parent

Children should not visit their grandparents during the crisis, but grandma and grandpa can be of great help. This also applies to school friends and neighboring children. Video calls with others are valuable social contacts for your children in this difficult time. Older children in particular feel less isolated when they know that their peers are in the same situation.

The grandparents can help with some lessons and reading stories or ask for drawings, letters or special LEGO projects. Walkie-talkies, video calls or even two tin cans and a piece of string can keep the kids in touch with the neighbors and be a fun change.

And while your kids are talking to others, you have time to work with fewer breaks.

As a single parent, you should not hesitate to ask your personal network for help. Friends like to bring you some groceries at the door, make video calls with your child or keep an eye on the baby monitor for you. If the other parent is on hand, you should make sure that they make regular video calls. Your child probably misses the other parent and his call can give you some breathing space.

Now that so many courses and dates have been canceled for your child, it is important that you also have some time for yourself. This is part of the self-care that you need now to take care of your child.

Provides employment

Some parents we spoke to mentioned how happy they are to have a garden. Then the children can play outside and release some energy. If you don’t have this luxury, just try doing sports or gymnastics with your children. If you use your children as weights, you combine it with fun and fitness. And importantly, you should not replace going into the fresh air with such exercises – because this is still allowed.

A colleague is in the happy situation that his partner is still on parental leave and is also a teacher. So she started teaching the older kids at home. Promptly they no longer wanted to go to normal school.

Most of the time, however, your children will have nothing to do. Boredom will strike, but you can try to prevent it as long as possible. Many parents have extended the screen time for their children and use educational apps or YouTube channels. Before doing so, try to put as much as possible on books if your child is old enough.

In the meantime, many schools have adapted to the situation using digital timetables. Some teachers have started teaching from home. If you’re still looking for online school activities or for younger children, parents from all over the world have gathered plenty of ideas from this well-stocked list. If you are looking for activities during which you can concentrate on your work, you can simply sort the list by “Degree of parent involvement”.

Don’t forget to see the positive

Some colleagues had only just returned to work after parental leave. In the home office they now see much more of their child than they initially thought. Being at home is an unexpected bonus for them.

Most of us don’t have too many moments to cuddle and love during work, so make the most of this exceptional situation!

For a better mood, we recommend taking a look at what other parents are saying about their new “employees”: