The New Normal


Since my layoff I’ve been doing 25+ hours of work a week from home. Without the cost of full-time daycare, plus some cutbacks, that put us financially about where we were before my layoff. ABOUT. Close enough that I’m not having nightmares about losing my home, but not close enough that I get to enjoy the weekend of Someone Else Cooks And Cleans like we used to.

However, until this week I did keep Wes in preschool two days a week because I didn’t want him to miss graduation. So, on Tuesday and Thursdays I would work as much as possible while he was at school. Then, the rest of the week I’d spread out my work by sticking him in front of the TV. He ended up watching more TV than is ideal, but not enough to make me feel guilty. Win/Win!

But he graduated yesterday. And his sister gets out of school for the summer on Thursday. So this is the adjustment week before ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

Here’s the thing – the TV trick will still work! They’re pretty good about giving me time to work if they can watch TV. But – you know – dead brain cells and such. So! My goal is to try my best not to use the TV as the lure to peace and quiet so that I can work.

I’d really rather not try to squeeze in my work while they’re sleeping. My early mornings are my exercise hours and I try to go to bed about the same time as they do at night. I can definitely try to squeeze 5-10 hours a week out of time that Donnie’s home, and declare 1) NO TV! and also 2) If you need something SEE YOUR FATHER! That will work some.

But typically? When they’re left on their own without TV I have to deal with some sort of issue every 20 minutes or so. They only time they seem to play successfully is when they’re allowed free reign to destroy the house. Which I’ve done during desperate times. But then it totally backfires because – while they’re okay at picking up reasonable amounts of messes – they suck at clearing out total destruction. So who ends up doing it? ME! And that’s not worth the exchange of a little bit of peaceful work time.

I’m thinking of doing daily schedules. If you let Mom work until 9am quietly – then you can watch TV for an hour. I also need some sort of system for keeping them from doing the whole Come To Mom Every Time We’re Unhappy With Each Other thing. Do I reward them for an entire day of handling conflict themselves? I hate punishing them for coming to me because it’s a tough moment to punish the Tattler, because then do I acknowledge the incident they’re tattling about? What if it’s something I typically punish? Usually if I hear them coming I’ll just say, “Is anyone bleeding? Is anyone breaking something that belongs to Mom? Is anyone doing something that could end in a trip to the ER? THEN I DO NOT CARE.” But I’m not sure how effective that is.

So! Do any of you peeps work from home? How do you do it? What are your secrets? Do you stick them in front of the TV when you need to work and just make the other hours in the day quality play time? Because I think I may actually start with that. Do you have any parks that have free WiFi where you live? Because that would be IDEAL. I think there’s a park downtown here that does, but not a playground. So it would work if they just wanted to run around and throw ball and stuff, but not much if they wanted to slide/swing.

I’ll take any suggestions you may have!

12 thoughts on “The New Normal”

  1. You could try a tattle box/board. Have them write or draw their problem on a slip of paper or post-it, and then put it in the box/on the board WITHOUT talking to you. Then when you’re done working go through them with or without each kid (depending on how much they still need to be “heard”). This gives them an immediate, productive outlet for that MOM!! instinct while leaving you in peace.

  2. Oh, and another that would only work with some kids- if you have to force it it’s not worth it. Make a booklet of appropriate worksheets for each kid (maybe letter tracing sheets for Wes and simple math on phonics for Nikki) mixed in with coloring and other fun pages, maybe including weekly journal pages. Every morning have them sit down near but not with you, maybe with a box of special worktime only pencils and crayons, and work on one page while you work. It will only be really independent if the worksheets don’t frustrate them and if they don’t resent having to do school stuff, so it depends on your kids, but some kids LOVE this kind of thing. If this only works for one of your kids then hey, at least they’re not bugging each other. If it only works for a couple weeks, well, that was 15 quiet daily minutes you got for a couple of weeks.

    This sort of thing works better than just store bought workbooks because you can personalize it (in your case make it easy enough that they don’t need any help) and because you can mix in fun pages because it is vacation. It’s a little bit of work to put together but at least it will stretch their brain a bit before they go to the TV.

    Sorry for the length, apparently I’ve been an out of work teacher for too long.

  3. What about a mother’s helper? A 12-15yo who could keep them occupied and from destroying things while you work… could handle snacks, help supervise/monitor tv time….

  4. We’ve been having a similar issue with trying to get our two (4 and 2) to learn to play together nicely – without punishing tattling, exactly.

    So we’ve been rewarding kindness and “big kid” behavior as much as possible (this is more because i felt like I was raising my voice ALL THE TIME and wanted to stop that… as well as show them I was noticing their GOOD stuff). SOOOooo we started a marble jar. We sat down and came up with a list of super special activities, and each time they get through a day without fighting horrendously/tattling or when we “catch” them being exceptional to each other, they get a marble. Once the jar is full, they get to pick something off the list.

    So far it seems to be doing wonders.

    Also, the work books are a great idea. We use the “brain quest” ones and they keep them busy for a while. (the older of course much longer than the younger….)

    good luck!

  5. Ahh yes, bring-your-kids-to-work- summer – I know it well. Honestly, until last year I could afford to have a teenager come over and stay with them from 9-3 but things changed and the three of us were on our own together last summer. Honestly if you could find someone and afford it – with the their ages I’d go with the teenager if you can. I paid mine $5/hr for 30 hours a week and really that’s the best a 14-15 year old can hope for these days. She hung out,made lunch, kept them busy.

    But that went the way of my bigger income and last summer I just structured the heck of their day. I made them get up at a certain time then they had a schedule to adhere to – that did not include any TV until after lunch time. They got up, ate, cleaned up a little (table, bathroom, rooms) then had to do a certain pre-determined amount of work in a Summer Bridge book. Then read for at least 30 minutes and write a daily summary on what they had read. (This is really for my oldest who struggles with reading/writing and needed to not fall behind in the summer) This was not negotiable and playing with other kids was not allowed until this was done. After that they could play outside until lunch time. I fixed lunch for them as a break in my day. Then one hour of TV was allowed. After that it was off. They could go back to playing or swimming – now with neighborhood friends. And each evening they had to be ready to go to swim team by 5:45. They still went to bed on a bedtime each night.

    What really mattered out of all this was that it was a routine. They knew what to expect and what was expected of them. Granted I’ve worked from home their whole life so they are very familiar with the rules of when it’s okay and when it’s not okay to bug Mom in her office. And mine are older (10 and 6 last summer). So some of that will work for you and some not.

    The things I’d stick with though are the not sleeping in and no TV in the first part of the day – if I got lax on either of those the whole day just seemed to go to hell.

  6. Library visits regularly? You could use the wi-fi while they read/work on the computer/play with toys. There might even be story times scheduled for summer for Wes.

  7. My mom used to shoo us out of the house to the pool down the street. She was letting us ride our bikes there by the time we were six or seven years old (and I had to ride with/watch my younger brother. built in lessons in responsibility). I don’t know how much times have changed since then, and obviously it depends on where you live and how close you are to an option like that – a pool, the Y, etc – but buying a summer membership to something like that and making them use it could work out for you too.

  8. I’m pre-panicking about this. I hadn’t realized how much more work I was doing now that Henry is in kindergarten several hours a day until we had spring vacation and I couldn’t do any of it. Last summer I signed Henry up for a 9-2 summer program at a local preschool (I can concentrate okay with the other kids in the house, but not with Henry), but it was very expensive and also now he’s too old for it. I’ve been thinking of signing him up for the summer with a program that does before-school, after-school, vacation, and summer care for 2-career households. I haven’t dared look at the price yet, though.

  9. I tried to work from home when the kids were little for awhile. It was hard. Really, really hard. It was not the utopia that I always thought it would be.

    Things that worked for me:

    1. SCHEDULE. I found this to be absolutely essential. Schedule your day/week just like they would at school. Do breakfast, lunch, snack times all at the same time every day. Write up a physical schedule w/ pictures. Schedule fun activities during the week (field trips to the park, pool, story time at the library, etc) so they can see them on the schedule, but make it contingent on good behavior throughout the week. Schedule reading time, coloring time, playing outside time, quiet inside your room time, cleaning time, etc.
    2. NAP/REST TIME. As part of the schedule, there was mandatory rest time after lunch. Period. This included laying down on separate couches with the lights off watching a movie. They got to take turns picking the movie every other day, but I gave them choices. The rules were that you weren’t allowed to talk or leave your couch. I got a good two solid hours of work done with rest time every day AND they would occasionally nap when they needed to.
    3. WORK WHILE THEY EAT. Seriously. I would make their breakfast, then work at the table on my laptop while they ate. They were occupied and I got some serious work time in. Between breakfast, lunch and snack, that was a good 1-2 hours a day of uninterrupted work time.
    4. SCHEDULE PLAY TIME. Schedule some time into the schedule that you stop working and just play with them and have fun. Our time every day was after snack time/before lunch and then after rest time. Try to enjoy it. This season of your life is only for a season. This may be the only summer that you have this opportunity.
    5. BE FLEXIBLE. Some days are just going to go to pot. You have a sick kid or frankly just nothing goes right. Be willing to take the hit, beg your spouse for some work time when they get home and try to make up the hours out of your other “free” time. It’s going to happen. Accepting it is the first step towards not being a big stress ball the whole time.

  10. Are you still a member of the Botanical Garden? Do they have any activities/camps/Wifi?

    We have a climbing gym here (similar to McDonald’s play area, but two story–much bigger). It costs $10 total (2 kids + me). We can stay as long as we want and they have free Wifi.

    What about a 12-year-old who is starting out as a babysitter? They need experience, you’re still around, and you can have them come over for a couple of hours a day.

    We have a mandatory one hour quiet time on the weekends. If my kids are way beyond out of control, they get more quiet time. We have a huge bin of Trio’s, which can keep them occupied.

    My kids will also build forts with blankets and do their own thing. Can you give them assignments for reading/writing/coloring?

    For cleaning up, we’ll do some competitive things, like cleaning tag–one has to pick up 10 things, then the other has to pick up 10 things, etc. We also have a version where we see who picks up 10 toys first.

    I’m throwing everything out there for you. Good luck!

  11. All good ideas above, as a teacher I wanted to throw in a second vote for making a visual schedule for each day. This can be a life saver!! It does not have to be fancy, just post-its or a chart or a dry erase board. It can also help to write a story about what is coming up “Summer Vacation is about to Start!!!” sort of a thing. In it you can describe what their days will be like, with expectations listed. It can then be read at night throughout the summer. Having a “I’m board” list which we call the Bored Board can be good too. It’s a list of things you point to the second you hear someone say “I’m bored”. No talking, no suggestions, just point to the list. have them help you make the list will help too. And in regards to worksheets or that kind of thing you can also get more mileage out of them if you put them in page protector sleeves and let them use dry erase markers. You can then switch out the sheets the night before. And I completely 100% support the hour of what we call Quiet Time each afternoon. And to be honest with three girls, on good days they read but on other days they each sit in a different room in front of a screen–and on some days–they are all actually watching the same TV show 🙂 but NOT in the same room !!!!!

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