Tips on how parents can keep their sanity while working at home with their children in the house

Parents must manage their work with kids at home

By Donna Lane

If you’re a non-essential worker, you’re (hopefully) complying with the shelter in place mandate issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on March 16 to slow coronavirus. And if this is a new situation for you, you’re (probably) wondering how to handle it. Here are some tips.

Be flexible

Spoiler alert: That color-coded chore chart you saw on Pinterest is cute but probably useless. I started freelancing in 1997, and my firstborn arrived in 1998. As a new mom, I had to adjust my routine and my expectations. The first year, I shifted from magazine articles to fiction. As my son grew, he’d play in my office with trucks, blocks, and puzzles while I typed. Busy hands stay out of trouble.

Expect interruptions

A toddler craving attention doesn’t care about deadlines. And he’ll interrupt until you relent. Better to stop briefly and engage him until he can return to self-directed, parallel play than be disrupted until you blow your stack. This, too, shall pass.

Embrace teachable moments

As my son started preschool, he’d stamp my invoices PAID and fill in dates. Then we’d file alphabetically. Not only did this enhance learning, it helped him understand why sometimes Mom couldn’t play. He recognized that work equated to pay which equated to Goldfish crackers, toys, and adventures. Now 21, he’s studying and tutoring at Gavilan. He quickly adapted to the tele-setup, perhaps because it was familiar.

Respect boundaries

My daughter, graduating high school this year, has been homeschooled since 8th grade. Sharing my workday after eight years was another adjustment. It takes time to learn how to be in each other’s space. We’d talk about the day over breakfast, work independently until lunch, then chat again. Checking her progress online eliminates hovering.

Establish expectations

Touch base each morning. Do you share a printer? Does someone have a conference call? Is anyone taking a test? Be sure you’re aware of each other’s agenda so everyone is productive, not disruptive.

Get dressed

Be comfortable, yet professional. Yes, skip shoes. No, don’t wear pajamas. If you normally do your hair or wear makeup, keep that up if you might Zoom. (They won’t see your slippers.)

Eat properly

Don’t cave to what I call “procrasti-snacking.” Eat at the table, then leave the kitchen. That ice cream will be there later, trust me.

Commit to discipline

It’s tempting to check your phone, create the ‘perfect’ playlist, or Tweet until noon. Use a timer to keep yourself on task, then set it again to move or play for a short interval. Minimize distractions by putting your phone on Do Not Disturb or use your computer’s ‘focus’ features.


Even if you close your office door when the workday ends, you’re always at work and always at home. You’re also always aware of something else requiring attention. Strive for balance.

Practice grace

We’re all in this together. Get fresh air. Recognize contributions. Share a laugh. Have a spontaneous lunchtime dance party. Or crazy sock day. Focus on gratitude for the time together instead of inconvenience or frustration. This, too, shall pass.

Donna Lane is a freelance writer living in Gilroy. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.

Donna Lane