How to work from home with a toddler (or three): A Q&A

How to work from home with a toddler (or three): A Q&A

Hey! Are you stuck at home, practicing your social distancing skills and desperately trying to do your office work from your kitchen table while your toddlers pull on your legs every 1.3 seconds?


I spawned three amazing little humans inside of four years. My legs are now permanently longer because of them.

I homeschooled for well over a decade while working from home and even a bit outside the home. During that time I learned many lessons, including that trying to complete home renovation projects was just one thing too many.

Let’s just say I know how you feel. And since I’m still (mostly) here, that should give you hope. So that’s tip number one. It totally is possible to survive.

Q: Can I do this?

A: Yes! Also NO! It all depends on how you define “this”. If you’re trying to be as productive at work while you’re at home with a little batch of lovely munchkins who seem determined to drive you bonkers, the answer is no. In my experience, it helps to redefine what success looks like. Personally, I use “12 uninterrupted minutes at the computer” as my yardstick. Repeat as often as you need, and make sure those 12 minutes are worth it.

Takeaway: You never know how productive you can be until you are faced with editing a crucial work document in eight minutes. The good news is, once everything goes back to normal, you’ll still have those amazing multitasking and productivity ninja skills, so make sure you use them well.

Q: Are my kids going to be OK?

A: Oh, that’s easy. Of course they will… assuming they survive. It’s remarkable how creative toddlers can get when all they want is your attention, so watch for impromptu suicide attempts on their part. Make sure you have basic safety measures in place so they don’t tumble to their death trying to get dog food from the basement or stab themselves in the eye with – well, anything really. Little kids are truly amazing. Your paranoia is their salvation. Now is the time to deploy it.

Takeaway: Your kids want your attention because they can feel your anxiety and your extreme desire to make it to the bathroom before that online exec meeting in 45 seconds. Manage your time well. Your advantage is you know what the schedule is. They don’t. Use the 15 minutes before any important meeting to play with your kids or otherwise devote all your attention to them. Think of them as little tanks to be filled. Once you top them up they’ll be good for a while. Plop them in front of a movie (it’s OK, really) while you’re in that meeting after you’ve spent time with them. Once your meeting is over go start a tickle party with them to refill their tanks then enjoy a healthy snack with them. They will associate FUN WITH MOM!!! with good behaviour during Important Work Meetings. It’s something worth having, believe me.

Q: But what about them learning anything?

A: Oh, if you want to be a homeschool hero, by all means, be my guest. But don’t panic if you only manage a few scraps of teaching. Remember that kids learn from everything, especially from watching you. (This is your not-so-subtle reminder to keep the swearing down.)

Takeaway: One of the secrets to sustainable homeschooling is to remember to grab teachable moments when they present themselves. Usually they will take the form of somewhat awkward questions. Talk with them. Listen to them. Work things out together. Google together. Can you really outrun a fart? The answer is online somewhere, and it involves science. That’s learning. Yeah, OK, so maybe not Einstein-level learning. But then again, you don’t know that for sure, do you?

Q: I can’t do it, help!!!

A: Relax. Breathe. You’re doing it right now, so of course you can. Remember that your kids are interested in whatever it is you’re doing. So here’s a trick: Let them see you working (above is my two oldest kids in the green room while I was on television), and maybe even ask them to help by preparing memos or drawings to accompany your company-wide email updates. Your co-workers will love it.

Takeaway: Listen. I took my three on filming trips throughout England during which they had to spend hours and hours in the car being quiet, followed by hours on set being quiet, and then find ways to behave and BE QUIET in hotel rooms because I needed to do some editing. What did they learn during those trips? How to entertain themselves, yes, but also how to film and how to navigate unfamiliar surroundings. On the downside, they have no more tolerance for old historic churches.

Q: What else?

A: Exercise, and fresh air. I swear it works. Take regular breaks and go outside with the kids. Let them play. Yes, it’s OK to take your phone and deal with a few emails while they fool around somewhere safe.

Takeaway: Remember that this crisis will pass, but your relationship with your kids will be there for a lot longer. Focus on that, especially when you’re feeling harried and worn-out. Repeat to yourself: Hey, I’m bonding with my kids. That’s success, too.