May 11, 2020
In this article written for The Advocates’ Society @HomeAdvocate, Tamara Ramsey shares some tips for advocates and other lawyers balancing parenting and lawyering while working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has now been many weeks since most of us started working from home. The schools and courts both suspended regular service, which has created unique challenges for many of us. The first week of working from home brought many challenges for me and my family. My spouse was dealing with postproduction on some ads and though he is accustomed to working from home, he suddenly had his family around. I was trying to write blogs for the firm about new laws and programs that were changing daily as well as trying to docket some billable time. My son, an independent 10 years, was fortunate to have a plethora of new Lego sets and some new video games from his recent birthday to keep him occupied, but he refused to get dressed.
My goal for the weeks that followed were simple: improve my productivity and make sure my son got dressed. Flexibility has been key. While every family is different and every age has its unique challenges and rewards, here are a few tips that actually helped us (sometimes).
When I saw news stories and social media posts from astronauts and submarine operators about working while isolated at home, I was enraged by the mansplaining. They never needed to deal with having their child run around in his underwear while trying to work from home. However, I realized that their advice about creating daily routines was echoed in many parenting books.
I took a piece of paper and wrote out a timetable for the weekdays. I wrote the hours of the day along the left margin and created a column for each of us: Mommy, Papa and our son. Since I had been waking up early and working for an hour while everyone slept, I started my day at 7:00 and theirs at 8:00 with family breakfast at 8:30. I then slotted in some “screen time”, “home learning” and a new thing we call “offscreen play”.
The schedule solved my first problem: my son started waking up and getting dressed on weekdays. A small, but important, victory. Flexibility has been key. Sometimes I schedule conference calls that start at the same time as home learning. If I am not available to provide technical or teaching support, my son has a good reason to procrastinate on home learning. If he misses home learning in the morning, then we add a second home learning session for later that day and/or additional time the following day.
I have found that getting outside is important. My son needs an outlet for his energy and the adults need to move too. Now more than ever, a little bit of exercise is essential to maintaining some semblance of physical and mental health.
I slotted in a 15-minute recess in the morning. My son can normally occupy himself for 15 minutes in our small backyard, but one of us occasionally agrees to join him. We do what we can with a tree and a ball. Sadly, indoor recess on the rainy days just means more screen time.
I slotted in family exercise time mid-day. This often means a family walk around the side-streets in our neighbourhood. If we need to pick up items from local shops, we will incorporate the errand into our walk. Sometimes the weather or our work schedules do not permit mid-day walks, so we try to do an evening walk instead. If I manage to find an online fitness class (which has become a thing the last few weeks from #TASFit and other vendors), I might skip out on the walk and let the boys go alone.
My son has always been a snuggler and I know that it will not last much longer. Sometimes he needs to pop by for a hug. Sometimes the only way he will read is if we sit on the sofa together – I work at one end and he reads at the other. The reality for my son is that if Mommy is physically present in the house, then she is available for snuggles on demand.
It is important to carve out some time in which I am not available for snuggles (technical support, snack preparation, or anything else short of an emergency). There are times when I need to be alone to work or when I have an important call or video conference. I tried announcing my calls in advance and closing the door in the little room in which I am working, with mixed success. I have had slightly more success putting a sign on the door when I really should not be disturbed. I use the sign sparingly so that my family respects my alone time when the sign is up.
For single and separated parents, I do not know how you do it and you should stop reading now. I have no more tips for you.
For those of us lucky enough to share parenting responsibilities with a life partner, it is more important than ever that we share the work at home. My spouse has always taken charge of dinner preparation, but he has his limits and needs a break occasionally. Take-out is an option, but I also sometimes need to volunteer to cook. Our son has learned to unload the dishwasher and to change the sheets on our beds.
Sharing childcare is of critical importance. If I really need to be alone to work, then my spouse needs to run interference and vice versa. Some couples with toddlers or large families have had to be much more disciplined about scheduling shifts with each other to manage childcare. One of my colleagues needs to be mindful of naptime and his childcare shifts when he is scheduling calls. Another friend has staggered working days with her spouse – he works four days a week and she works three.
Everyone who has been working from home with kids has found ways to make it happen. I hope these tips help. My final tip is that a reset can be a good thing. If things have slipped towards chaos, try something new. I got sloppy on enforcing offscreen play time each day, but I am doing a reset and will try again. If it is time for a reset, then I hope one of these tips can help.