5 tips for surviving WFH with a newborn or toddler


In a global pandemic, parents of toddlers and babies seemingly come out ahead.  After all, new parents – this author included – weren’t really going out to bars, dinners or concerts anyways.  We were just jealous of the friends who still could (so parents get the added benefit of schadeunfreude – haha, now you have to be lame like us).  But the benefits crumble away Monday morning at 9am.  At that point all hell breaks loose and the quarantine destroys you.  

That’s because it’s essentially impossible to watch a child and focus on your inbox-zero goals.  You’ve got a non-English speaking, unreasonable person who doesn’t understand or care about your unanswered emails/that you’re on a zoom call.  They just want a squeeze pack now, DAMNIT (to be fair, this may also apply to your boss).  

Now that we’re 6 months into this thing, my wife and I have finally settled on a routine that keeps her from murdering me (she’s watched a lot of Dateline, I think she could pull it off).  It’s taken a few fights, some humility, and prioritizing what’s important to us, but we’ve learned some lessons along the way that may work for you.

1. Be willing to make schedule concessions for your partner

Mondays are my busiest day – I have to check off a lot of boxes to keep the content mines churning out ironclad dad jokes for the week.  My wife is also busy on Mondays, with 6 hours of calls a day.  Well, I can always write dad jokes on a Sunday or Monday night – my wife can’t reschedule calls with clients.  Basically, time is what you make of it in quar.   

For parents of slightly older children, you might have to be honest with them and tell them that mom or dad can’t play right now.  Brown University Economics Professor and Author Emily Oster (Expecting Better and Cribsheet) puts it very well:

“In the end, as a parent, I think the biggest change is going to be in how much independence I need to ask for from my children. At the moment, when I’m home, I try to be attentive. And I rarely, if ever, tell my kids that my work takes precedence over what they need. If they want help with homework, I help. This is going to have to change at least a bit. As a family, we are going to have to adapt.”

One solution for organizing time is to display the ever important family schedule out in the middle of your home – you can do something as simple as buying a whiteboard and some dry erase markers, to painting a white board wall in your house, to super bougie things like Dak Board.  

2. Ask for help 

Besides owing my mother my existence I also owe her my sanity.  Around June, she started watching our daughter 30-40 hours a week, giving me and my wife all the time we needed to focus on work, get a little exercise in, and not worry about a 1.25 year old’s head hitting something all day.  My In-laws have also entered our bubble and come down to visit about a week a month, giving us a much needed chance to sleep in (see tip #5).  

We’re obviously very lucky to have a great support system, and know that not everyone is so lucky.  If that’s the case for you, there are some well researched articles  out there about creating social bubbles with other families that you trust to share the load of parenting.  

3. Be Honest with Your Bosses

Granted, some people have Horrible Bosses (they made TWO whole movies about it).  And if that’s the case, this may not be a ton of help.  But bosses are people too – they have kids or grandkids and can hopefully empathize with your plight.  So it makes sense to be honest with them about the limitations that are keeping you from performing a task as quickly as you would like to.  It’s okay!  This was not the situation your life was supposed to be in, but you’re not alone.  A lot of us are in the same boat, including your boss.  

From Oster

“Employers are simply going to be forced to work around these constraints. In a world with offices, it is possible to tell people, “Work out your child care, leave it at home, don’t tell me about it. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m.” I’m not suggesting that’s a nice way to treat your employees, but it is possible to do it.”

“But for most people, working from home with schools canceled, this goes from being kind of mean to untenable. Employers are going to have to figure out how to work meetings around morning naps, around scheduled screen time, around their employee’s partner’s work schedule. There will simply be no choice.”

4. Do some kind of physical activity – anything

Having children is a stressful proposition.  There’s no denying it, even if you look at your child and think they are perfect angels.  Angels do not shit into what they are wearing multiple times a day, at least I don’t think they do.  

That kind of stressful shit (literally and figuratively) can take its toll on a person’s body.  According to the NIH, long-term stress can harm your health.  

“Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.”

But since NIH’s job is to figure this kind of stuff out, they advise that ways to reduce stress are exercise and relaxation.

Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health.”

Try a relaxing activity.  Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.”

Finding a local personal trainer hosting virtual sessions is a great way to support your community and provide one-on-one service to meet your needs. There are also options to tackle physical fitness at home, including bodyweight exercises, or using a compact system like the FitLaya Abs Machine or an indoor cycling bike that can connect to online classes! Physique 57, a New York City based fitness company focused on barre and bodyweight exercises is another good option for at home exercise.  

5. Get some sleep – you need it!

Trust me, I get it.  You might get an hour at the end of the day for yourself after all the crap you had to do – so the temptation to let the Netflix autoplay keep on spinnin’ for another hour is real.  But you need the sleep – you’ve got to be WITH IT for work now, let alone the kids.  Plus, if you’re driving them to grandma’s house or to be watched by someone in your social bubble, you’ve got precious cargo!  Not good to drive drowsy.  Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation:

“Create a peaceful sleep environment, wind down, and practice relaxation techniques–these are all important ways to protect sleep as a parent. Make sure your room is comfortable, with a good mattress, pillows, and bedding, and is uncluttered and peaceful (some parents put energy into their children’s rooms but forget that their own sleep environment is also important). Disconnect from electronics such as phones and tablets for an hour before bedtime and try not to check emails or go online close to bedtime or in the middle of the night. If you have trouble falling asleep, do a relaxation exercise while lying in bed.” 

Not everyone can just relax and meditate, but there’s TONS of helpful guided meditation apps out there.  I’ve used Headspace and Calm, and the Peloton app also includes some great guided sleep meditation exercises.  Maybe get some noise canceling headphones if you have a particularly chaotic household. Sony makes some great, affordable options.

Good luck out there, parents.  Just be honest and kind to yourself while Working/Parenting From Home.  You’re not the only one.