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We have two kids, a 14 month old and 2.5. We're sinking financially, and with the current shelter-in-place order (SF Bay Area, CA, USA) we're struggling to just get distraction-free time to try to slow the decline. We have joked about just scattering goldfish crackers on the ground and ignoring the kids. Unfortunately, we are not heartless, and children fundamentally require constant engagement. We have forgiven ourselves for excessive TV time lately, and I know there just aren't clear-cut answers, but please tell me how you're coping if you're in a similar situation. Have you stopped doing housework/showers/wearing clean clothes?

PS: There is this relevant Q from a few years ago, but I think that within the context of the current epidemic it's worth revisiting, specifically regarding working at home.

  • It definitely takes the stress level up a little, especially around people who like frequent impromptu video meetings. – Mark Rogers Apr 3 at 2:08
  • Can you go outside at all? Either balcony/backyard if you're lucky enough to have one, or are you allowed to go publicly outside? – gerrit Apr 3 at 12:27
  • Yes @gerrit, I finally got an Eero home mesh wifi network set up, so I can go outside now when the weather permits. That's actually so much better bc when we're in the house, even in a room with the door closed, the kids know and want attention potentially causing a big fuss... you know, I'm sure. – Travis Well Apr 5 at 16:58
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My husband and I work at home and have a two year old. We Have found the following to work really well for us.

  • Setup a safe play area. We have a play area right by our office that is completely childproof and as large as we can make it in the space. Our daughter is happy to play here by herself. Depending on the day it can be between 30 min or 1.5 hours (if we're lucky). I rotate the toys out often so that the old toys get some time too, and that seems to help a lot. I set up activities for her, give her books to look at, she loves building with blocks, and she generally wreaks havoc in the space. We talk to her while we work, sing songs and ask her about what she's doing. Since we're around, she is happy to do her own thing.

  • Take advantage of naptimes We do naptime around lunchtime, from 12-2, and this time she is in her bed, playing quietly or sleeping. She doesn't have to sleep but she must be in her bed and quiet. This is when we work on tasks that need concentration and dedicated attention.

  • Get them outside Usually in the morning we go for a walk before breakfast, and then in the late afternoon we play in the garden with her before suppertime. This helps get out the cooped-up time she spends inside, and she usually runs around and wreaks havoc in the garden.

  • Work in shifts I usually work in the mornings and at naptime, and my husband works afternoons/evenings. This way there is a parent around to help/feed/water/entertain/change her, and the other parent can get a good chunk of work-time in.

  • Have low expectations There will be days when you just can't get everything done. Expecting both of you to work full time is just going to be impossible. My husband and I work probably 60 hours between us (him 35, me 25) and really beyond that is just not feasible. You may need to re-consider how much work you will be able to get done.

  • Drop the unnecessary balls Not everyone can juggle all the balls in the air. The dishes will be neglected, the laundry will too. Its ok. Do what you can to survive. We use the weekends to catch up on housework.

  • Don't feel guilty If your kids are happy to play by themselves (in a safe place, with you nearby working), don't feel guilty! They need time to play alone independently and entertain themselves. It is a skill they need to learn. Appreciate it! because they will let you know when they need attention. But a little time on their own is fine, as long as they are safe and you are nearby.

  • Take Time to Connect We have key times we check in and connect with our daughter. before naptime and before bed are the big ones, we spend some time giving her undivided attention. Reading, singing a song, playing, bathing, etc. We also spend a few min playing outside and exploring. This way we connect with her and keep her love tank full.

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    +1 Let the kid practice to play on their own. It's good for developing independence. We have a 10 month old. We work in shifts and whoever is watching the kid tries to get some housework done. The kid can even try to "help" (of course it won't be any real help at that age but give them a spoon to bang the floor with while they watch you unload the dishwasher or something like that - older kids can help more). – Sumyrda - remember Monica Apr 3 at 8:28
  • Although most answers are helpful, I think this is my favorite answer due to formatting and covering most of the bases, so I'm marking it as the answer. I'm a bit dubious about the "quality over quantity" however. I don't like that meme; I think it's a false dichotomy, but I won't get into it. – Travis Well Apr 5 at 17:28
  • @TravisWell You make a good point. The title isn't the best for that point anyway, it's not the message I was trying to convey. I've edited it to be "take time to connect" which I believe is a better reflection of the point. – stan Apr 11 at 20:11
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We're fortunate to have somewhat older children, who need only short attention bursts followed by longer periods of working independently. However, with a 14 month old, you're not going to get that!

What several couples that I work with have done is split the time of the day up between them. For example, one couple who both work at my office and have a child of a similar age to your youngest do:

  • 7am-11am: Husband works, wife watches kids
  • 11am-3pm: Wife works, Husband watches kids
  • 3pm-5pm: Husband works, Wife watches kids
  • 5pm-7pm: Wife works, Husband watches kids

Both are able to get in six hours of work; that's not ideal, of course, but it's possible to do. If they need more time, they can work into the later evening once the children are asleep (fortunately yours are both old enough to sleep through the night, I hope!).

As far as housework, it's certainly hard to manage that I think in this sort of scenario. Our family (with two working parents who both mostly work during the day) is focusing the weekend on that; while we do the dishes during the week, and run loads of laundry during the week (our eldest mostly does that, fortunately), most of the rest of the housework goes by the wayside until the weekend. Then one weekend day is spent focusing solely on the children's fun - interactive games, playing in the back yard, whatever; and the other weekend day is a working day where we do the laundry folding, pick up, clean, dust, whatever.

That works well at the ages we have - mid-elementary ages - where the kids can at least participate some in housework, and can play independently for the most part. At a younger age, we likely would have simply coordinated the weekend as we do a work day - one parent focusing on children while the other works on housework. That's largely what we did when our kids were your age even in normal times.

That has the advantage that you can distribute housework to the parent more happy to do that particular type - my wife is happier picking up and cleaning, I'm better on the bills, scheduling schoolwork, and cooking dinners, we're both happy to do dishes and fold laundry; so we split it up and did those things we preferred during our 'work' times, and then did the things we enjoyed with the kids during our 'play' times - and occasionally had both-play times, of course, though probably less than we'd have liked - but such is the life of a two working parent household.


As far as showering and wearing clean clothes: I think these are very important, at least to the most part, because they're elements of normalcy that can keep you sane. I have video calls at work fairly often, and I am religious about turning the video on and making sure I'm in work clothes - not because I think it makes a big difference, but because it makes me make the effort to dress appropriately. Getting in the mindset of doing work is very important.

This isn't any different as a parent: comport yourself as you would have without this situation, as best as you can. Your kids recognize the difference between shabby, smelly mom and dad, and showered and dressed mom and dad. They might not care too much of course - but it does make a difference for the mindset you get in, and they get in, of "lazing around" versus getting things done.

That said, there's nothing wrong with having a day where you don't shower or get dressed and just laze around. That's true now just as it was before. Just don't make it often - and do it on purpose, because you think it's fun! Point out to the kids that you're doing it, have them wear their most fun pajamas all day (my eldest has the cutest dragon pajamas that are hilarious to wear, especially as a middle grade child), relax the rules.

But then, the next day, shower, dress in your more formal workday attire, and get back to work. Show the kids that you can do that, too, and that things are more like normal again.

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    I want to add this: try to take them outside (backyard/balcony) twice a day. Encourage them to run and jump. It makes the rest of the day indoors much more bearable. – Dhara Apr 2 at 7:19
  • I love your answer. Please dont take this personally but writing "Both are able to get in six hours of work; that's not ideal, of course, but it's possible to do" kinda of stinks. We're in the middle of a pandemic - if they can get even a few hours of solid work in, let them have that satisfaction. <3 – 8protons Apr 3 at 21:32
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To add to Joe's excellent answer:

One option I occasionally found helpful is what I'd call babysitting by video chat (or video conference).

In our case, there are many people who have free time to look after children, but who cannot do so in person, because of the contact restrictions in place - grandparents in particular. In that situation, a video chat can be a good solution.

For example, my daughter likes to talk to her grandparents via video, who will gladly do so, and she also talks to her friends that way. It takes a bit of getting used to, but you can actually do a lot via video chat, such as:

  • reading/telling stories
  • playing many types of games, such as guessing games, or roleplaying
  • or just chatting

I have seen that this works well for children in the 5-10 years age group, but it may work for others, too. I found that my daughter was actually remarkably inventive in finding way to play that way - children will often more readily adapt to new circumstances than we expect.

You do need to have the required technology, but since there are both many apps that offer it and websites that just require a browser and camera/microphone, just about any smartphone or laptop will do. Recommending a specific software is probably off-topic here, but Software Recommendations has multiple questions about it, such as 1:1 Video Chat that doesn't require logins and Free/Libre voice & video chat alternative to Skype?

This is probably not a full-day solution, but can easily keep a child entertained for an hour or two, so should be a big help. As a bonus, it also allows for interaction with people you cannot meet in person.


There is actually a scientific paper surveying the use of video chats for children from 6-24 months of age (which also touches on how it is different from watching videos, which is not recommended for young children):

FaceTime doesn’t count: Video chat as an exception to media restrictions for infants and toddlers

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    I doubt the 14 month old can do that, but the 2.5 year old certainly seems like they could spend a while on FaceTime/Skype/Zoom/etc. with a grandparent, at least helping some! – Joe Apr 1 at 20:24
  • Yes. As I write, I've seen it in my circle of acquaintances, but mostly for ages 5+. I'd imagine it would work for a 3- or 4-year-old, too - under three would probably be a challenge, as children must at least understand the concept of video and of "I can see them, but not touch". I'd appreciate input from others who try it with smaller children. – sleske Apr 1 at 20:28
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    @Joe: Just found a scientific survey, added. – sleske Apr 1 at 20:37
  • Very nice. I believe the AAP recommendations also are good with facetime type screen time even for toddlers. – Joe Apr 1 at 21:12
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    @Joe: Fortunately the question title is not specific to a young toddler, and this answer is probably helpful to lots of other future readers with older kids who might find this question while searching on the topic.. – Peter Cordes Apr 3 at 15:05
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Not sure if it will work for a 14-month-old, but a 2.5-year-old can already learn to play themselves for 1-2 hours at a time without disturbing the parent. I've used this for extending the time I have available for work, as I've been combining working from home with childcare for about a year now. Of course you'll still need some alternating with the other parent to get more than a couple of hours per day.

This is the technique that has worked for me:

  1. Have a regular daily schedule. Schedule active, engaging play for an hour or so before the working time. This can be anything where you actively participate and give the child a lot of attention.

  2. Clearly tell that you're working now and that the children must play by themselves. Start with short intervals, 15 minutes or so, and slowly increase the time day by day. For my son it has helped that he has a play area next to my work desk and a bit different set of toys there.

  3. Try to keep to the schedule, even if the children try all the tricks in the book to get you to stop working. You can (and must) keep an eye and forbid anything that is clearly out of bounds, but then go back to working. Idea is that it is your decision when work time stops, not the child's.

Children are very quick to adapt to new situations. It's just a matter of guiding the adaptation into a direction that works for the whole family.

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    Even a 14 month old. My daughter has been at home with us working since she was born, we had a massive playpen and toys, she was fine. – stan Apr 2 at 19:32
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In addition to the great answers already given and from the perspective of a single parent of a very energetic and active 23 month old.

I think its really important to talk to your employer/boss (assuming of course that you aren't self employed) as to the impact this is currently having on the amount of work you are able to actually do and or disruptions that may occur during video/conference calls. Anyone with young kids will be going through the current lockdown will be in the same boat as you.

It might also be worth communicating to other people you work with what your current situation is so that it doesn't come as a surprise if one of your kids randomly pops up on the screen or can be heard on a call. As an example I've been a very vocal advocate of no one in the team I work in apologizing if they have their kids making a lot of noise in the background or coming into view of a video conference (its happened to me on more than one occasion, my team found it hilarious that my kid decided to do a very loud half hour long rendition of twinkle twinkle little star when I was on a work planning call).

This can also be a great time to get to know the people you work with on a much more personal level (if this is something you and they would like to do) as you and they will be seeing more of the non-work side of your life in relation to potentially seeing or hearing your kids/spouse, I know in my team this is helping people feel like they are keeping connected to the world outside of the 4 walls of their homes.

Also its important that you don't burn yourself out trying to catch up with work when things are quiet for instance when your kids go to sleep, you won't be helping either your family or your employer if you do. I'd argue that work life balance is much more important now then during 'normal times'.

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In addition to some practical tips here, one thing that immensely helped us is a strict schedule and division of duties. My younger one needs mom/dad interacting with her at all times. My older one sneaks in screens if we don't pay attention.

Parents have strict work times which we have agreed upon and expectations have been communicated at work. That means I wake up before 6am, but that's fine. The kids and house-work are the other parent's responsibility at this time. This might also mean that you are working only 4-6 hours a day.

Same goes to kids. It feels sad to wake up such small children, but wake them up at same time every morning. Develop a schedule around their activities - Outside time, TV time, playing time, eating and naps.

This also means that parents will be working weekends and will have to let go of most of their entertainment/news. Exercise. Do focussed work. Let go of some household chores. Maybe we need not fold clothes, and use them directly from the laundry basket.

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