Personal & Professional Wisdom

Co-working with a 4-year-old

Headlines like “Tips for setting up your perfect home office space” are currently popping up like weeds, and I cannot help but think “I wish I had your problems”. For 2 months my husband and I have been co-working with our 4-year-old daughter – and to put it mildly – it has been a real challenge.

We are aware that we are in a luxurious position to have “just” one kid, who does not need to be home-schooled yet. Also, she is a real fun kid, so it is of course not all bad! Nonetheless, she is too young to do lengthy activities on her own. Our current roles thus encompass the following: parent, best friend, kindergartener, cook, cleaning lady, sport instructor, hairdresser, entertainer, and counselor. And we have catered these needs more or less successfully for 9 weeks straight, 24 hours a day.

Just like most of you, we also have our “normal” jobs, in our case the management of a middle-sized LSP based in Germany, that needs attention. Additionally, there also is the element of being a spouse, a kid to parents who are part of the risk group and so on… In essence: Being a parent during the corona catastrophe is an experience of a special kind.

“Coronamum” and “Coronadad” – new superheroes in disguise

Naturally my thoughts were: is there anything to gain from this experience, apart from being physically, mentally and monetarily drained, sometimes to the point that it might even get in the way of your career? I believe the answer is yes! So, if you didn’t have superpowers already before all of this, you will have them now.

Be honest, how do you currently work?

When? Normal working hours? No way, you are doing nine to five – let me guess, you are dividing your day into little fragments, prioritize which calls, meetings and times for “quiet” work you need and adjust accordingly? A big chunk of work is done after the kids are in bed, so 9 PM / 10 PM is really a core working time for you.

Where? Yes, nice, perfect people share photos of their neatly arranged home office desks – This sight makes you laugh and cry at the same time? Working between dirty dishes and toys is your new superpower! You might not be as zen as the people posting this idealistic remote work environment, but surely you are way more resilient. Also, the creative input you are getting is worth a million times more.

Food? You organize your own cantina, deciding how much self-prepared food balanced with convenience is “okay” for a halfway healthy diet. Sweets are a hard currency when it comes to bribing your offspring into cooperating.

Getting things done? You have given up on the concept of being perfect. For you, it is more about getting though the day without work and childcare exploding in your face. Yes, sometimes a workout or some time for a family board game are more important than a spot-on email. Don’t feel bad about it.

Keeping the team busy? Being bored is a great state of mind for kids, don’t try to outperform the teachers. And if you have not gone insane yet, then probably the TV and tablet now range as acceptable past-times for relatively long periods of time per day.

The working parent legacy

My hypothesis: Working in the localization industry not only makes us experts in remote working, but additionally, many of us already have a legacy in taking care of our kids while working at the same time.

In my case I can look back at three generations of “working mums”, two of my great-grandmothers already managed both jobs and family, just as my grandmothers and my mum herself after them. Additionally, girls and boys in our industry know how to handle both, because often our jobs give us the possibility to work more flexibly in terms of geography and schedule.

A similar state of crazy

Still, we shouldn’t fool ourselves, this time it is different. Being concerned is a perfectly normal and healthy reaction. We all fail, we are stressed, and we fight with all family members. Luckily, we are all going through this somewhat traumatic experience together – at least we are all in a similar state of crazy.

At the same time, our kids are also our strength. They give us purpose, and they structure our day: we just must get up in the morning and take care of them. They bring laughter and joy to these at times sad and surely dull times, where every day just feels like the day before.

I constantly feel under a lot of pressure and keeping the feeling of “not doing enough” at bay is a daily struggle for me. So, I think it is perfectly natural and ok to ask: “How can I keep a career with such a timetable?”.  There will be no perfect answer to this, but with all the superpowers we are currently adding to our feature list, like perfect time management, change management skills, crisis management, logistics and so many more, we might just be ready for the new world. So, get your facemask, cape and superhero mind set ready to clear the path into a new era.