Working From Home When Kids Go Back to School

Like many people in the modern workforce, I can work from home. Going into the summer, I knew I’d be working from home with at least one of my kids three days a week. My wife’s schedule allowed for her to be home with the kids the other two. Having two “normal” workdays in the office might not seem like much, but it did a nice job breaking up the week and gave me a change of scenery. Sitting at a computer in my basement and sitting at a computer in an office isn’t all that different, but working in a place without kids is very different than sharing a workspace with somebody who is on their summer vacation and always wants a snack.

About half way through summer I started a new job and I now work fully remote. Except for a few hours working from coffee shops, my workdays were filled with the sound of kids in the house. Until today. This morning I dropped of all the kids at school and day care and came back to an empty and silent house. It was stranger than I thought it would be.

I immediately noticed two things – I had gotten used to the noise, and I expected the routine.

When I was working without kids around, I would almost always have music on or be listening to podcast. With kids, the music was still a thing, but it was from High School Musical and there were little voices singing along. Loudly, and with most of the words wrong. Podcasts were out the window. An hour of time to quietly absorb information was in impossibility. What quiet time I could get needed to be reserved for Zoom calls, and could not be squandered. I’d rather miss out on the cast of Boy Meets World getting nostalgic than have the sounds of Pinkalicious on the background of a meeting.

Oddly, without anybody else in the house today I did not immediately jump at the opportunity to choose the music or to catch up on podcasts I’ve missed. Not because I was enjoying the silence, but because I didn’t think to do it. I had gotten used to not being able to. Now here I was sitting in a house that was too quiet. I missed the noise, or more accurately, the noise makers. It dawned on me that this was going to be my first full work week from home without any kids since the days of pandemic shutdowns. Working from home stopped feeling weird a long time ago. Working from home alone will take getting used to.

I needed to break the silence so I told Alexa to play some music. She played “Landslide”, and I skipped it. She played “Fire and Rain” and I suffered thought it. After that, she played Harry freakin’ Chapin, “Cats in the Cradle.” Alexa is a cold-hearted bitch.

In addition to not knowing how to break the silence, I also didn’t quite know what to do with myself. With kids home, we had a set routine built around reading time and snack time and TV time and lunch time and bike ride time. Now I could set my own schedule, but again, I didn’t actually think to do it. I went for a walk around the neighborhood around the same time I used to get the kids out of the house because it felt weird not to. But it never really occurred to me to eat lunch. With nobody asking if it was time to eat, I didn’t. Lunch was replaced by a series of snacks throughout the day whenever I’d realize what time it was and I hadn’t really eaten yet. We had developed a routine for the day to keep the kids busy and not stuck in front of a screen all day while I worked, but it also gave apparently much needed structure to my day, which seemed to fall apart without it.

Now the kids will have the routine of school, and I’ll have to build myself a new routine for the work day. The walks around the neighborhood will stay. The High School Musical soundtrack will be gladly cut out. I’ll even set myself a lunch time and settle into a flow that works. I am sure I’ll get perfectly used to working from home without the kids around just in time for Christmas break. I guess that is what working from home is all about – adjusting and adapting one change at a time.

The solid structure of the 9 to 5 office job is gone, and the price to pay for working from home in comfortable pants is giving up a consistent daily routine. Which, I understand that for some people sounds amazing, but when you have kids your routines are their routines. Without the structure they’ve necessitated, I have to say I feel a bit like Red after he gets out of Shawshank. I can do almost anything now, so what the hell do I do?

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