As part of our series of blogs on working from home, Obsidian Learning employees are sharing their personal experiences to provide insight on the challenges they are facing and how they are addressing them. Program Manager Adam Lowry, father to two small children, gives us a window into how he and his wife are managing to balance family and work commitments.

As we’re all adjusting to the changes triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak, I’d like to share some of the challenges my family is facing, and the changes we’ve made to try to address them. Most of the measures we’ve put in place lack in excitement, I’ll admit, but I’m a practical, matter-of-fact person and our solutions reflect that. Hopefully those in similar situations will glean a grain or two of wisdom, or at the very least find a starting point for resolving simple daily issues in families with working parents and smaller children.

Food

High on our list of issues is food. I may be starting here because its lunchtime and I’m hungry, but also because it was hard to miss the sobering media reports of the initial mad rush to clear the grocery store shelves. Luckily our local stores have restocked and seem to be able to replenish most items, though purchase of some high-demand products (TP, anyone?) is now restricted to certain quantities. Though it looks as though they’re managing to maintain the flow of goods for now, some grocery stores have started to limit the numbers of people allowed in at one time, so we’re trying to stay prepared.

Here on the Gulf Coast we’re grateful it’s not hurricane season, so potential loss of electrical services is low and we feel more comfortable filling the freezer. One of our first steps was to stock up on frozen food, and we’ve also frozen some more perishable products such as bread and bananas. With the school closures, our children are home and eating food we don’t normally have on hand, so we’ve had to make some adjustments there as well. We’ve found it necessary to add their lunch and am/pm snacks to our grocery list, so our overall grocery bill is a bit higher than usual.

Working with homebound children

Speaking of school closures…this is the second major issue facing our family. If you have children, I’m sure it only took a day or two for the full effect of this situation to hit home. As you might have noticed, it can be complicated for parents to focus on work tasks with kids running around the house, especially younger children that require more attention. (Stop climbing on that!)

We’ve been lucky enough to have my in-laws looking after the children in the morning as often as they can. They bring them back to the house just before the little one’s nap after lunch. We’re grateful for the few hours of concentrated work time, as once naptime is over our ability to focus fully on work is limited. The little one is doing his best to phase out the nap altogether, but as you might guess we’re not too enthusiastic.

In the afternoons my wife and I take turns watching the kids depending on who has what to do for work, and if we both have a meeting or call, the negotiating begins. We’ve also had to shift our working hours a bit to help make up for any work time lost during the day, so we’ve started hopping back online at night once we’ve put the kids to bed. While this is productive time for us both, we’ve had to be vigilant about not letting it get too late before heading to bed. We’re trying hard to stay well rested so we’re better prepared to face our hectic days, and we both believe in the health benefits of getting plenty of rest.

Occupying homebound children

The unusual schedule is not only affecting our work, it’s also affecting how the kids behave. Even under normal circumstances, by the time the end of the weekend rolled around they’d be tired of being home and starting to show signs of reverting to wild animals. Now? That trend is disturbingly present by the end of the average weekday. How long is school going to be closed?

We’re doing our best to keep the kids entertained on Day 6 of no school, Day 8 of being home if you include the weekend, but who’s counting? (Me! Me! I’m counting!) When it’s not raining we go for walks, bike rides, or try to do some gardening in the yard…though much of our “progress” is often undone by our little helpers.

When the weather isn’t cooperating as much, or everyone is just tired of being outside, we’ve dug out as many board games and puzzles as we can. We’ve also spread the kids’ toys around the house into a few different rooms to try and at least give the impression of a change of scenery. Yes you’ve played with this toy every day for the past week, but when was the last time you played with it in this room? (Results are varied, but this has actually pretty helpful when one of us has a call and we need to move the kids to another part of the house to limit the noise.) For the moment Amazon still has lots toys/games/puzzles in stock, though deliveries are taking a bit longer than usual. We’ve ordered a few items to parcel out during the weeks ahead.

Finances

Obviously most people can’t afford to Amazon their way out of boredom, and if like us your income has become restricted by the current circumstances, there are other ways of reducing costs. We’ve gone through our recurring expenses and made a concerted effort to cut out what we don’t need. I don’t think this is the best time to cancel all your streaming services – I’d risk a reenactment of the Shining without some form of visual entertainment – but maybe you can invest in a digital antenna for local channels (a onetime expense), and cut the cable. Disney Plus is a good option for the kids, and you can subscribe to a relatively inexpensive bundled service with Hulu and ESPN. And of course an unintended, though welcome, consequence of staying at home means reduced costs in terms of gas, dining out, and leisure activities.

Among Obsidian Learning employees, we’re all sharing ideas and coping strategies that are helping us get through this period of social distancing. I hope you find some of my personal strategies helpful, or at the very least found some comfort in the fact that we’re all likely dealing with similar challenges to a greater or lesser degree. I wish you all luck, health, and continued sanity!

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