My husband, Jake, has said it for years and it’s just so true: “Our children are canaries in the coal mine.” While you’ve probably heard the old adage, you may not apply it to parenting. The phrase is often said about something, or in this case, someone, whose sensitivity to adverse conditions make for a useful early indicator of potential danger. Our children are just that. When their ‘song’ starts to wane, we should pay close attention to our day-to-day living. When our children’s behavior begins to wear on us, it’s time to lean in and determine what keeps them singing. These insights are practical ways to hold a lamp into the cavern and follow the sound of your children’s song.
Jake and I work from home and together—a once rare scenario that has now become almost universal in the face of a global pandemic. We’re building two businesses while raising two babies—and oh my, can things get hectic. It’s not unusual to ask, “What day is it today?” and “Was that appointment this morning?” I never thought we would see past the sleepless nights of training our 20-month old to sleep in her big girl bed, all while nursing our newborn son. There were many mornings when I’d listlessly shuffle to the coffee maker before I could even open my eyes.
We’re almost two years out from that fog, but don’t get me wrong, we’re still very much in the thick of it. Working from home looks like a circus most days where productivity wavers and focus comes in precious increments of five minutes every hour. But here’s what I’m learning in my everyday as a working-from-home mom:
Diaper changes are just as holy as any prayer.
A blank slate can be ushered in midday when the morning leaves us battered from temper tantrums and crushed from a heavy, never-ending workload. God’s mercies are new every morning—and night—and every half hour in-between.
Each day, I lean into grace upon grace. It catches us when nothing is going to plan; when the day feels broken and the energy was spent disciplining the toddler.
What can get done in a day is enough—because He holds it all.
There’s no greater work than the one that dies to self; serving yourself up daily for the everyday miracles to be manifested in your mundane.
And the thing I’m learning for all of my days? I can’t earn or hustle for the favor given to me from a good and loving Father. It’s mine for the taking—a gracious reminder that He wants to do abundantly more through me than I could ask for or imagine for His glory (Ephesians 3:20-21).
So how do we avoid the potential dangers of working from home? How do we keep our kids singing when we’re in the deep caverns of our work?
Where hard meets holy in the daily routine of working from home, here are a few strategic tips for staying focused and productive while still being present to feed into the souls of your children.
BRING YOUR KIDS TO WORK (EVERY) DAY
Children are curious in nature. I’m learning to use this to my advantage. My husband and I are in the creative industry, and our work is visual and hands-on. Showing our young children what we’re working on is not only fascinating, it helps them feel included in the work happening in and around our home. Even at a young age, our daughter and son release us to work when they better understand what it is we are doing.
If your work primarily takes place on a desktop, perhaps create an environment that invites your children to delve into their own ‘work.’ Inviting our kids into the fold enables them to feel seen. I’m guilty of viewing my toddler’s emotional needs as unwelcome interruptions. I don’t want to miss out on my kids because the false urgency of my to-do list got in the way. Inviting them to work alongside you by creating an environment just for them can do wonders for their self-esteem and your productivity.
For instance, I handle shipments from our home studio and my preschooler is taken with the process. I created a table next to my shipping station equipped with her own supplies. She loves it. Not only is she entertained and kept busy while I get some work done, but she relishes being by my side. I love it, too.
LOOK UP: THE GIFT OF BEING PRESENT
When I’m with my babies I’m thinking about my businesses, and when I’m working on the businesses, I’m thinking about my babies. It’s a subtle form of torture I inflict on myself. The lesson-in-progress: God is the only one who is omnipresent. I can’t be in two places at once.
So much of our work can be done through our phones that the boundaries for personal time and work become easily blurred. When I’m spending intentional time with my children, I abide by this rule: whatever I can do on a desktop doesn’t exist on my phone. That means I don’t answer email on my phone. Mind-blowing, I know (the workaholics are twitching a bit). This requires self-discipline, creating a boundary that protects my ability to be present where it matters most. Simple things like this keep my work in the office and off my phone, guarding me against being ‘on-call’ all of the time.
One of the greatest gifts I can give my children is my full attention; holding their sweet face between my palms and looking them in the eye, bending a knee to lean into their world. Presence takes time. It’s mastering the art of slow. It requires us to learn to pause and linger—things we are apt to miss in our busy lives. But I want to learn to linger again and live the art of slow because I know that whatever time I sow into my relationship with my family, I reap ten-fold when it comes time to put my hands to work—five minutes of undivided attention with your children gains you an hour.
Another helpful tip: Set an alarm for yourself when it’s time to end your workday. At closing time, I shut the laptop, dock my phone on the charger, close the door to my office and I’m home for the night. I’m with my people, learning to linger again.
STEWARD YOUR SCHEDULE
I’ve claimed the title of “Naptime Warrior” as I move swiftly through that never-ending list of to-dos while my kids are down for a nap. I’m convinced that keeping a list of priorities for the week helps me maintain focus on what really has to happen. Whatever I can do to check off that list while my kids are napping (or enjoying quiet time) is a win.
Stewarding my time well has given me hours of my life back. Literally. I’m convinced effective entrepreneurs (and mothers in general) have a knack for fitting a size-12 schedule into a size-2 day. It’s taking advantage of optimal pockets of time, being able to dig in when it matters most, and ultimately having peace when not everything gets done in a day.
LEAN INTO GRACE
Leaning into grace looks a lot like taking breaks. Mealtimes are a natural way to implement face-to-face time with those you love. In the warmer months, I especially love setting up a picnic in the backyard to enjoy lunch with my kids. It gets us outside in the fresh air and in one another’s presence while also achieving a practical aspect of our day. I’ve also implemented a habit of taking a weekday off just to be with my kids. On this day, we get out of our routine and do something together. Hiking, baking, crafting, gardening are things we’re enjoying this summer. Having a day like this gives us all something to look forward to and keeps us purposeful in making memories together.
FIRST AND SECOND THINGS
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” I believe his inspiration comes from Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” My work is just a means to love my children well, and as much purpose as it may seem to give, the greatest calling is my family. More than prioritizing my to-dos, I want to prioritize my values. My prayer is that I seek first God’s kingdom, and that in doing so, I may have the wisdom and discernment to steward well the ‘first things’ in my life.
My days are often a blur, but I’m building a new rhythm of being present: hiding inside the minute-hand of the clock and stealing away time. (Maybe we all have looked at time differently in the face of a pandemic? I pray so.) These simple yet powerful strategies keep me not just surviving, but thriving. They keep me attentive to the gentle ways of my children—my canaries in the coal mine—keeping them singing all along the way.
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These are such wonderful reminders to be present and enjoy the Presence! I worked from home for many years before having a baby, and adjusting to working with her around has been A Struggle (capital letters necessary). I love the idea of setting up a station for her to write while I write. I’ll have to try it on my next work day!
I’m so glad you found inspiration here, Ellie! We know the struggle well but we also get to reap a special reward! Blessings to you, mama!
Hi there, I’m single, but I can relate to being in college and not having a moment to spare. However, every day after supper, students as well as staff of the small Christian summer school took an hour to play volleyball or another game of some kind. It was a real grace, a sanity break. God bless mothers working at home!
I love your wisdom on setting boundaries and taking breaks.