To many, the idea of self-isolating with your family is the idea of hell. For me, a writer, my partner Bob and our two daughters, it’s business as usual. So if you’re working from home - and have the children with you, now the schools are closed - I’m here to tell you that it’s going to be just fine.
We’ve been home educating since the girls, now seven and eight, were small. We decided before it was time for them to go to school that we loved our set-up. I worked full-time from home, which meant I could be around the girls a lot, while Bob worked part-time and looked after the children, too.
We were confident we could tackle the schooling bit: I have a masters in English and have taught at degree level, while Bob started (and abandoned) a teaching course, but has skills in everything from woodworking and cooking to poetry. The rest we’ve been learning on the job or leaving to experts.
We’ve settled into our groove pretty happily, but not without ironing out some challenges.
The main one is to respect each other’s habits. We’re used to it now, but suddenly having all of you in the same house might feel like Christmas without the cheer. Also, if you’re accustomed to your house being spotless, now might be the time to chill out. I can’t abide a messy bedroom but I’m aware that our girls’ room is also their playroom and the scene of much wonderful role-playing, so I try to relax when I walk past and see mass destruction.
Working and living together has also meant getting used to one another’s moods. We know that Daddy’s humour is sorely tested after a night shift and that Mummy’s “less smiley” when she’s on deadline or her period is due. Similarly, we’ve survived a seven-year-old’s hormone surge and seen first-hand the effects of poor sleep. It’s vital to be aware of these, accept them and adjust.
Which brings me to timetabling. It’s tempting to panic when you see Annie next door’s expertly colour-coded chart, outlining things like pre-breakfast runs and 3pm maths challenges. Sure, a timetable is good, but we’ve developed ours organically. You might not have that luxury now, so I share it with you here. It looks like this: 7am, I wake up, power through some work with two double espressos at the kitchen table, while the family sleeps. I then shout at them and accuse them of being lazy gits while I shower and get dressed.
- Read more: how to talk to children about coronavirus
They have breakfast, while I head out to my garden office (I know, but it’s tiny). Often I am banned from the kitchen during this time due to me being intolerant of the mess. They do an hour of maths, an hour of science and then clean up (shocking, right?). Then it’s time to work on ongoing projects, as well as violin, cornet and piano practice.
I have written entire articles and strategy documents and while my children work at the table next to me (top tip: it helps to have a partner who makes massive furniture) because we’re respectful of each other’s boundaries and impressive ability to make a horrendous mess. I’ve done conference calls in the spare room and have been known to head into the shed to interview celebrities.
Likewise, with a bit of leeway on our side, our children have learned to respect our boundaries. Daddy needs time to read his boring books, and I’m fairly certain that “Shh, Mummy’s on a call” was my youngest child’s first full sentence.
We also spend happy hours curled up on the sofa, reading, watching films and playing music, or just generally chewing the fat. It’s been great for our marriage too. We don’t come in from work with rants about our colleagues, or expecting the house to be a certain way, as there’s an ongoing dialogue. Arguments are had and quickly resolved, and things are more in the open than they might be if we weren’t living in such close proximity.
Smug as it may sound, all this means we don’t have stressed and pent-up children. And you don’t have to either.
How to handle everyone being at home
If you’re at home together, make sure that each family member takes responsibility for keeping the chaos to a minimum. You now have more people to do the housework, as well as making the mess. But also learn when to look away.
Understand that the children (and your partner) need space. Leave them to it for a bit. What’s the worst that could happen?
Make a timetable that suits you, not your Facebook friends or neighbours. And ditch the highlighters – unless you actually love them.
It might not feel like much fun at the moment but this could be a great opportunity to really get to know each other, both good and bad.