It’s 9:15 am which means the first meeting of the day. As much as I want to turn my camera on and chat with my colleagues, both my mic and camera are off. Not because I don't want to talk to them but because I am trying to pick up all the small legos that my three year old daughter has scattered all over the living room (if you ask any parent, there is nothing worse than stepping on to small lego bricks). Some days, it’s because she has refused to put any clothes on. But most days, it’s because she’s singing in the background to the tune of Ryan’s world. When I do have my camera on, she'll make sure she is included too. I've lost count to the amount of times she has shown her toys to some of my colleagues (most recently, it was Zuma from Paw Patrol) or the amount of times she has been part of a supposedly one to one meeting. Just today when I was having my regular catch up with a colleague of mine, she asked me to close my eyes so she could surprised me with the mess that she did.
If you are a parent working from home in this pandemic, you‘d nod your head that there is no such thing as perfect balance between work and looking after your kids and if you are looking for a post explaining how to achieve that balance, sorry you are looking in the wrong place! I will however share my story of a working mum in tech.
Embrace the new changes
As hard as it is for all of us, I've learned to embrace the difficulty and the changes the pandemic has brought on us. It's okay to not be productive when you're working on some days. Most people forget that working from home versus working from home in this pandemic is not the same thing. It's also okay to give screen time to your kids if you want to have a break. I used to feel really guilty about this but nowadays this is crucial if you want to get any work done. What I find is her communication skills if anything has massively improved and so does her singing and dancing! Just do what works for you! My daughter doesn't go to nursery full time so most days, she is at home with me and it is hard to work with a toddler on the loose. They are on that stage where they do independent play so at least you can do some work but you still have to give them attention. As much as I want to do work related tasks in between my meetings, sometimes I just can’t because my daughter needs my attention too. Most times however, I entrust her to the loving guidance of Netflix and YouTube Kids (I would be lost without them!). In order for me to do some work, I’ll have to put on a lot of her favourite shows so I can concentrate for a bit.
It’s been a good 8 months now working from home. My colleagues and members of different communities are now familiar with my daughter. I remember meeting different people for the first time from the community via virtual chats and my daughter would make it her mission to distract me. It's even reached that point where I've made testing jokes out of her 😂
How do you get things done?!
I have been transparent about the whole working from home and taking care of my daughter to my current employer and I've been lucky that my manager as well as my team are understanding. I've had to leave meetings halfway before because my daughter needed me.
I have to admit as well that my work productivity is not as high as it was last year but that's ok. I plan out at least three realistic goals that I can achieve in a day rather than a long list. I still get work things done, just not as fast as I would want 🙂
I often get asked questions on how I managed to keep up with my side projects including blogging and my contributions to the testing community while working full time and taking care of a toddler. My short answer is if you love what you are doing, then you don't see it as work. It's really as simple as that. Keeping a bullet journal has also kept me on track with the things I have to do. What I find works for me is building up small habits and being consistent with it. Of course, I take breaks as much as I can and some days, I fail to keep up with my habits but that's ok. I just make sure that I get back on track and if I really need extra motivation, I reward myself after completing the tasks that I've been putting off. I also get my daughter involved sometimes so she can see the projects that I'm doing. Recently, when I am picking images to use in my presentations for any meetups or talks that I have to do, I've been showing her options of the images that I would like to choose and she selects the one that she likes. I get extra help as well from family members whenever I can so childcare responsibilities are split.
Virtual Talks and Toddlers
I feel like 'BBC Dad' every time I am about to give a talk if my daughter is also at home. I remember giving a lunch and learn session previously about Integrating Cypress Tests into CircleCI and you can hear in the background that she was singing quite loudly the exact moment I was about to do a live demo.
I also remember the time when I presented my first meetup with South West Test where I gave a talk about Introduction to Cypress and my daughter was also caught in the recording being her usual self. There was also the time with Ministry of Testing when I participated in an ask me anything session and my daughter also took part. What I find helps is pre-warning people ahead of time so they are more prepared when distractions happen.
However, my favourite so far has been this informal chat with Andrew Krugg when my daughter decided she will play with the table lamp and repeatedly turn the lights on and off.
Making the best out of this different situation
I guess by sharing my story out there and admitting that it's not always easy is one way of making the best out of this situation that we are all in. The great thing about this situation is spending a lot of time with my daughter and I like that she is involved with the things that I do in my spare time. In the future, we'll both look back at this time and I'll make sure to show her all the evidence that I have of her making my life fun (and stressful! 😄).