I doubt I’ll ever forget the feelings of anxiety I felt going into March 2020. I’d spent several weeks hearing about this whole coronavirus thing, fielding questions about it in my role as a Gateway Associate at Metropolitan State University about what the school was going to do, getting regular emails from my daycare provider about “eventualities,” and hearing from my school district superintendent as a parent and a member of the school board. It finally became clear that we were going to have to work remotely for the safety of everyone and that our kids were going to have to learn remotely while this thing got under control.

At the start of this whole process, my children were 6, 3, and 1 ½. I knew that working remotely with them at home wasn’t exactly going to be a walk in the park. As someone who has had the desire, but not the support, to work remotely for some time I considered myself to be well-versed in the basics of working from home, but I also knew that adding kids into the mix would require some extra preparation. I attended a live panel called “How to Work from Home Without Losing Work-Life Balance.” While the entire panel was invaluable, the golden nugget that has stayed with me this past year has been one small statement passed down by Melissa Nicholson from WorkMuse. All she said was, “Give your kids a chance. They’ll surprise you.”

I’ll admit, I was skeptical. This was a skepticism borne of being told for six years that there was no way I could be an effective employee while parenting at the same time. At the start of my parenting journey, I had advocated for myself to be able to work remotely in order to balance unreliable and unaffordable childcare with my family’s needs and was constantly told this was not possible. The message had sunk in. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise after several months of remote work when I was continuing my pre-COVID performance, typically being in the top three performers on my team! My kids gave me a very pleasant surprise, and one that I appreciated a lot.

My role as a Gateway Associate is, essentially, customer service. Together with my team, I am picking up phone calls as they come in and answering emails. As in other customer service roles, there are busy seasons and slow seasons. After a year of saying “Gateway Student Services, this is Rachel” an average of 700 times per month, I think I have some more practical pointers to share for working at home with young children:

1. Dust off those narration skills you honed during the newborn stage. Loudly announce: “I’m picking up the phone now!” or “I’ll get you a snack after I’m done writing this email.”

2. Develop ways to have fun, even when you’re working. My high school acting skills have gotten an upgrade as my face spells terror at the toddler dinosaur chasing me around the kitchen while my voice calmly explains the ins and outs of the U.S. Department of Education’s approach to financial aid.

3. Give yourself grace! There may be emails that wait longer than you’re used to or more screen time than you would consider to be ideal, but it’s going to come out okay in the end.

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Rachel Hanson

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