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Governor Cooper recently announced that all NC public schools will close through May 15. With schools and many daycares closing, parents across North Carolina are left to figure out… how do I take care of my kids and still work?

Working from home with younger kids provides unique challenges for parents and other caregivers. Nearly a quarter of our workforce at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) has children age 13 and younger at home. Thousands of our employees are dealing with this right now, adding to the likely millions of parents across the country.

Here’s some advice from a Blue Cross NC mom of kids aged 5 and 10 (who will try and follow it herself!)

First, take a deep breath.

This will be okay. This is temporary. Yes, it’s inconvenient to try to juggle so much. Yes, it’s stressful. But remembering the reasons why schools are closed and why we are working from home can help give you perspective. It’s about reducing potential COVID-19 exposure, social distancing, and flattening the curve. It’s about saving lives, as well as keeping our own families safe.

Make a schedule.

Graphic reads: 6:30-7 a.m. – Wake Up; Breakfast 8 a.m. – Morning Walk 9-11 a.m. – Learning Time 11 a.m. to noon – Free Time 12 p.m. – Lunch 12:30 p.m. – Chores 1-2 p.m. – Reading or Creative Time 2-4 p.m. – Learning Time 4-5 p.m. – Afternoon Outside Time 5-6 p.m. – Dinner 6-8 p.m. – Free Time 8 p.m. – BedtimeKids (and adults!) strive on routine and structure. Lack of structure can feel unsafe and chaotic for children, particularly when they sense stress and anxiety from their parents.

Build in time for learning and enrichment (many learning resources are available for free during this time – this page has a great list), time outside, and exercise. Don’t stress if your days don’t go according to plan or your kids get more screen time than you would normally allow. Also don’t feel like you have to be the perfect “educator” for your child – it’s really hard to do when you’re working all day.

Here’s an example of what a routine might look like for a school-age child.

Create a schedule that works for your unique circumstances. Review it with your family, and even have the older kids sign it. And sorry, but no inside play dates with friends. This isn’t a snow day.

If you have older kids or another adult in the house, divide and conquer.

Create clear expectations of who’s doing what. It’s “all hands on deck” for the next few weeks. Take turns focusing on work, entertaining younger kids, doing housework, and preparing meals. Work with your manager to see if you can work earlier or later hours than normal.

Touch base with your manager.

He or she may also be working from home with kids and experiencing some of the same challenges. You may agree to have any meetings or one-on-one conversations in the evening, after the kids have gone to bed.

Give yourself (and others) some grace.

We are all doing the best we can. If you hear dogs barking and kids playing (or fighting) in the background of a conference call, don’t assume that your coworker is not pulling his or her weight for the company. This is a good time for perspective-taking.

Maybe you don’t have kids or yours are grown — how would you feel in a similar situation to your coworker? What support and encouragement can you provide them? Are there meetings or projects that can be postponed until everyone is able to give more focus? Is this something that could be handled over email instead of a conference call?

Take care of yourself.

Being pulled in so many directions, along with the stress and worry of a global pandemic, is taxing for anyone. Make sure you schedule in some time every day for yourself. Take a walk outside, meditate, read a book, listen to a podcast, or do whatever you find relaxing and enjoyable.

In the world of social distancing, make sure you’re connecting with friends. Use group texts, FaceTime or Skype, Google Hangout sessions. (Keeping up with news about the current situation is important, but don’t count this as your relaxing time to yourself).

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Stay home if you’re sick (or really, just stay home anyway). Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Check in on your coworkers. Check in on your parents and elderly neighbors. Let go of anything that isn’t critical for the next few weeks. We will get through this.

Maggie Brown

About Maggie Brown

Maggie Brown is an internal communications specialist at BCBSNC, focusing on spreading the company’s news to its 4,500 employees. What Maggie loves most about her job is connecting with employees and sharing their remarkable stories.