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The coronavirus pandemic forced many parents to leave the office and work from home. With many schools and daycares closed, families are spending more time together and learning how to find balance and stay productive. 

Now nine months into the pandemic, we asked four metro Atlanta parents how they manage working from home with a full house and lessons learned from the experience.

Robert Harris, 35, of Dallas

Occupation: Clinical IT Specialist
Children: Aaron, 3; Gabrielle, 7; and Robert, 11

How are you managing WFH?

These kids have got to go. I’m kidding – but, seriously, it’s crazy around here. 

How has life changed?

For years I traveled for my company. Early last year I decided to work from home. It was great because I had the house to myself and, if I got bored, I’d drive up to the office in Nashville. Then this happened and the travel stopped. I couldn’t go anywhere. Then the kids came home from school and I’m like, wait a minute. I liked having the house to myself, and now I can’t escape.

What has the pandemic taught you?

Patience. When COVID hit, we had no choice but to stop. It’s allowed our family to enjoy and learn more about each other and love on each other. I’ve developed way more love and patience than I ever imagined. With my youngest, I used to be like: You’re loud, you’re crazy, sit down! And now I’m like: You do you, man. 

One app that’s kept your family plugged in?

Houseparty. The kids can video chat with a group of friends and play games together. The games are good for the mind, too, like Trivia, Heads Up and Chips and Guac.

Ronna Charles, 43, of East Atlanta

Occupation: Director of Marketing and Communications
Children: Nadia, 6, and Spencer, 14

How are you managing WFH?

It’s getting better now. But at first, none of us were prepared. Right when COVID hit, the kids’ desktop computer went out. There wasn’t even a desk for me. I was in the kitchen with the kids or trying to work from bed. My back always hurt, so I finally changed my guest room into an office. 

What was the hardest part about having everyone under one roof? How did you overcome it?

At first it was tough. We hadn’t been around each for long periods of time in an enclosed space, and everybody was getting on each other’s nerves.  I was concerned about the kids not getting out, so I started “COVID Adventures.” We visit waterfalls and streams around metro Atlanta. We have our masks, we hike, we see nature and we talk about stuff. Just being out and not looking at devices has been great – and I get some exercise. 

Advice to other parents who might be struggling with work-life balance?

You have to give yourself a break. Whatever that is – reading a book or doing puzzles. Also, having a group of friends to vent to is essential. Find your people. Find what your normal is going to be.

What’s your self-care ritual?

I created a space just for me. I have a porch swing bed and that’s where I take my breaks. It’s also great for people watching and enjoying a glass of wine.

Annette Johnson, 51, of Decatur

Occupation: Publisher and Editor
Children: Five adult children, Ciara, Israel, Emory, Robert and Keith, 23, who lives at home

How has life changed?

I’m working more than ever. It’s just the walls, the computer and me. All the hours run together because when you do your work doesn’t matter as much anymore.

What is work like with an adult child in the house?

There’s a lot of interruption. My son was ubering back and forth, waking me up in the middle of the night. My son goes here, there and everywhere. It drives me crazy.   

What was the most challenging part of WFH and how did you overcome it?

I had just started working out again when everything shut down. I’m an extrovert, so being stuck in the house was hugely depressing. I started walking and going to the store late at night, when there weren’t a lot of people there. I’d get a few small things, never a lot, so I’d have to go back the next day. That way I could be around others. The grocery store became my social outlet.

What has the pandemic taught you?

I live one day at a time now. I used to have anxiety about planning and projecting into the future. Now hearing about so many people dying, my priorities have changed. I’m way more family- and friend-oriented. I’m way more present. 

Ashley Jones, 34, of Douglasville

Occupation: Home Improvement Sales
Children: Three boys ages 2, 9 and 10

How did life change?

In the beginning it was rough because we were all adjusting to being at home and doing virtual learning. The kids would be in class but laying down on the floor or spinning around in their chairs – it was chaotic. 

How are you managing work-life balance?

The first couple of weeks of virtual learning, I took off work. When I saw they were handling it well enough, I went back to work. It’s been a challenge to be available for the kids and get work done. I do my work when the kids are doing theirs. I’m thankful I have the extra help from my husband. We take shifts with the 2-year-old.

What’s the secret to keeping order in the house?

We still practice as if we’re going to school. We get up, brush our teeth, put on clothes and keep a routine in order to maintain sanity. We’ve got to be ready when it’s time to transition back to school.

Is anything not working?

If you can imagine three boys and the amount of laundry we have. I have to remember my house is lived in and to give myself a break, that I don’t have to deep clean every day and it’s OK if the dishes don’t get done. 

Advice to other parents who might be struggling with work-life balance?

Take a deep breath and enjoy it. This will probably never happen again in our lifetime. One day they’ll be adults and you’ll remember this time and these memories you made. Also, remember to take those self-care breaks. When I come back from the grocery store, sometimes I sit in the car for a while, where it’s quiet.

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