Trying to work when the kids are sick (again).

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Michelle Kondrich. Michelle is an illustrator and podcaster, she says:

“So many sick days!! Our girl was sick over the weekend… seemed better so she went to school on Monday… but we picked her up early so she could rest more. Then more vomit and home on Tuesday all day. And then picked up early on Wednesday after things moved south.

Here’s a question for the podcast, what do you do with a sick kid when you have loads of work and your partner can’t be home to help? Ours watched a lot of TV since she had zero energy but I felt terrible about it.

Oh yeah and a follow-up: isn’t the guilt associated with parenting SO FUN?”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:58] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie, and this is Steve.

[00:01:07] – Steve
Hello! Yes, so each week we take a question from The Doing It For The Kids community and do our best to answer it, but also take your comments from the previous week — basically your own experiences relating to that question last week.

What was the question last week? Oh, deep work. Ross’ deep work question, wasn’t it? How do you get focused in a fragmented day?

[00:01:25] – Frankie
That’s the one.

[00:01:26] – Steve
Elaine got in touch. Elaine Wilson. Hi, Elaine. Elaine says:

“I tend to think of my day being like the Rocky montage, but a much duller version that involves sitting in the kitchen, frantically working, eating an oatcake very quickly, working in the car outside school, getting some work done in the reception area outside karate lessons…”

[00:01:45] – Steve
I think that would make a good film.

[00:01:47] – Frankie
I’d watch that.

[00:01:48] – Steve
Is that the same thing that I was talking about doing? Working in the car outside school? I don’t think I mentioned it, but I often work by the swimming pool, as in, when the kids are doing lessons — I don’t just go there for the hell of it!

[00:02:01] – Frankie
The WiFi is great.

Yeah. A lot of people virtually high fived you on the working in the car thing. The issue with that, Steve, is I don’t drive.

[00:02:13] – Steve
Right, yeah.

[00:02:14] – Frankie
If I was to sit outside school working…

[00:02:16] – Steve
…in an Uber, like going round and round on a bus…

[00:02:21] – Frankie
…doing wheelies on my bike.

[00:02:22] – Steve
Well, that works in the summer. Do you know, in the summer time I have gone to the school and then opposite there’s a really nice field and a bench. And I’ve sat on the bench. And used that.

[00:02:29] – Frankie
Okay, nice!

[00:02:31] – Frankie
The WiFi there is dire, though, let’s be honest.

Alice Hollis, she’s back. Alice says:

“With my son starting school in September, I’m loving Steve’s idea of rocking up early to work in the car. When my boys were babies, I used to work in the car while they had their afternoon naps. They’d always fall asleep whenever we drove anywhere. I was terrified of waking them up and having to deal with Grumpy Baby.”

[00:02:48] – Frankie

[00:02:48] – Frankie
I don’t think I’ve ever got more work done than during those one to two hours.

[00:02:52] – Steve
I love that.

[00:02:53] – Frankie
My child is definitely screaming…

[00:02:54] – Steve
Okay. I tell you what. Let’s just have one more comment then.

Karen Potts says:

“Yes to adding velcro to your child’s head.”

[00:03:03] – Steve
Just wanted to get that one in there. I felt that was important.

[00:03:08] – Steve
She’s changed her mind…

This week, Frankie and I are doing it on video, and so I can see that she hasn’t left the room.

Has she suddenly gone quiet?

[00:03:15] – Frankie
Yeah, like, literally, I stood up and she went quiet. I don’t want to jinx it.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:06:50] – Frankie
This week’s question comes from Michelle Kondrick. Hello!

[00:06:54] – Steve
Hi, Michelle.

[00:06:55] – Frankie
She’s over in the States. Hello.

[00:07:05] – Frankie
Michelle is an illustrator and she runs a really good podcast called Creative Playdate, which is about people that work in creative industries and have small kids. It’s really good.

Michelle says:

“So many sick days. Our girl was sick over the weekend. It seemed better, so she went to school on Monday. But we picked her up early so she could rest some more, then more vomit and home on Tuesday all day and picked up early on Wednesday after things moved south.”

[00:07:29] – Steve
This is like the mature version of Craig David’s song, isn’t it?

[00:07:34] – Frankie
#Seemed better on the Monday.#

[00:07:37] – Steve
#We were cleaning up puke on Tuesday, and then Wednesday it moves south on Thursday.#

[00:07:42] – Frankie
So, here’s her question for the podcast.

Michelle continues:

“What do you do with a sick kid when you have loads of work and your partner can’t be home to help? Ours watched a lot of TV since she had zero energy, but I felt terrible about it. Oh, yeah, and follow up question — isn’t the guilt associated with parenting so much fun?”

[00:07:58] – Steve
First of all, your baby has not been well this past week or today, even. Right?

[00:08:05] – Frankie
Yeah. So she was coming down with it yesterday, and now today she’s full of snot, and she’s very unhappy. Wants to be held all the time. You know, all that good stuff when you’ve got three deadlines and a podcast to record.

[00:08:20] – Steve
Although there’s one thing right: we were going to meet in person.

[00:08:23] – Frankie

[00:08:25] – Steve
And we adapted to doing it virtually, online. There’s one first step.

[00:08:30] – Frankie
When I was thinking about launching Doing It For The Kids, I had two names in the running. One was Doing It For The Kids, obviously. The other one was Adapt To Survive, because it is literally that, isn’t it? It’s like every day throws up a new challenge, often an illness, particularly in the winter, and you just have to come up with a creative solution for that particular moment.

But I didn’t want to call it that because it felt a bit like… I don’t know…

[00:08:53] – Steve
It’s a bit Bear Grylls isn’t it?

[00:08:55] – Frankie
Yeah, exactly. My Mum has this thing… she basically says, “You’re not the centre of the universe”. Like, the world will keep turning without you.

Because I have a real, like, “Oh, I have to keep all the balls in the air all the time, and if I don’t do this or that, the world’s going to end.” But half the time no one even notices if I don’t post on Instagram or I haven’t hoovered my rug or whatever it is I said I would do that day.

[00:09:25] – Steve
Yeah. So really the only people are the people for whom you really are the centre of the universe, right? The people sitting on your lap.

She says about, like, putting the kid in front of TV and feeling terrible about it. That’s the thing, right. I remember being a kid, having days off sick from school and lying on the sofa and being able to watch TV. That’s a treat! That was kind of cool.

[00:09:52] – Frankie
One of my earliest memories is watching Sesame Street, my nose up against the TV screen I was that close, eating like, alphabetti spaghetti.

[00:09:59] – Steve
When off sick.

[00:10:00] – Frankie
Good times. Yeah, exactly!

[00:10:02] – Steve
I never got to watch Sesame Street apart from when I was off sick. I don’t know. Maybe kids don’t find it so much of a treat anymore now that they can get Netflix or, like, absolute pipe of entertainment into their eyes all the time.

[00:10:13] – Frankie
We’ve recently got sent some footage that my uncle took of my family when I was, like two and a half, and we were talking about it when I saw my parents and my mum’s really open about TV when we were kids. I think even more so now I’ve got kids.

She’s like, “Yeah, the TV was on, basically, so I could clean the house and get something done”. That is just the reality of how it operated. I don’t get any of that guilt from her, thank God. I imagine it’s quite difficult if your extended family don’t approve of your kids watching TV or whatever. There’s always that, like, niggling, “I’m being judged for this” even though nobody’s watching or has to know.

And you feel guilty because if you could, I know we’d all want to be on the sofa under a duvet, just having a nice time with them and hanging out and making them feel better. So it’s like that internal battle, isn’t it?

[00:11:02] – Steve
We presume that all TV is bad. When actually people, children, learn a lot from watching TV. They learn a lot of social interactions and all the plot lines, which cover a myriad of topics. Even stuff like the cartoons, like Bing, all the way up to dramas for older kids. But they’re also picking up things like narrative and storytelling and language.

I really noticed the depth of vocabulary of… I can’t even say that word! The depth of the range of words that genuinely gets picked up by watching other shows on TV.

[00:11:43] – Frankie
My three-year-old, he said something about a rhombus to me and Rob, and we literally had to Google it. I vaguely know what that is but could I describe to him what that is? Probably not. And on the Bing thing… “Hey, it’s a Bing thing!” That’s his phrase.

[00:11:57] – Steve

[00:11:58] – Frankie
Yeah, Bing’s amazing. Flop is teaching me how to parent on a daily basis. There’s this episode where they get really angry and frustrated with the world, and he takes them outside and they talk about how they’re feeling to the clouds.

[00:12:11] – Steve
They blow their anger into the clouds, right?

[00:12:13] – Frankie
Have you seen that episode? Yes.

[00:12:15] – Steve
Okay, here’s the thing. Not only have I used that technique on our children, I have used it myself. On myself.

[00:12:24] – Frankie
Can you call in support whether that’s friends or other freelance friends or siblings you have? Parents that you know? Are there other people that could just give you that hour or two that you need to get the important stuff done?

A lot of the work you’re doing could potentially wait, I don’t know, depends on the situation. But a lot of the time, there are things during your day that you don’t have to do today. There’s only, like, a real skeleton of tasks that have to get done.

[00:12:54] – Frankie
Where’s that squeaky toy?

[00:12:55] – Steve
Rally the troops! Yeah, we’ve never had that. We’ve never had that as an option. And usually the presumption is that I would be the one who would be there with the kid.

[00:13:10] – Frankie
Yes, but it’s a balance, though, isn’t it? Because Rob gets paid way more than I do. So if he was to take a day off, he would get compensated for that time.

[00:13:19] – Steve
Well, that’s the weird thing, right? Yeah.

[00:13:20] – Frankie
I’m the one taking the time off yet I don’t earn any money if I don’t work, so it perpetuates an already tricky situation.

[00:13:28] – Steve
So, yes, you agree the presumption is that because we work from home or can work from home it’s us that looks after the kids?

[00:13:35] – Frankie
And sort of rightly so, in that home is five minutes walk from where my child is being looked after. For example, if he goes in in the morning and he’s a bit sketchy and then they call — yes, I’m going to be the one to go and get him because it doesn’t make sense for Rob to trek back across London to do that.

[00:13:49] – Steve
But I think maybe we also need to feel comfortable flagging it up to our other halves who go into a full-time job, if that’s the scenario we’re talking about, to say, “Actually, I really have this deadline. Do you actually have to go in?” And then maybe tomorrow, if they’re still off school sick or nursery off sick, then you go into work and I will stay home.

[00:14:13] – Frankie
Yeah, I was just going to say, like, I’ve worked in an office. There are definitely days where, frankly, you’re not doing a hell of a lot and you’re still getting paid to be there. If that’s the kind of week that you’ve got and your kids’ sick, like, surely take one for the team on that occasion? If your partner has a freelance gig that has a really pressing deadline, it just makes sense. Yeah, I know that’s easier said than done. Those are conversations are complex.

[00:14:39] – Steve
But that’s the conversation that you’ve got to have because otherwise you will end up staying at home with a child and end up resenting the fact that they’ve gone to work when you never actually said it out loud. But actually, “I have stuff to do!”

[00:15:36] – Steve
Obviously, whatever works for the child, and a child of different ages it clearly changes, but rotating what the distraction is is probably quite a good technique. It’s almost like that pomodoro technique that you were talking about last week.

[00:15:51] – Frankie
Where your child is the timer?

[00:15:52] – Steve

[00:15:53] – Frankie
How long will they watch the iPad for?

[00:15:56] – Steve
How long will they do that drawing for? How long will they do that clay modeling for or whatever? What really doesn’t work is when you’re trying to do the work and they’re hassling you and then you both end up stressed.

[00:16:07] – Frankie
You could panic buy toys on Amazon? That’s what I did. Well, sort of. We actually live across the road from a toy shop, which is a blessing and a curse. But when I had an actual deadline that had to be finished. I was doing layout for a magazine and it goes to print on a certain day. That’s just how it works.

And yes, my son was like super ill. He had proper flu. Not like vomiting flu, just fever and all that jazz. And I just went across the road to the toy shop, I think like two or three times in one day just to buy a new distraction. It did sort of work, but it cost me an absolute bomb. But yeah, like, buying new toys… you know, for example, when you go on a long haul flight, people tell you to buy like mini new bits to bring out of your bag? 3 hours in, 5 hours in, “Oh, here’s a shiny new toy!” That can help.

And I do think at this point we need to acknowledge, particularly in this situation, you need to cut yourself some slack. Like, it’s really challenging and if you’ve got more than one kid, it’s like another level of stress and you can only do so much.

[00:17:07] – Frankie
And again, is it like… do you need to be honest with your clients and be like, “This is the situation — I will try and commit to X, but maybe I can’t do Y and Z today”? As I say, a lot of the time they might be totally fine with that.

[00:17:16] – Steve
They’re only human and they get sick too. And they have sick kids too. And the people they work with get sick and have sick kids too.

[00:17:35] – Steve
I wouldn’t feel bad about it. If anything, I would say make the most of the bit where they have zero energy, because it’s a lot harder when your kid is off school and actually there’s nothing wrong with them!

[00:17:45] – Frankie
Oh, yeah.

[00:17:47] – Steve
I’m really glad that you’re not so ill, that you’re not a zombie. And yet part of you is like, “Damn it, though, if you were a zombie I could get on with what I needed to do! Are you ill or not? Let’s decide. In or out?” Yeah, make the most of that zero energy day.

Because the fact is, the next day they’ll probably still be off school, but then they’ll be wanting to play with you. And actually that’s much harder. They’re off school and maybe they get better in the afternoon or they’ve been sick and the school won’t let them go back the next day… you have to keep them out.

[00:18:15] – Frankie
Yes, we have a lot of that. Nursery have a really strict policy about… you have to be away like 48 hours before they can come back etc.

[00:18:24] – Steve
And frankly yeah, whilst that’s annoying, it would sometimes be better if that was also the rule in lots of workplaces. So if you’ve ever cast your mind back to when you maybe worked in an office with other people. Sometimes ill people will come in and you’re like, “Just stay at home!”

[00:18:38] – Frankie
“What are you doing here? Touch nothing!”.

I need more snacks or she’s going to kick off… Should I go and get some more snacks?

[00:18:47] – Steve
Get me the giant wotsits!

I suppose another option. And actually, I don’t think this would work for Michelle. Sorry, Michelle — just because Michelle is an Illustrator… But big companies do something called ‘contingency planning’, so they plan for the worst. Like if our building was demolished all of a sudden, or all the power went, what would happen?

How would we keep our company running as quickly as possible? But as freelancers, as small businesses, we can do our own version of contingency planning. For example, what happens if my WiFi goes out? You should have a plan for that. Where am I going to go? Where’s the best place to go locally?

[00:19:26] – Frankie
You’ve got a plan for that?

[00:19:27] – Steve

[00:19:28] – Frankie

[00:19:29] – Steve
So what would you do for things like that? But one of the things can be like, if there was a pressing deadline, what is my contingency plan? And so one of those things might be rallying the troops, like we said. But also you might have some other freelancers that can help each other out.

So Frankie might go to somebody and say, “Hey, fellow designer, I have this and I just need it done to this, this and this. Can you take that on at all?” We’re talking about real deadline specific, stuff-you-simply-can’t-put-off.

[00:20:00] – Frankie
And as you say, that’s really like industry-specific. So in design, that’s quite easy to do because you just package up your InDesign files and send them off and somebody can pick it up, within reason, depending on the job. But it’s relatively easy to cross work with other people.

But I like that idea. I should do that! Have a little black book of people that I can send stuff across to.

[00:20:19] – Steve
And likewise, you can be their person to go to should they need something like that. So it’ll be another freelancer, but it might be even another freelance parent.

[00:20:27] – Frankie
Yes, that’s what I did when I went on maternity leave. The second time around, I had a list of two or three people that if I went into labour I could send my jobs to. But I hadn’t thought about that for like, general moments where you need support. Genius, Steve! That one’s staying in!

What would your advice be?

Let us know your thoughts using #DIFTKpodcast on Twitter and Instagram, and join in the conversation via the DIFTK Community on Facebook.