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For working parents, the pandemic hasn’t just been stressful, it’s felt impossible at times. Not only have you been challenged to meet the needs of your children as they adapt to remote-learning set-ups, but your career has evolved too, creating additional curveballs around every corner.

While we all know how important it is to prioritize self-care, take a bath, and eat clean, the reality is, sometimes the dinner menu kind of has to be cheese and crackers. And that is completely OK. In a period that will go down in history as unprecedented and unfathomable, you won’t remember the nights you bribed your kiddos with more screen time so you could send that crucial email. Instead, you’ll recall the small moments of togetherness that you or someone else in your family normally would have missed.

But in the meantime? You need realistic coping techniques to make the juggling act of working from home and proctoring your kids’ remote learning a little more manageable. We spoke with educators, psychologists, and parents like you for some strategies they swear by. Take a deep breath, sip some coffee, and (hopefully) get inspired.

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Let go of your old standards.

Pre-pandemic, navigating schedules was a task, but it probably wasn’t quite as overwhelming as it is now. (At the very least, it used to be a busy schedule you were familiar with). Since we’re living, breathing, working, playing, learning, exercising, and eating all under the same roof, all the time, it’s stressful to keep your home and routine up to the same standards. So don’t. Times are different, so your standards should be too. Let the house be a mess, order takeout, and relax about screen time.

If you haven’t already, here’s your gentle reminder to give yourself a break. It’s a philosophy that Anthony Ma and his wife Christina have adapted this year while raising their two children. Anthony works from home as an entrepreneur and Christina cares for the kids, and their house hasn’t been as spic-and-span as it used to be. But, Anthony shares, they’ve had to realize that messy is fine for now. The same is true for meals: “Our kids take up most of our days, so we’ve also started using delivery services for food more often,” he says. “We think of it as if we’re paying for the convenience and to save time so we can get other things done. We’re basically trying to set practical and realistic expectations.”

Shea Keats, the founder and advisor of Breakaway Bookkeeping and Advising in Tualatin, Ore., is a stepmom of two. The kids’ school is doing full-time distance learning, and she and her husband are sharing the responsibility with their mom. Like the Mas, Keats has lessened restrictions on screen time for the sake of survival and work productivity.

“While we try not to make it an absolute free-for-all with our devices, I’ve happily accepted that an extra hour of TV or game play is not going to ruin anyone’s brains and will definitely protect everyone’s sanity, especially as the weather gets bad and our already limited options for activities become even more limited,” she says.

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Try the “hardworking interval” timer method.

While parents shouldn’t have to supervise their children during homework, it’s hard not to hover when you’re (naturally) concerned about the quality of their virtual education. Kimberly Nix Berens, PhD, author and the founder of Fit Learning, recommends training your kids to work independently through the hardworking timer method—so you can tackle something on your own growing to-do list.

Start by setting the scene: Sit them down at their school station and remove all distractions, like phones and tablets. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Berens says parents should tell their kids they must work as hard as possible, staying focused and on-task until the timer goes off.

“When they complete a 10-minute working period, provide lots of praise and give them a short break away from their workspace where they can check their phones, stretch their legs, and so on,” she says. “After a short break period, instruct them back to their workspace and begin the timer for another hardworking interval.”

Once they’ve gone through this process three times, you can start to increase the ‘hardworking’ period to up to 30 minutes. “You can set personal best goals with them each day where they try to beat the number of completed intervals without a reset compared to the previous day,” Berens says. “Have them earn screen time or some other preferred activity for successfully completing a certain number of hardworking intervals. The result will be a child who is trained to work independently, which frees you up to do your own work.”

Schedule play.

Here’s the deal: We all know routines matter for kids’ (and, frankly, anyone’s) productivity. But during the pandemic, when everything and anything can change without notice, having a schedule can feel like a waste of energy. That may be true on some days; however, it’s still important to make one. Elizabeth Brunner, a mom of two and founder of StereoType Kids, says having a loose blueprint of your day will make you feel more in control than winging it. This doesn’t mean mapping out every second— but do create chunks of time for work and chunks of time for play.

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For Brunner, this means making sure her kids go outside for breaks and do things that they’d normally do at school, like running around, drawing with chalk, and so on. By creating this routine for them, they remain active and focused when it’s time for schoolwork. In return, she’s found her kids are easier to handle, and she gets a few moments of peace, too. “This also allows me that time to either read a few pages in a book or enjoy the outdoors myself—whether going for a walk or playing with my kids, enjoying all that nature has to offer,” she says.

Create a kid-friendly spot at your workstation.

It’s unrealistic to expect your kids—especially younger ones—to stay away from you all day, every day, when they can hear you working in another room. Instead of battling them, Vien suggests creating a special basket of toys they can play with while sitting at your designated workspace. For her own child, she collected sticker books, notebooks, washable markers, and so on, so her daughter can be entertained, but nearby. “Joining me for a mini work session or two helps her feel included,” she says. However, it’s essential to set clear expectations. To do so, Vien recommends saying things like: “When this call is finished, you’ll head back to the playroom with Daddy,” or, “Let’s listen to two songs while we work and then you’ll head back to the playroom.”

Set an alarm just for you.

Your calendar is probably filled with meetings and appointments—but we’re guessing most of them are not for you. Instead, they’re for your kids, your clients, your boss, your partner, and so on. It might not seem like much, but a 10-minute investment in yourself can be a game changer in your personal mental health. Lynn Burrell, cofounder of online parenting services site Weldon and a school psychologist in Manhattan Beach, Calif., recommends setting an alarm on your phone that’s just for you. It should go off every single day at the same time so you can plan for it, and when it does, it’s your signal to participate in self-care. This could be going for a walk, taking a hot shower, having a solo cup of coffee, a meditation session, or just sitting quietly. “Allow yourself 10 minutes to breathe, envision the day, and put yourself in the right mindset before you begin to embrace the new normal chaos that is in our homes,” she says.

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Maximize movement whenever and wherever you can.

Burning off steam and energy is a surefire way to make your household more manageable. That’s why it’s critical to try to squeeze in movement as much as possible, says Lauren Vien, MEd, education director at toy company Rose & Rex. Kids are sitting more than ever during the pandemic thanks to online learning and socially distant activities at school. “Try incorporating consistent movement breaks into your family’s daily routine, such as a morning stroll for early risers, a ‘lunch hour lap’ around the house, or an evening bike ride,” she says. “The entire family will have an easier time focusing on virtual lessons or meetings when there are opportunities to move throughout the day.”

Do as much as you can on Sundays.

Some weekends, we need the whole two days to decompress from a monstrous week. And that’s OK. But when you have the energy to roll up your sleeves on a Sunday, it can help make the next five days run a tad smoother, with less pressure, recommends Joy Altimare, the full-time chief marketing officer for EHE Health and a mom of one.

Throughout the pandemic, Altimare has realized she feels less stressed and can spend more quality time with her family if she prepares things before she needs them. It will look different for every household, but Altimare dedicates time on Sundays to meal prep, usually creating components of a dish that everyone will like. This way, everyone can pick and choose what they want without cooking. “I bake a whole chicken, I make BBQ chicken wings, I create salmon and shrimp. I’ll steam broccoli and peas, make carrots and asparagus, and then jasmine rice and pasta,” she says. “This allows my daughter to learn to make great choices and that she never has the same meal twice.”

Hate the idea of braving the grocery store during the congested weekend hours? Skip it, Altimare says. Now’s the time to give yourself permission to order everything online—and don’t feel guilty about it. “I create a running list and order everything on Friday so that I get it delivered over the weekend and have time to put it away,” she shares. “This includes toiletries, home goods, groceries, and items for our holiday celebrations at home.”

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