Liz Sunshine is used to living on an unconventional schedule. Before isolation measures began, the fashion photographer would split her time between eight-hour photo shoots for brands such as Vogue and Mercedes-Benz, managing her own business and parenting two small children - Harry, five, and Poppy, one.
In a way, her odd work hours helped her to prepare for life in lockdown, where Liz now coordinates shoots from home while also helping her kids adjust to the new routine.
“It’s funny, but I think I’m actually more productive than I was before, and as a mum you can already claim to be quite productive,” she says.
To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, and all the mums taking these extraordinary circumstances in their stride, we asked Liz to share her hacks for balancing work and parenting during lockdown.
Recreate real-world activities for the kids
Liz admits she has adjusted to the change in routine better than her son, who is old enough to miss both his friends and spending time outdoors.
He was especially disappointed when the family had to postpone a camping trip after travel restrictions were introduced. So Liz came up with a compromise: take the kids camping in the backyard instead. “We had a fire pit and toasted some marshmallows and went the whole way,” she recalls. “Harry has been suffering a little bit from being home all the time, and he loved it. I think it helped relieve some of the claustrophobia.”
The family has also been watching a lot of movies together. To avoid this becoming too mundane, Liz and her husband decided to step things up a notch by setting up a drive-in movie screening in the backyard. “All you have to do is hang a sheet against a wall and put up a projector,” she says. “It feels like a bit of a treat to be out of the living room and it lets the kids run around and be outdoorsy.”
Depending on how old your kids are, the set-up can be part of the fun, too – they can design a concession stand and admission tickets before the show, and play-act as ushers.
Find new ways to be productive
On the work front, Liz schedules specific productive periods throughout the day. “As a parent, I tend to be more productive during smaller windows, so sometimes I wake up at six and work until nine when my husband goes to work, or I’ll get a three-hour window during the day,” she says. “But when I need space and quiet time to work, I go out to my car.”
Liz explains that it’s very easy to turn your car into a work-from-home capsule, much like the phone pods you might find in an open-plan office. All you have to do is buy a steering wheel desk, which provides a flat surface for your laptop. “It’s a very simple set-up, but it gives the space more structure – and it means I can have my coffee in the car with me, which is very important,” she adds, laughing. “I often take calls through the car so I can use both hands. It’s kind of like my little conference room.”
Just don't sit in the garage facing a brick wall, she says. Instead, position the car so you have access to lots of natural light. "It literally affects my outlook on the day,” she says. “I reverse my car into my carport, so I can face the sunlight and not feel so enclosed. My carport doesn't have a door, so it's like having an office with 360-degree views of my garden.”
Be kind to yourself
One thing Liz emphasises above everything else is the importance of being kind to yourself. “Now that you’re working from home, it’s okay not expect the same things of yourself,” she says, before recommending that you take advantage of extra downtime as much as you can.
“I think picking up a hobby is a nice way to transition from the workday into thinking about something else,” she says. “I garden all the time now, and it’s a really easy activity to do with kids. Where we once had a failed veggie patch that was very much neglected, we now have snow peas, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce and poppies that we check on together every day.”
Liz is also a big fan of Cosmic Kids Yoga, a video platform that helps parents and kids learn about yoga and mindfulness together. “It’s a great way to stay active. Harry loves it. But I have to do the poses first to motivate him.”
This Mother’s Day, Liz plans to put her own advice into practice and enjoy another ‘camping trip’ in the backyard with her family. “It’s something that we would have done if we weren’t in isolation anyway, but now it feels really special.”
By Emily Tatti