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Working at Home with Kids
Can you work and parent at the same time?
I've been a stay-at-home mom for ten years. During this period of my life, I always found ways to make money - whether online or teaching private piano lessons. Now with my children in school, I am a full-time freelance writer working from home.
Even though 180 days of the year I am alone for 6 hours a day, I still have the long summer holiday and various school vacations in which to balance work and family. And prior to this year, I worked from home with small children the whole year round.
It is hard, but it can be done. The following list is my compilation of tips and advice I can give to parents who are trying to work from home with kids.
Create a workspace
I tried working at my dining room table for years and it is a disaster waiting to happen. If you have an office room, great. But if you don't, just set up a little desk in a corner of a room. In fact, this may work better if you have young children you have to keep an eye on.
Giving yourself a workspace ensures you don't lose important papers, you can leave things when it's time to set the table for dinner, and you can teach your children that your desk is off-limits.
Set a boundary
The kids are not allowed in my computer chair. They are not allowed to take things off my desk without my permission. Create a boundary so your work computer and tools are safe from curious hands.
It may sound silly, but if your children are having a hard time understanding the off-limits, use some duct tape and create a literal boundary around your desk on the floor. Even toddlers can learn that the area is for adults only.
A work-at-home daily schedule
The next several paragraphs will outline a typical day for a work-at-home parent.
Get up early
The only way I am able to stay on top of my work is to get up early. You may want to use the extra time for one of two things:
1. Use it to get ready and do morning chores. If you are the kind of person that can't concentrate in a dirty house, take that hour to tidy up, get ready for the day, etc. That way, when your workday starts, you aren't distracted.
2. Use it for your most brain-heavy assignment. When I'm in the middle of writing a novel, I use the early morning to crank out my best work. My mind is free and clear, and the house is quiet.
Activities for kids
Ages 7 +
Pretend store (set it up ahead)
Cloth napkins in a tin
Dot paints and books (no mess)
Art projects (have materials out)
Pots and pans
Aquadoodle art (no mess)
Schedule one chunk of uninterrupted time in the morning
Start with one chunk of time. Depending on the age of the child, you may have to adjust your time. For children ages 0-2, you will have to be more flexible about interruptions. For children 3 and up, you can work up to one solid hour of time if you do a little planning.
Make a room that is perfectly kid proofed. The less trouble they can get into, the better. Create a space (whether in your office or in a separate room) that has several activities that your child can do unattended.
If you have a baby, set up a playpen next to your desk with toys that he/she can only use while in the playpen.
Plan this time when the child is still fresh. The best time is after breakfast. Explain how the morning will go. Show your child what he/she will be doing (or can do) while you work. Start with 15 minutes uninterrupted and work up to an hour.
Take a midmorning break
Once your hour is up, take a quick break and have a snack with your child. Read a story or do something that focuses on your relationship together. Even if it feels difficult to break from what you're doing, it'll be easier to go back to work once your child has had your undivided attention than half-working, half-parenting.
Need some ideas for educational apps?
Use the television
I know most people would gasp at this recommendation, but it's true- work-at-home parents need the television. As long as it isn't in excess and the programming is appropriate, go ahead and use it without guilt.
I promise, your kids will be fine and you are there if they need you for something.
Once your morning chunk of time and snack are over, see if you can get another 30-60 minutes while your child watches a show.
Then it's time to take a break for lunch.
Lunch and nap
If your child is young, naptime is your friend! Don't do anything like laundry or food prep while he/she is sleeping. Instead, use that time to do work that requires quiet. They'll be time to do house chores later. Those things are easier to do while incorporating your child.
If you have an older child who doesn't nap, there is no reason why they can't have some quiet reading time or outside play in the afternoon while you get more work done.
The "bewitching" hours - stop working!
Once 3:00pm hits, people get grouchy and tired. Stop working!
At this point in the day, it is a great time for errands or chores that you can do while involving your child. Have them help you fold laundry or make a salad for dinner. Do homework or private music practice. Do things with your child or do domestic work that allows you to multi-task.
If you try to work, you'll just be frustrated and interrupted repeatedly. Make an effort to shut off your computer until they are in bed. Even better, shut it off for the day!
If you haven't finished your work for the day, then once the kids are in bed (or at least conked out in from of the TV), go ahead and finish up. The best thing to do at night though - is to plan for the next day. It will help your efficiency tremendously.
With older kids, working at home in the summer can be a nightmare. You have lots of children underfoot who are bored or wanting summer adventure. Here are some ideas:
- Playdate swap: You send your child over one day and take their child on the opposite day.
- Afternoon beach: Work throughout the morning and then take the afternoon off at the beach.
- Switch roles: For the parent who works outside the home, when they come home, you leave and go to a coffee shop for a few hours to work.
- Hire a teenager: A couple of mornings a week, bring a mother's helper in to deal with snacks, fights, etc.
- Make snacks and lunches ahead of time: Just like during the school year, have kids pack their food for the day so you aren't constantly in the kitchen.
- Make an "I'm bored" jar: If your child whines that he/she is bored, they have to pull out a piece of paper from the jar and do whatever it says. Keep a list of activities AND chores.
Adjust your workload
Even if you have eight hours in a day like the rest of the world, work at home parents can't do 8 hours in a day. It's just not humanly possible unless your kids are completely self-sufficient. Give yourself some breathing room if you can by reducing assignments, extending deadlines, or working on a Saturday when the other parent is home.
Another thing you can do is talk to your children about your job. If you explain that your work pays for sports, camps, and extra dinners out, they might be more inclined to give you space - knowing that you are earning money for the family.
Divide household responsibilities
For so long I thought that because I was home - I should still do the cleaning and the cooking.
Reality check! You will get burned out.
Yes you are home, but you are working and parenting. The household responsibilities need to be evenly divided between children and parents. As soon as your child is able, teach them how to cook dinner. The same goes with laundry and cleaning.
As the saying goes, "Many hands make light work."