It’s not easy having to work and parent at the same time, but these tips can help you do both with grace.
From one work-from-home parent to another, the struggle is real. Living the consultant life, I work hard to maintain a balanced routine for my family whether I am home or away. This includes preparing lunches and evening meals days in advance, rising early to get a handle on work before the rest of the family starts their day, and engaging a “team” to help with pickups, drop-offs, and childcare. My husband (who also works from home) and I rely on multiple forms of communication to help us handle any new challenges while we navigate peace and productivity in our home.
We thrive on routine, and when plans change, there’s a ripple effect that makes it hard to keep our focus. Most of what I’ve learned as a working mom, including work/life balance, has come through trial and error, and I want to share some of the tips and tricks we use to stay productive when working remotely with kids and keeping our sanity intact.
Set Clear Boundaries
I once tried to bring in a caregiver to take care of my kids while working from home in my office. I thought I was a genius and figured my kids would just “get” that this person was here to answer their every beck and call, but in reality, this was just a much more expensive way of dealing with interruptions.
Here’s the thing: no matter who is watching your kids, if you’re anywhere nearby, they’re going to come to you first—because you’re the parent.
To overcome this, I decided to set clear boundaries with the kids and let them know I was unavailable when the caregiver was here. I have a separate office (with a door, hallelujah!), and when the door is closed, my kids know I’m in work mode. When it’s open, I’m fair game.
I had to explain this to them, as it certainly wasn’t going to happen on its own. But once I did, things got a little easier. My kids are still young, so they’re constantly experimenting with rules, but for the most part, they stick to the expectations I set early on.
Use Noise-Canceling Tools for Phone Calls
When coworkers or clients schedule virtual meetings, one of the biggest fears of the work-at-home parent is the monkey business going on in the background while you’re trying to be serious. Kids have a way of picking the most inopportune times to argue, scream, throw up, or announce they’re pooping.
My best advice: invest in a good Bluetooth headset or microphone. Most modern headsets have built-in noise-canceling technology that will block out the background noise and keep things professional. Granted, you’ll still have to hear everything your kids are doing, but at least your client will leave the call with a sound impression.
Help Your Kids Be Productive
No school? No problem!
Even when they’re full of energy and sugar or have a roomful of toys at their disposal, kids can get bored. And when they get bored, you’re usually the first person they turn to (consider it a compliment, really).
Keep their boredom in check by giving them chores, activities, or other tasks to do before they’re allowed to bother you during work. For example, you might tell them to make their bed, clean their room, pick up toys, or any number of small things they can handle at their age. This is a major parenting win because you can cross these chores off your own to-do list!
After chores, help your kids’ minds stay engaged by offering educational activities. Scavenger hunts, learning games, books, and coloring books or art supplies can all help your children be productive. These are things they can do independently (aka without you!), and they’re way more beneficial than “busy work.”
Side tip: keep all supplies nearby and organized for quick grabs. I keep a bag of plastic building blocks under my desk for a 15-minute activity.
Plan Work During Sleeping Hours
Nap times and early bedtimes are more precious than gold for work-at-home parents, and by all means, you should take advantage of these quiet times. If you have young children who still take naps (like I do), then you should plan to start hammering your workload with all you’ve got the moment they close their eyes.
Most days, I get up early just to squeeze in some work before the day-to-day challenges begin. Once my kids wake up, I’m already ahead of the curve and can relax a little more during the day. These small pockets of “free” time can really add up during the workday, plus they leave me a few windows throughout the day where I can spend quality time with my kids.
Make Time for Interruptions
Even when you’ve laid down the law and set clear expectations for your kids, you can’t force them to listen. There will be times when something comes up that needs your attention, and like any good parent, you need to be able to pivot timely and respond to your kids’ needs.
Of course, this also means risking the chance of getting out of your work groove, so make sure you don’t try to overcram your schedule. Leave some wiggle room so you aren’t staying up until midnight trying to catch up because life keeps happening at home. And don’t forget to schedule a time for the fun. You have kids for a reason so make sure you plan out a few interruptions for yourself, whether that’s a 15-minute break to paint a picture (very therapeutic for yourself), a quick game of Uno, or a round of show & tell. They’ll remember those moments the most and so will you.
Flex Your Screentime Guidelines
Let’s all go ahead and agree that screens aren’t long-term babysitters, but they can serve a compelling purpose in a pinch. While it’s always a good idea to limit your kids’ screen time, you should be a little flexible with how much and how often they’re allowed to watch TV or play on the computer, especially if it gives you a steady block of time while working from home.
Tag Team When Possible
If you’re married, you and your partner should be able to leverage each other, especially if you both work at home. Try to work around each others’ schedules—one can work while the other is on parent duty. Your kids will love having one parent all to themselves, plus the other parent can enjoy uninterrupted productivity.
Remember It’s Not Forever
The bottom line is that your kids are only home during working hours temporarily. Whether you’re all quarantined together during the coronavirus pandemic, or they’re out of school for the summer, you should know that meshing work and family dynamics is challenging for them, too. This too shall pass, so enjoy the time you have together—in 20 years, you may look back and wish you had more time for your kids’ chaos to fill your home.