The Realities of Working from Home — With Kids
Stock photos showing a smiling, peaceful mom working at a laptop, baby balanced on her knee, are ridiculously out of touch. Anyone that has ever had to work with a baby, toddler, preschooler, or even elementary-aged child around knows it’s a superhuman task.
The GRKIDS & Co team (LFF, KZOO Kids, and GRKIDS) is powered by over 50 working moms (and one dad;) ) who have figured out how to craft a life that involves kids and work at the same time.
Every scenario is different – but we hope that you can take tidbits from what we share here to find your niche if you’re a new remote worker.
And, as always, please chime in with your own tips.
Perhaps one positive that will come out of the coronavirus situation is an understanding that telecommuting is a valuable option for many workers – and that quality work can happen outside of the 9 to 5 schedule of many corporations.
Remote workers with kids at home can be highly productive but it often takes careful planning and an understanding employer.
Manage all of the Expectations First — The Rest Will Follow
If you are watching kids at home while working, your previous work routine in an office is not going to work. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still do your job well; you’ll simply have to do it differently.
If you are caring for kids while you work, set boundaries for yourself and your kids. Kid expectations will vary with the age of your children and their individual needs.
Step One: Assess the Work-at-Home Situation
- How old are your kids?
- How much work do you need to get done?
- What is non-negotiable?
- Do you have another caregiver to tag team with?
Step Two: Make a Plan for Your Day
If you need to get 8 hours of work in over the course of the day, consider an alternate schedule for yourself. It might be hard, but getting up a few hours before the kids to get uninterrupted work time is like gold.
Set a schedule for yourself the night before you work from home that includes the needs of your family. It likely will start early and end after the kids are in bed – the work-from-home gig takes a lot of discipline.
Step Three: Sell Your Plan to Your Family
If the best-laid plan only lives in your mind, chances of success diminish significantly.
The secret formula for working from home?
Good Plan + Great Communication = Happy Family
If your kids are old enough, involve them in the planning for the day. If not, it’s ok to carve out work time and communicate to the kids that this is not a weekend or a vacation day, even though you’re home with them right now.
Tell them, “we’re going into workday mode, and this is what that means for us.”
Elizabeth Delonis shares:
(1) Have a dedicated office space. If you don’t have an office, work in a room where you can close the doors if you need to for a phone call. Working on the dining room table, for example, is really hard (because it’s) in the middle of kid chaos.
(2) (Assuming kids are old enough,) set boundaries for the working parent so they don’t assume just because mom or dad is “home” that they can play all day. My kids know if my husband is working from home, he will visit …when he can… but they can’t barge into the office and jump all over him. He actually needs to work.
(3) I would also suggest shifting hours to non-peak kid times (assuming employer allows). If they can get an hour or two in before the kids are awake and/or after they go to bed, that’s completely uninterrupted work time. They will be much more productive in those windows, and not have to divide their attention.
Strategies We Use to Buy Worktime With Kids Around
If You’re Working From Home With Kids Age 5 & Under:
Let’s just clear the air here – working from home while caring for young kids is nearly impossible and often very frustrating. That is, if you don’t have a plan.
I’ve been a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom for eight years. When my kids were little, if I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t get any work done. Life was extraordinarily stressful when I had a deadline that was looming and small children that needed care at the same time.
Here’s how I (and a bunch of my GRKIDS & Co comrades), are the best parents ever to little kids while also meeting work expectations:
1 – Lower Your Expectations.
You will NOT get in a full 8 hours, in a row, with small children on the scene.
Be grateful for any hour of uninterrupted time you get in. If you work hard enough, you can scrape together an 8-hour workday, just in smaller increments.
Are you a night owl or morning person? Set your office hours by that, if your boss allows. I’m a night person so I wrap up my workday in the evening (7PM – midnight). Other coworkers of mine are emailing at 5 AM because they are NOT night owls.
2 – Plan. Plan Your Day, and Plan Their Day.
This is a great hurdle if you’re not a natural planner, but it’s the only way to be a successful employee and all-star mama or dad. I used to chart out every hour of the day, with noted times where I would work, and times that I would not work.
It greatly lessened my anxiety to know that I would work till like 10 AM and then take a break and do stuff with the kids till 11 AM, for example.
3 – Rotate the Kids Through Lots of Varied Activities
Think like a preschool teacher. Those classrooms are loaded with “centers” for a wide range of play. Put together activity centers or buckets and rotate them every 30 minutes or so.
Include old stand-by toys as well as new, tantalizing items that only come out while mom or dad works. (Play-doh, Legos, dolls, a train table, matchbox cars, Perler beads, coloring.)
Or, if you’re like Laura Gifford, you can try the “one kid’s trash” tactic:
“Dig through the basement and find the toys you were going to sell on Facebook three years ago. Pull them out one at a time and say I’m going to sell this on Facebook today. It will suddenly be their new favorite toy and they will be attached to it for hours. When they’re bored with that one pull another one out of the basement and do the same thing.”
4 – Snacks. Lots and Lots of Snacks
Justine Hoofman recommends accessible, ready-to-eat snacks. I don’t know why I never thought of this. She fills Ziploc bags with pretzels, crackers, cheese or fruit and stores it where kids can see and reach.
“Yes, they will eat too many snacks, but it will save you 200 ‘can I have a snack’ interruptions every day!” says Justine.
Little kids will obviously still need to ask for a snack, but when you say yes, they can grab it with their own adorable, pudgy hands, and eat it at the table with you and you never missed a keystroke. Bam!
5 – Enforce Nap Time/Quiet Time
Toddlers and preschoolers often think they’re too cool for naps, but if you frame it as quiet time, you can often get in another hour of work while they rest in their bedroom, looking at books or listening to an audio book or podcast.
*Warning: this is entirely dependent on the child. One of my kids fought quiet time his whole life and made all sorts of racket that one hour every day. But he was safe and I stood my ground. It wasn’t as peaceful a time as I’d have liked, but I still got work done.
If You’re Working From Home with Kids Age 6 & Up (Indpendent Readers):
The game changes once your kid can read on their own. They can read any printed daily schedules, do more chores, and entertain themselves better. As kids become independent readers, you’ll notice they become more independent people.
1 – Give Them Job Sheets to Earn Screens
These chore charts are quite effective with the older crowd. Yes, you may have to endure some whining at first (or maybe every time) but eventually the kid realizes that good things come to those who work.
2 – Enforce Quiet Reading Time
Or “work time,” as Cassandra Mickel puts it. “My kids do ‘work time’ while I do,” she says. “Homework, whiteboard, educational apps – whatever their version of work is.”
If kids are old enough to read independently, they can work quietly, just as though they were in school. Make sure to tell them how long this time will last so they aren’t asking you every 5 minutes if work time is done.
3 – You’ve Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated
In the wise words of The Offspring, sometimes you gotta keep ’em separated. My kids, when left without a referee (me), will FIGHT. I’ve noticed that if you take one out of the mix, though, harmony returns.
I have three kids so I’ll rotate one kid into the office with me while I work (they can do screens, read, or whatever we decide) and the other two can skip off together to do their imaginary play. An hour later, I rotate. Because my kids are older and CAN play without me, this can buy me a few hours.
4 – Reward Them With an Outing or Special Activity if They Let You Work Till a Certain Time
“I will usually tell them ‘I need to work until 1:00 and then we can…’ – go to the pool, go to the library, get some ice cream, or have friends over,” says Keri Siemens.
Kids love spending time with us and are much more willing to help you get work done if there’s a prize at the end. Find what motivates your kids and work it into your plan.
5 – Big Kids Get Quiet Time, Too
“They choose a Q U I E T activity to do in their room…reading, doing a puzzle, resting,” says Renee Compston. “The reward? Thirty minutes of video games if they are quiet for the whole hour. It gives me 1-1/2 hrs. in the afternoon.”
If you’ve noticed, big kids are essentially doing the same thing all day, but with different labels attached. They’re doing chores, reading, doing work or homework, playing with siblings, or quietly playing on their own. But if you spin it right, it feels like lots of different activities for them and they won’t get bored.
You’ve Got This, Mom and Dad! And if Not, Call in Reinforcements
Finally – if you’re out of tricks, take it from Justine and call in a favor. “As long as no one’s sick, invite grandma/a friend over to play for the afternoon. You work, they’re cared for, everybody wins.”
If you have tips to share, leave a comment below.