Working from home with kids is… awful. For most of us there is a constant feeling of failing. Either your children are parked in front of Captain Underpants (their choice, not mine!) or your work is continuously being interrupted with calls of, ‘Mom, he’s touching me!’ Or, ‘Mom, I’m hungry!’ Or, the worst, ‘Mom, the bathroom is covered in water…!’
I started my copywriting business when my daughter was five months old. I had only two clients, and I was *only* writing… so, I thought how hard can this be? But as my business grew, and my children grew, the balance got harder and harder.
My older two boys are at school, and my youngest is at home with me. But none of my children go to day care or after school care. It’s a choice we made a long time ago, and one that, though I don’t regret it, I certainly don’t think is for everyone, or every child. There is tons of research about the benefits of early schooling for school readiness, and there’s lots of research about keeping your kids home. In fact, the research is all over the place! So, the choice is completely yours and what is best for your family.
But at the end of the day, we haven’t had outside care for our kids – so for the last nearly three years I’ve been both a full time mum and a full time business owner. And that means that I’ve been where many of you are now.
Over those three years I’ve developed some tips for managing the full time parent and full time worker gig. It’s not easy still, but these might help.
So, here are five tips for working from home with kids.
5 Tips for Working From Home with Kids
1. Learn to triage.
Triage is a medical term that means the process of assigning a priority to cases so that you are treating the most urgent first. I’m not going to sugar coat it. When you’re working from home with kids, you are going to be in a near constant state of emergency. It’s essential that you learn to triage.
A call with your boss is likely going to top your list of urgent priorities, but it could be knocked out by a toddler who’s smeared poop all over her bedroom (no, that’s never happened to me!). A client meeting is very urgent, but sometimes a really sad, worried or even unwell child will mean you just have to reschedule.
Most of the time you won’t be dealing with that level of emergency, but every day you will need to prioritise where you are putting your energy. And when your kids are home with you they are going to be part of that triage.
I have a friend who has to stop and play a few rounds of charades with her kids every hour or so. Another who swims in their pool with her daughter every lunch time. Depending on your kids’ ages and needs you will spend more or less time tending to them and more or less time sitting down and working. That’s just the way it is.
2.Set realistic deadlines.
You aren’t going to be able to meet deadlines in the same way that you once could. In my previous life I was a corporate lawyer on Wall Street. I almost literally worked all the time. Deadlines for me were just ASAP. If I had something that needed to be done, it probably needed to be done yesterday.
When I started working for myself I utilised that same approach. I’d get an article to write and I’d work as hard as possible to deliver it as soon as possible. But it wasn’t sustainable and it wasn’t necessary. Your clients understand about deadlines. They’ve likely got their own. So, set realistic ones. But then always, always meet them.
I usually give myself at least an extra day on what I think I can deliver. Then I’m usually in a position to overdeliver or in a better position if something unexpected happens. And I take into account the needs of my kids as well. That’s OK. You’re a parent too, and we’re all trying to navigate this new world.
Being consistent and trustworthy, doing what you say when you say, is the best client service that you can give.
3. Embrace the margins.
I’m going to give it to you straight. Your days of working nine to five are over. O.V.E.R. The sooner that you understand that and accept that, the happier everyone is going to be.
Instead, you’re going to need to embrace the margins. 5am and 9pm are your new best friends. Working before your kids get up and after they go to bed (and even if they nap if you’re that lucky!) is going to give you your best chunks of time to really focus. If you aren’t a night owl, or a morning person, now might be a good time to change that.
Of course, not all your work and not every job can be done during those hours. You will need to have calls with colleagues, or participate in meetings with clients. And those are the times that you’re going to have to rely on your partner to take over, or pop on a movie (and don’t feel bad about it!) or set the kids up with a quiet activity that will hopefully carry them through. And you’ll still need to do some work during the day in order to meet your hours or your commitments. But learning to use and love those early and late hours is going to make all the difference.
4. Have weekly workflow meetings with your partner.
If you are a two-parent home with both of you working from home, set up a weekly workflow meeting. See who has important, can’t-be-missed meetings, calls and deadlines and when they are. Organise to support each other during these times, and work out a way where one can take the kids on a bike ride while the other gets some serious work done, and vice versa.
What if your job is part time and your partner’s is full time? Take that into account when organising yourselves. You may need to take on more of the childcare responsibilities while working from home, but they should take on their share as well.
If you’re the only parent working from home with kids, while your partner still goes into a workplace, ask them to help out in the mornings or in the evenings when they get home, so you can get some time to focus on your own work. Talking to each other and supporting each other rather than arguing about who is doing what when (we’ve been in both places in our home so I get it!) is the key no matter what your specific situation is. Your work will go better and your home life will be much more peaceful!
5. Try to think in the long term.
This is not going to be forever. Try to focus on the long term rather than the immediate effects. You might have to give up some things you had planned in your work life for now, but you can still do them later in the year or even next year. Expand your timelines rather than giving up on your projects or goals.
If you have your own business and are finding the work has slowed to a trickle, remember you can still build your credibility, your thought leadership and your community. And maybe that’s enough. We’re in the middle of a pandemic – your kids are, too.
Working from home with kids is not going to be the same as working from an office, or working in the peace and solitude of your home office. But it’s also not going to be forever. Your work needs you, your kids need you. Triage, support, mindset and embracing the margins are key.
You can do this!