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Working From Home with Kids: Tips and Tricks for Every Age

Mom works while baby plays with computer
Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can ditch the childcare arrangements—especially when you’ve got a baby.

As every working parent knows, balancing work with kids requires a special skill set of prioritizing, productivity, and creativity. It’s easy to think that working at home makes balancing the two easier. Without a commute or late nights at the office, you can be there all day every day for the kids.

However, unlike the pretty pictures, working from home isn’t quite as blissful and peaceful as you might think. Whether it’s one child or five, working at home when you’ve got kids of any age requires you to think strategically and plan accordingly so you can be the best employee and parent possible.

The Reality of Working from Home with Kids

A recent FlexJobs survey found that 88 percent of respondents believe that having a flexible job would help them spend more time with family. And 94 percent of respondents who indicated they had or are going to have kids one day think that a flexible job will help them be a better parent.

One thing we hear over and over is that people want to work at home so they can be there for their family. There’s no doubt working at home allows for a better work-life balance and helps you be more available for your kids. However, even though you’re working at home, the reality is that you are still working. And, if you don’t get your job done, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself strictly “at home.”

Be realistic about what will and won’t happen when you work at home with kids. Is it reasonable to expect your children to play nicely all day? Will they really sit quietly and color for hours on end? Can you talk to your clients while you paint with your kid?

Working at home with kids means adjusting your expectations to match reality. It’s not all playing games and reading books. Working at home includes a lot of work, which means spending less time with your kids than you may have thought.

The Baby Years

Bouncing a baby on your knee while you handle client phone calls is probably the least likely thing to happen. There’s a far better chance the baby is trying to grab and eat the phone, pulling your hair, or trying to get your attention by “talking.”

Even if you can handle client phone calls with one hand while holding a baby in the other, the reality of babies is that, well, they are babies. There’s always a diaper to change, a feeding that has to happen, and a lullaby that needs singing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work from home when you have a baby.

Don’t Go It Alone

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can ditch the childcare arrangements—especially when you’ve got a baby. Being successful as a work-at-home employee means that even though you’re home with the baby, you can’t work and take care of the baby by yourself.

As a work-at-home parent, you’re going to need childcare. It’s very unlikely you’ll be able to give your job your all with a baby that needs full-time supervision. However, you may not need to spring for full-time daycare.

Tracy Capozzoli, Career Coach at FlexJobs, points out that not all work-from-home parents need their child in daycare for 40 hours a week. Parents with flexible schedules or part-time jobs probably only need part-time care. “If you only need a few hours a few days a week, find a local drop-in, hourly childcare provider. Or, hire a nanny or part-time sitter to watch the kids on a regular set schedule.”

However, even without the commute, full-time employees will most likely need full-time care. While you can use a drop-off center, you could create a daycare alternative that works for you. If you’re fortunate enough to have extended family that can help out, consider asking them to pitch in a few days a week, so you only need to use the center part-time.

Or, consider sharing a nanny. Ask around your neighborhood and see if any other parents are working part-time or flexible hours. They may be willing to share the cost and time of a full-time nanny with you. Don’t limit yourself to other working parents. Plenty of full-time, stay-at-home parents want a break, too, and they may be willing to go in on a shared nanny.

Nap Time Is Work Time

Babies are, in some ways, boring and predictable. They like to eat, have a clean diaper, and sleep. Some babies take two to three naps a day. As they age, they may only take one nap a day, but it’s a long one. Or, they keep that nap up until kindergarten!

While it takes a while for babies to settle into a schedule (and it periodically changes), eventually, the baby will have a regular and predictable nap schedule (really!). When that happens, use that predictable block of time to work as productively and efficiently as possible.

Turn off your notifications and focus on your most intensive tasks. Or schedule your important meetings for that time. Whatever it is that you need to get done, capitalize on nap time, and use it to your advantage.

Consider Shift Work

Depending on how flexible your job is, consider shifting your work hours to times when the baby is sleeping. This could mean getting up earlier to get in an hour of two or work before the baby wakes up. Or, working for an hour or two after the baby is asleep for the night to finish things up.

If you’ve got a partner in the house, try trading shifts with them. Capozzoli explains, “Plan out your work schedules and have your partner watch the kids during key or crucial work times.” Then, swap shifts when your partner needs to work.

Toddler Time

Mom working on computer
The toddler years are a great time to start teaching your child that working at home means work!

Babies aren’t babies forever. Before you know it, you’ve got a toddler on your hands. And the toddler years are, well…the “terrible twos” spring to mind. But, you can’t let toddlerhood slow you down. As a work-at-home parent, you’ll find that while the toddler years are full of challenges, sometimes working at home gets easier.

Many kids start preschool at this age. A few days a week you’ll have a couple of hours in the morning when there are no kids around. And most toddlers still nap in the afternoon, giving you two predictable blocks of time to get your work done.

However, there will be times when your toddler isn’t at school. And while you’ll likely still have help watching your child during those times, the toddler years are a great time to start teaching your child that working at home means work!

Establish Boundaries

If you didn’t already have a workspace set up, now is the time to do that. Hopefully, you’ve got an office with walls and doors that close. That, of course, makes it easy to create a boundary between work and home. And, it makes it easier to help your toddler understand that the office is for work and only work.

However, toddlers (like teens) test boundaries. So, you’ll have to stick to yours and help your toddler understand what that means.

For example, teach your toddler that when the door is closed, they can’t come in, knock, or slide things under the door. If that isn’t working, consider adding a stop sign and teaching them that when they see it, they can’t go near the office.

If you don’t have an office with walls and doors, you’ll have to get a little more creative. Stops signs are still an option, but you’ll have to take your training a little further.

Explain How Work Works

Explain to your toddler how work works. It won’t be easy, and you’ll probably have to explain and re-explain more times than you’d like. But, starting early (and repeating often) can help your toddler understand that even though you’re at home in your office, you are at work, and you need to focus on that.

Also, explain to them that when they leave you alone when you work, they are helping you do a better job. Tell them how much you need their help and how much you appreciate it.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Toddlers don’t understand logical, rational explanations. Of anything. They are, however, better with interactive demonstrations. So, instead of just explaining how work works, show them how it works. And, use that time to let them practice their part in helping you out.

For example, if your job involves taking unexpected calls, conduct a practice drill during the weekend. Have someone outside the house call you when you and your toddler are at home. Then, practice what would happen if it was a real client phone call. Have your toddler stay quiet and start a puzzle, for example. Shower them with praise when they get it right, and keep practicing when they get it wrong. It may take some time and a lot of practice, but eventually, they’ll get it.

Have Plan A and Plan B

It’s very unlike your toddler (or even older kid) will cooperate with your work plans all day every day. Even when you’ve got full-time help at home, there’s still a chance that at some point someone is going to hear “I’m bored!”

As much as you would like to say “clean your room,” that won’t go over at all. Your first line of defense is to have activity boxes at the ready. You can create your own, or buy a few if you’re pressed for time. (Pro tip: FlexJobs members get discounts on activity boxes just for kids!).

Create several “themes.” Art projects, glitter projects, science experiments, or family tree, are just a few ideas. As long as it’s something fun and age-appropriate, the possibilities are endless. Choose activities that require little to no supervision, though, so you’re free to work.

But sometimes, the kids get bored with the box. “That again? Ugh!” That’s the time to break out your emergency backup plan B activity box. This box is full of unique one-off activities that you save for emergencies.

One great example: build the tallest Lego tower!

Take Breaks

Working from home doesn’t mean work, work, work. You’re entitled to take a break now and then. Make your break time kid time. Spend time doing the activity they want. It may mean you spend your 20-minute break with stickers on your face. But spending that time with your kid can do wonders to keep them happy and out of your hair for a few hours.

Bribe Them

Sometimes, nothing works, so you do what you have to do. Bribe your child with a special dessert or small toy to buy you the time you need to get your tasks done. However, you should only resort to bribery in ultra-rare and extreme cases (like a performance evaluation with the CEO).

And don’t worry! We’ll never tell!

School-Age Kids

Mom tries to work and entertain her kids
Work flexibly when you can.

Finally, your kid is in school! Working at home just got easier! Only, it kind of didn’t. School isn’t an eight-hour day. Plus, there are all those after-school activities! What’s a work-at-home parent to do?

Work Flexibly

Work flexibly when you can. When it’s your turn to drive the carpool, start work earlier in the day so you can end earlier. Or work a little later that night when you’ve finished your share of the driving.

Take Work with You

Sometimes, soccer practice or dance class is so short it doesn’t make sense to drop off, leave, then come back. Instead, save yourself some time (and gas) and work while you’re at practice. You’ll be able to watch your kid do their thing and get some work done, too.

Plan Get-Togethers

Young kids call them playdates, and older ones call it “hanging out.” Whatever it’s called, getting your kids together with their friends is a great way to get work done. And don’t think you have to send your kid to their friends’ houses every single time. It is possible to work when your child has friends over. They’ll be so busy entertaining each other, you may not even realize anyone else is there. Just keep an ear out for squabbles, and don’t forget the snacks!

Share the Load

Eventually, daycare won’t be an option, but you still need help keeping your child entertained. When that happens (and it will), it’s time to get creative. “Make connections with other stay-at-home working parents and create a childcare swap program,” Capozzoli says. “Partner up the kids based on ages and plan ahead to work with your schedule requirements to swap watching the kids.”

Fantasy Meet Reality

The fantasy of a well-behaved child that lets you work from home without any interruptions is exactly that: a fantasy. But, the reality of working from home with kids is that people do it all day every day.

Balancing work and family is possible when you work from home. As Capazzoli says, “Be flexible and creative depending on your child’s needs, personality, and temperament.” So, do what works best for you and your child to match the reality of mixing parenthood and career.

Ready for a job that knows parents are valuable employees? Check out these job postings of flexible employers. These companies know that moms and dads are more than just worker bees.

 

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