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How to Work from Home When You Have Kids

Young mother with toddler child working on the computer from home at night
Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock

Working from home with kids around is a challenge. It takes some strategic planning, patience, and support to pull it off successfully. 

Whether you’re a full-time stay-at-home parent or someone who occasionally stays home with the kids, these tricks will help keep you on track. Working from home is hard enough and having kids around during work hours certainly adds to the challenge. However, it is possible to boost your productivity without neglecting your kids (and to stay sane in the process).

Simple Tips You Can Start Immediately

Before we get into things like exploring childcare options and creating a dedicated office space, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Create a Schedule: Write down a concrete plan for each day, including breaks for meals, appointments, and running errands. Remain flexible since children can be unpredictable, especially if they need to be rushed off to the doctor. But having a general blueprint will go a long way.
  • Get Dressed: Chasing kids in your PJs sets you up for a “day off” type of feel. You want to stay focused—taking a shower and putting on clothes is one step towards achieving that.
  • Plan Ahead: Tackle essential jobs first, even if it’s well before they’re due. That way, if you end up stuck with having to care for a sick or injured child, you won’t have to stress about that looming deadline. Bosses are usually more lenient and understanding if you’re a little late for the less-important jobs.
  • Keep Meals Simple: Don’t waste hours preparing gourmet lunches. Have your kids help with meal prep if they’re old enough. Make sandwiches the night before to save on time.
  • Limit Chores: Don’t get distracted by elaborate chores. Involve your kids in simple tasks—buy your toddler a play broom and have them help sweep up after lunch. Children can help load the dishwasher, move laundry into the dryer, wipe down counters, and pick up toys. This way, you’ll have more time to focus on your work.
  • Avoid Social Media: A minute spent here and there on Facebook might seem harmless, but if you add up all those quick glances, it amounts to a lot of wasted time.

Try Childcare Options

Group Of preschool Children In Art Class With Teacher
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Working from home with a dedicated caregiver present is one of the best scenarios. You’ll save time spent toting your child to and from daycare. Plus, you’ll get to take breaks to play with your kids or to comfort a crying child with a quick hug.

However, many working parents can’t afford the cost of full-time childcare, whether it’s an out-of-home center or an in-home nanny. Here are some other options.

Hire a Part-time Babysitter

People tend to be more productive in the morning, and this is when kids usually have the most energy to burn. If you hire a babysitter from 9am-1pm, you can attack those critical tasks, conference calls, and out-of-house meetings, saving easier jobs for the afternoon. The cost won’t be as much as full-time childcare, especially if you find a nanny who can watch other kids during that time.

Mother’s Helper

This is someone who plays with the kids while you’re still at home. They often charge a reduced rate since you still do the main work, such as diaper changes, meals, and helping with meltdowns.

Often, younger teens (typically ages 11-15) work as Mother’s Helpers. Finding a homeschooled teen in your neighborhood is a perfect solution, but you could also look for someone who can help out when school ends.

Childcare Trade

Many working parents set up childcare trade networks. You can reach out to other working parents via community websites, Facebook groups, and even posting at the local library. This lets you establish a regular schedule, ensuring you get adequate time to focus on your work.

If your kids have extended time off from school, such as Spring Break, find four other parents to go in on the trade. You’ll need to watch a bunch of kids for one day, but then you’ll have the rest of the week to work.

There’s even an app to keep track of your childcare swap hours, allowing you to track childcare trades with multiple families.

Gym Childcare

Many gyms offer childcare at a minimal price. Some even provide “morning out” events, where you can drop your kids off for two hours without needing to stay in the building. This is a great way to go to a local cafe and get some solid work done.

If you’re required to stay at the gym, there’s often a table in the lounge area where you can catch up on work instead of working out. Or you can walk on the treadmill while responding to emails on your phone—your body will love the break. 

Need to meet with a colleague to discuss new ideas? Why not hash it all out while working up a sweat on the exercise bikes? Remember, exercise is believed to boost creativity!

Take Advantage of Sleep Times

mother playing with two-year-old son in his new bed
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock

If you’re an early riser, try to accomplish a few tasks before the kids wake up. Then get dressed, make breakfast, and officially start your day.

Establish a nap routine early on. If your child’s room is too bright, consider getting blackout film to go over the windows (believe us, this really makes a difference). Use a sound machine to block out any noises from walking about or being on a conference call.

Kids too old for naps? Plenty of daycares, preschools, and summer camps enforce “quiet time” instead. This doesn’t have to involve sleeping, but it should be time spent quietly in each child’s room. They can read, draw, listen to music, or do a small craft. Try to avoid screen time—save that for the end of the day when you need to finish those last few projects.

Make sure your child knows how long “quiet time” will be. We recommend one or two hours. You may be tempted to take a nap yourself (and definitely do so if you were up all night with a sick or restless child). But if you want to power through, we suggest doing a quick 15-minute workout, recharging with a high protein energy smoothie, or doing a guided meditation to boost energy levels

There are also many benefits to your children having an early bedtime. So if your kids tend to stay up late, consider moving their bedtime earlier. This will open up a window to get more work done. 

Work on the Weekend

It can be tough to find time to accomplish all your work during the week. Using the weekend hours is a great way to catch up.

Set a schedule with your partner or a family member who is going to watch the kids, so they know what to expect.

And make sure to carve out some time for fun and relaxation—you don’t want to burn out.

Dedicate Office Space

Home office interior
Pushish Images/Shutterstock

Having a separate office space can help with productivity, although you’ll need someone else to watch the kids unless they’re sleeping.

Get a noise-canceling headset if you don’t want to be distracted by any squealing and playing outside your door. You can even use it during work calls.

Put a whiteboard on your door to let your child’s caregiver know when you can be interrupted. If you need absolute focus, write “Do Not Disturb.” If you’re working on a light task, you can write “Open to Visitors.” Keep in mind that if you’re on an urgent conference call or video interview, you should lock your office door. Otherwise, you could be interrupted, like political science professor Robert Kelly was when his toddler busted in on an important BBC news conversation.

You can also move your workspace around. Set your kids up with a fun activity at the kitchen table and work beside them on your laptop. Just keep in mind that a separate space is important for the times you need to focus.

Be Present with Your Kids

One challenge of working from home is that work is always there. Take regular breaks to engage with your children fully. Even if it’s just five minutes of laughing and tickling, be present.

Try not to write emails from your phone during your designated time with the kids. This may be hard if you don’t have any help throughout the day, but at least be intentional about the times you share your workspace and the times you don’t.

Having them play on their iPad beside you while you finish up some emails on your laptop is okay, as long as you end it with some dedicated child-parent time without the influence of screens.

Tips for Babies

Working from home with a baby is often easier than caring for a toddler who continually needs to be entertained. Here are some tips to maximize your productivity. 

  • Baby Carriers: Strap your baby to you and get to work. You can invest in a standing desk or sit on an exercise ball—the gentle movement will lull your baby to sleep. You can even nurse your baby from the carrier while carrying on with work tasks. Learn more with this post from the Owlet blog.
  • Strollers: You can go for a long walk with a stroller, using a Bluetooth headset to call work colleagues or to dictate work notes. And when the baby falls asleep, you can grab a coffee at a nearby cafe, sit outside, and work from your laptop or phone.
  • Rockers and Swings: Set up a baby rocker or swing right in your office. It’s incredible how much work you can get done while they coo, babble, and play with their feet in a swing (or actually fall asleep).
  • Go for a Drive: Many babies, toddlers, and even small children are lulled to sleep by the movement of the car. Park somewhere that has access to free Wi-Fi and whip out your laptop.

The Balance of Screen Time

Too much screen time can be a bad thing, but just enough can be the sanity-inducing break we desperately need. It’s recommended that kids have no more than two hours a day, with children ages 2-5 having no more than one hour a day.

We suggest saving the allotted time for the end of the workday when you have those last-minute tasks that need to be completed. At times like this, you can work beside them, pausing to comment on the show they’re watching or the game they’re playing.

You can also use educational apps and Kids Learning Tube to avoid feeling guilty about them having too much screen time.

Non-Technology Ways to Entertain Your Kids

Whether your kids are home all the time, or just have an unexpected snow day, being prepared is the way to go. Try these entertaining options:

  • New toys: Either have a supply of new toys tucked away in the closet, or rotate your toys so they can play with something that seems new.
  • Arts & Crafts: Get your kids engaged in a fun activity, like Play-Doh, making friendship bracelets, origami, painting, learning to knit, sticker books, or coloring.
  • The library: Let your kids read some new books while you work from a nearby lounge chair.
  • Museums and indoor play areas: Many of these places have a cafe area and free Wi-Fi. Organize a day out with a few other working parents, and rotate who gets to do work. Sometimes having a solid 45 minutes alone to work on a task is much better than being distracted all day by your children’s boredom.

Let Go of High Standards

If you’re working a full-time job and taking care of the kids, you’re going to be exhausted at the end of the day. Come up with a chore chart that involves both parents, as well as the children. Or get a chore app that comes with points to keep everyone accountable.

If you have the funds, hire a monthly house cleaner and sign up for a meal delivery service.

Above all else, be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a lot. It’s okay to let go of high standards, especially if your kids aren’t in school yet. It’s also essential for you to have time to sit back and laugh with your kids. If that means leaving the dishes until later, that’s okay.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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