On Tuesdays both my kids are home all day. This has been the case for months and still I somehow manage to forget every single week that Tuesdays are not days I’ll get a lot of work done.
This week, for example, I needed to get our tax paperwork together for an appointment with our accountant on Wednesday morning. If I had a nickel for every time I said (with borderline desperation), "Yes, just give me a second," to my three- and five-year-old, I would have enough money to fill their piggy banks.
I was ill-prepared for my "work from home while the kids are home day," but you don’t have to be. Many of my friends work out of their homes (as computer programmers, clothing designers, photographers, writers, consultants, voiceover actors, and more) while parenting at the same time and manage to make it work. Whether you always need to work from home with your kids around or only during the summer, here are some tips to help you (and your kids) survive.
1. Mentally prepare for the stops and starts
Accept that your day is not going to be an uninterrupted workday. Commit to being patient and remembering that "all you can do is the best you can do."
2. Reserve electronic entertainment for your two or three most important tasks
If your kids are like mine, a television show or games on the iPad will keep their attention (aka distract them) for a longer than any other activity. So save Daniel Tiger or Angry Birds for the crucial tasks of your day.
3. Work early or late
It’s amazing what a parent can get done in an uninterrupted hour. Several of my very dedicated friends get up two hours before their kids and start working. Then they spend the day parenting and pick up with work in the evenings after their partners are home or the kids are in bed.
That may sound exhausting and entirely unappealing, but they all said this schedule is totally doable as long as you consider it a "season." You’re not going to have to keep that schedule forever, but you can do it until a certain project is finished or summer is over and the kids are back to school.
4. Barter for babysitters
If you work from home all the time, I highly recommend a part-time daycare, preschool, or sitter. Every work-from-home parent I know has been greatly relieved when they finally hire help. You may very well find that it makes you a better parent and a better employee or business owner.
When that’s not possible (or not something you’re interested in), barter with neighbors or friends for short-term childcare. Ask a neighbor if she can play with your son for one hour and you’ll make her dinner. Or ask a friend with kids to watch your kids today and you’ll watch his next week.
5. Put your kids to work
Explain to your kids you have some work to get done and you need a teammate. You can even "interview" your older kids and hire them to be your assistant for the day. Show them a list of your tasks and let them check off your accomplishments. Have them organize your files, make you a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, or pick some flowers outside to brighten up the office.
6. Parallel play
If your kids aren’t quite old enough to help you with work, find tasks for them that are similar to your work tasks, but won’t interfere with your process. I printed a blank tax packet for my daughter to fill out, while I filled in mine. If you’re working at a desk, set up a mini-desk with office supplies and paper for your son. If you’re working on your computer, let your child work on her LeapPad tablet next to you.
7. Give your kids some undivided attention
Our kids don’t need our attention for hours at a time, but they do need it. Set a timer for thirty minutes and tell your son that when the timer goes off he should come get you from the office and you’ll play anything he wants to play for fifteen minutes. And then follow through. As soon as it’s time, stop working and commit to playing. Once he trusts that he’ll get the most fun, present version of you when the timer goes off, he’ll give you some room to work (hopefully).
8. Tire them out
Your child’s naptime is your absolute best work friend. When my son naps, I get two hours of devoted work time – the trick is to extend that time for as long as possible. Find some heavy-duty physical activities for your child to get out her energy in the morning. Have a dance party or let her run wild in the yard. Even if your child doesn’t nap anymore, the "wear out" strategy can work in your favor. Tire him out and then you can get some work done while he recovers in quiet time or watches a movie while lying on the couch.
9. Give your child some autonomy and special workday treat
Kids feel so much pride when they can accomplish something without your help. Take the time to set your daughter up with everything she could possibly need for twenty minutes of art time. Put all of her supplies within her reach. Sharpen all the colored pencils. Give her endless amounts of paper.
Reserve a special treat that only happens on days that you are working from home - like letting your son pick his own snacks all day. Create a shelf in the fridge that has all the snacks that your son can help himself to when he gets hungry. Put his bowl and spoon within reach on the counter. Put a stool at the kitchen sink so he can wash his hands. Let him feel like days you work are awesome because he gets to do his own thing.
When I asked my friends for tips on working from home while parenting, they provided a lot of great ideas – and a lot of jokes, like "give up" and "wine." It is not easy to do both your jobs at once.
Getting through a work-and-parenting day is really about buying yourself short blocks of time. There’s not one magical tip that’s going to occupy your child for an entire eight hour work day, but you can cobble together different tactics to get as much work done as possible, while still taking care of your youngest and most important priorities.