Working from home can seem like a dream come true. Standard work attire can include pajamas, there is no more commuting, and lunch and snacks are only as far away as the kitchen. However, this dream can quickly become a nightmare for working parents who have to juggle kids at home.
Kids can be home for a number of reasons. They can be sick and can’t go to school; there can be a global pandemic; they may not be school-aged yet; they may be on break from their studies; or they may homeschool. No matter the reason, working with little people in the house can be extremely challenging. They may need snacks, help with school work, and activities to curb their downtime boredom. It can feel endless when emails are piling up in the inbox and deadlines are looming.
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in December 2020 and found that half of teleworking parents with children under the age of 18 found it difficult to complete their work without interruptions. Interestingly enough, this holds true across genders. Both moms and dads are feeling constantly interrupted. This is in contrast to only 20 percent of teleworkers without children experienced the same thing.
So, if you are a parent that has worked from home for years, are new to this game, or are considering a work-from-home job, know that it will not always be roses. It’s a fact of life that kids at home can make remote work challenging.
First and foremost, as you craft a strategy, remember that the only constant with children is change. Recognize that some plans won’t always work, and there will be days this will all feel impossible. But, with a bit of work, some planning, and lots of flexibility, working from home can be an excellent option for many families.
Here is a guide on how to work from home with kids. These tricks and tips will help your work-from-home endeavor go as smoothly as it can.
Being realistic about what can and can’t be done is the first step to not losing it when working from home with kids. When you first start working from home, it is critical to set expectations at three levels: with yourself, with your kids, and with your workplace.
If you are a remote hire, setting expectations with work may be easier than an ad-hoc day at home with a sick kiddo or in an emergency situation like the Covid-19 pandemic. Either way, it is imperative to have a sit-down with your supervisor and discuss what their expectations are. Key questions to learn more about what they expect include:
Setting expectations with your kids is also crucial. Often, kids assume if you are around that you are available. Talk to them about what your workday will look like and what is expected of them, such as completing their school work, making themselves a snack or lunch, chores that need to be done, and ways they can communicate with you throughout the day.
Lastly, set expectations for yourself. Be realistic. Don’t assume you can do as much in one sitting as you may have been able to do if you were in an office. Working from home with kids rarely looks like a solid nine-to-five shift. Know you will be interrupted, know it will be hard to stay on task—and realize you can do it anyways.
Talking early and often can be the best way to avoiding frustration and missed expectations. Even if you have done a good job of setting expectations, circumstances change, and talking about what is and isn’t working is necessary. The key is to be proactive.
The hardest part about following this tip is it takes a lot of self-awareness. Often, as parents, it is easy to believe that you can do anything if you just keep trying harder. If work and home balance feel hard, notice that and talk about it.
Ideally, start with your partner or trusted friend and determine what feels hard. If it is work-related, schedule a time to talk to your boss about your concerns. If it is kid-related, and they are old enough to be helpful, sit down and talk to them about how you feel and brainstorm solutions with them.
Talking calmly and openly about issues before deadlines are missed, the house is a mess, and you lose your cool on your kids will help make working from home a much more achievable.
Not everything is going to get done every day if you are working from home with kids—and that has to be ok. Prioritizing can help you keep your sanity by knowing what you have to do every day and what can wait till tomorrow or next week.
Many work-from-home parents find it helpful to write up a general weekly to-do list. Start by putting down major work projects, deadlines, or milestones. Next, make a list of what your kids need to accomplish over the course of the week. Lastly, write down what needs to be done around the house. Assign tasks to each day of the week so you can see if your goals for the week are manageable. If they aren’t, consider what can be dropped or postponed.
Understand that some days you will feel like you have conquered the world, and other days you will be standing in a messy kitchen ordering take out because you have to finish a work project. But if you prioritize, you will be on track to get the essential things done.
Work hours can look very different than a traditional nine-to-five for parents at home with kids. This can be particularly true for families with small children who require lots of supervision. It may be that the best hours to work are early in the morning before the kids wake up or after bedtime. Naptime, for parents who are lucky enough to have kids who nap, can also be a critical time to get lots of work done.
A benefit of working from home can also be utilizing additional hours in the day for family time. Sure, you will need to shut your door from time to time to get work done, but now lunches can include catching up with your kiddos, and afternoon breaks can feature walks outside or a quick card game to reconnect.
Childcare can look like a lot of things when you are working from home. There are traditional options such as babysitters, preschools, and public or private schools, but there are many other creative solutions for parents whose kids are home full-time.
One option is to find another family that has similarly aged kids and swap childcare days. Friends coming over to play can be an easy way to keep your kids busy, plus you will have the benefit of quiet days at home when it’s your kids’ turn to visit their friends.
If the kids are young or need additional supervision, then nanny sharing can be a great option as well. Splitting the cost with another family can make it much more affordable.
Many work-from-home parents rely on extended family to help with childcare as well. Grandparents who are close by can be a great option. If one’s extended family can’t visit in person, then FaceTime calls can be a wonderful way to entertain your kids while you wrap up a deadline or take an important call.
Schedules can be essential to let kids know when you are and aren’t available. It can also help keep them on task for things like mealtimes, chores, school work, and other plans. Don’t be so rigid with your schedule that you get frustrated if no one adheres to it, but rather see it as a general guideline for the day.
Make up a daily calendar with times on it. Put down all the things you hope to do during assigned hours, as well as what your kids need to do. Make it clear when you are and aren’t available. Include activities that you will all do together, such as eating a meal, going outside for a frisbee break, or baking cookies.
Some kids are great at keeping themselves occupied, but lots of kids struggle when they get bored. Planning activities ahead of time can be a great way to help the workday go smoothly. Activities will vary based on age and ability, but things for kids to do during the day include:
While not every activity you plan will be a home run, having a few in your back pocket for those inevitable “I’m bored” moments will help immensely.
Working from home and being a parent can be demanding and overwhelming. Make sure to schedule times during your workday to take a break for yourself. If you can, carve out 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day to just breathe and check in with how you are feeling. You are a person too—not just an employee and a parent—and your needs matter.
It is also important to carve out time at least once or twice a week to do something for yourself. Take a break from all of it. It can be as simple as perusing Target alone or going to the gym or be more elaborate, like a friends’ weekend away or a date night with your partner. It doesn’t matter what it is, just make time to do what you want to do without work or kids.
Kids love praise. They love knowing when they have done something right. However, it is easy to focus on what doesn’t go right because it is irritating or frustrating. While it can be hard to do, catching your kids doing what they are supposed to be doing, no matter how small, and celebrating it can help everyone in the house feel and do better. In fact, research published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions found that a ratio of five praises to one criticism helped improve children’s classroom behavior.
And if it works in the classroom, it can work at home too. Catching your kid being good can be little things like saying thank you at the end of the day for all their hard work or talking at dinner about how much you appreciate something they did that day. You can also do tangible things like surprising your kid with a kiss and cookie after they didn’t interrupt your Zoom meeting or writing a little note to slip into the book they are reading, thanking them for finishing their chores.
Meal planning can seem tedious, but it can be a lifesaver for working-at-home parents. Having a plan can reduce the overall mental workload of wondering what is for dinner, freeing up brain capacity for work. Older kids can even help with menu planning and preparing meals.
If you have a particularly busy schedule setting out snacks and meals in the morning is a way to reduce interruptions. Your kids can get their food when they are hungry without having to check in or ask for help. Some parents even set up snack stations in the pantry and fridge so kids can grab what they want when they want it.
Movies, games, and shows are almost a necessity for parents who have kids and work from home. However, there are many options that are also educational.
If your kids want to watch a movie, start with documentaries. Most streaming platforms have beautiful documentaries that can be engaging for kids, such as Blue Planet or March of the Penguins. For younger kids, there are lots of educational shows such as Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street. There are even old Mister Rogers Neighborhood reruns.
One technology option that often gets overlooked is audiobooks and podcasts. Many kids might enjoy listening to their favorite podcast while drawing, doing a sticker book, or playing with playdough. Great podcasts include Wow in the World, Brains On, and Tumble.
Being a working parent alone is challenging. Working from home with kids is even harder. Remember that it is challenging, and be gentle with yourself. Your home may not be as clean as it used to be, your kids may get too much time on technology, and you might have to work after 10 pm.
Don’t expect to be perfect or do everything well. Acknowledge where you are successful and focus on that. Notice where you might want to improve and work towards it, but don’t beat yourself up.