How to survive working from home when your kids are aroundBrian - January 15, 2021
You may be a telecommuter, independent contractor, or freelance writer with a home office. Perhaps your employer is experimenting with work at the home benefit on Fridays. Or maybe you don’t usually work from home, but the dishwasher is broken and you’ve been given an 8-hour window for someone to come and fix it. There are countless reasons why parents work from home these days, at least now and then.
J has years of experience working in a corporate office. Arguably, the enjoyable vision I had of becoming a freelance stay-at-home mom while I was pregnant with my oldest child didn’t really materialize. Sharing a space with people who are younger – and much louder – than your regular colleagues can certainly be a challenge. (My surprise that my toddler wouldn’t sit on a blanket and play quietly with wooden blocks while I typed for hours on end is now quite laughable). Things aren’t necessarily easier now that my kids are older. An example:
It’s late afternoon and I’m having an important phone conversation in my home office. The door opens and a note is placed on my desk. “Owen called me bad. Owen’s twin brother stands there, waiting for an answer. I write on the note, in all capitals, “WAIT! As I continue to conduct my telephone interview. He answers “OK”, then runs off to play some more.
My daughter is 11, my twins are 9 and I have been working as a freelance writer since long before they were born. My husband and I have never hired a full-time babysitter. Some truths: During the school year, I work when my children are at school. During the summer, I work less on weekdays and more in the evenings or weekends. I pay attention to sports games and piano recitals, but I regularly bring my laptop to practice and lessons. I received good news when my husband found out he could start working from home with his full-time job at a company, which gives me more flexibility if I have to leave home.
In recent years, I have learned important lessons, and those lessons have made me both a better freelance writer and a better parent. Here are some tips and advice from other “Not Now, I’m on the Phone” parents who sometimes have to turn their kitchen table into a makeshift office.
Set clear expectations
The children are not colleagues. But what they lack in brain development and maturity is made up for by love and humor, and sometimes frustration. One afternoon, when my daughter was little our whole family, was in the van and my husband had to make a call for work. After explaining the importance of being quiet, there was a brief pause, then my daughter shouted, “You wanna hear how I can make a sheep sound?” ”
Here are some tips to make your day a little less stressful.
- Choose a designated workspace (a desk, a table, the dining room table, and even your bed) that arouses in your children the expectation that when you are in that space, they should leave you alone, except in an emergency.
- Children love order, routine and know what awaits them. Be clear on the route for the day (“I work until 4 pm today; we’ll hang out together after 4 pm. If you behave, I’ll even take you to the park.”)
- To avoid noise and interruptions, compare your work to their homework, reminding them how irritated they are when trying to do homework and a sibling (or parent) bothers them.
- Yes, children must learn to have fun but don’t put them in the position of failure. Offer quiet activities if it is raining. (Puzzles or crafts are great.) Stock up on books in the library. Offer easy access to brick games, board games, cars, dolls – whatever interests them. Let them watch TV if you need to. Make a long list of “things to do when you’re bored” and post it for easy access.
- Be aware that they will make mistakes. Children are children. They will forget, they will lose patience, they will argue with their siblings and they will break the rules. Be lenient to avoid arousing ever-growing resentment. When calm is crucial, speak with them first. Explain to them the importance of the next hour and their obligations, and let them know which emergencies warrant an interruption and what consequences they may face if an interruption is unnecessary. Follow up.
Consider investing in a babysitter or “parenting assistance”
For many years, when my children were younger, I refused to spend money on an outside babysitter for fear it would reduce my profits too much. Instead, I started working as soon as the kids went to bed, staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Everything suffered: the job I did at 3 a.m., then my parenting a few hours later.
So I started using childcare or calling one of the many high school babysitters in my area. For older children, you may consider hiring a parenting assistant, i.e. an older teenager who will accompany your children and take them to the desired location. Yes, it costs a little money. But the advantage is that the work is stronger and the parents are better. If you are looking for a more cost-effective solution, consider starting a child care co-op. Other parents agree to babysit your children for free, and in return, you do the same when they need a helping hand.
Ask for help
If you live with a partner, don’t hesitate to ask for help. As many employers become more flexible when it comes to telecommuting policies, you might be surprised at what can be put in place. Consider changing your working hours together, so that there is little overlap. Ask your partner to try and negotiate hours of homework so you can take turns cleaning up spilled snacks or helping with homework. Share drop-off and pick-up functions. Let go of any guilt you may have. Speak with your partner and find common ground. You both equally deserve uninterrupted working time.
Leaving home (even briefly)
A professional creative colleague told me that her editor friend often traveled when her children were young, so they were used to their mom being away sometimes. Whether you’re packing for a conference or a short-term contract in another city, or just spending a few hours in a coffee shop to work, permit yourself to work away from home when on-call duty calls. children are available. And now that my kids are older, I let them stay home alone for about an hour. I give them my full attention when I return and they love the feeling of new responsibility. I also sometimes take them with me. Now that I don’t have to constantly watch them, I let them leaf through books in the library or play in the park while I do some work. The change of scenery is good for all of us.
Develop a routine
My work hours tend to be deadline-driven, but many freelancers and telecommuters work best with a set daily routine. If your children are older, apply a schedule. During the school year, it’s easy. During the summer, create work schedules (I work 8 am to noon) and set limits. Again, make sure your kids know you should only be interrupted in an emergency. When working, be self-disciplined and ignore household chores and your personal to-do lists. A friend I spoke with told me that when she’s very busy, she sets timers to set deadlines and breaks. Pick a plan and stick to it.
The main thing is that teleworking in the presence of children can work. It works. But every family is different. Find what works best for you and those you love, and stop feeling guilty. You deserve your work time (and, in many cases, your family’s finances depend on it). I believe that the time spent not being a parent makes me a better parent. And your children must see you being successful professionally, personally, and creatively. Show them, by your actions, the importance of a balanced life, filled with various passions.