10 Tips for Working from Home with Kids from Someone Who's Been Doing It
Hi! My name is Jessica. I'm a software developer and a mother of two, and I've worked from home part-time for about 2.5 years now. I have a three year old and a ten month old, both boys.
Since a lot of people are currently working from home, I thought I would share some things that help me get work done even with two kiddos as coworkers :). These are all my experiences, so your mileage may vary, but I hope this helps at least a few people who are struggling.
Without further ado, here's the list.
1. Get Up Before Your Kids
This one is hard. I am so not a morning person. But on those days where I get up earlier than my kids do, even if I don't get any work done while they're still sleeping, I have a much better day. It gives me a chance to wake up, eat breakfast, maybe get dressed, whatever I need to do to get myself in a good mood before dealing with children. This does not have to be productive time. If it is, great. If it's not, that's good, too. This is you time.
2. Encourage Independent Activities
For my three year old, this sometimes means putting a gate up in his bedroom door and telling him he has to play by himself (the room is kid-proofed, and I feel safe leaving him in there by himself). Other times, I can just tell him that Mommy is working and he needs to play by himself for a little bit. Independent play is healthy for kids, so don't feel guilty about doing this.
For my infant, this means making sure there are toys in the room with me that he can play with. Other times it means putting him in his high chair next to me and giving him a snack he can eat by himself (this is actually what he's doing as I write this).
3. Use Timers
This can be used in multiple ways.
When my 3yo wants to spend time with me, I'll tell him I'll play with him for x minutes (the smallest I usually do is 10), and I'll set a timer. I tell him that when the timer goes off I have to go back to work. I do my best to focus completely on him for that whole time period. He still might fuss when the time is up, but at least I know that I have given him time and attention so I can go to work guilt-free.
I also use this by telling him he has to play by himself for x minutes before he can have screen time. I set the timer so he knows he has to wait for the timer to go off before asking to watch a show or play on the tablet.
Speaking of screen time, yes I use it. Some days, I just need some time to get work done. I know that if I let my son watch a show or play on the tablet, he will be focused on that long enough for me to focus on my work.
Be creative with technology! My son loves to call his Nani (my mom), especially with video, and talk to her. He can chat with her for half an hour or longer by himself, and this gives me time to work. Another idea (for older kids) is to look up a drawing tutorial or something that your kids can follow along with by themselves. That way they aren't just mindlessly watching but are actively learning!
We all know that screen time isn't great for little brains BUT neither is a mom (or dad) who is super stressed because (s)he's got work to do and can't get it done. Especially for those who are only working from home temporarily due to Covid-19, use screen time when you need it. It will not hurt your child to have a few days (or weeks) with a little extra screen time. Once you and your kiddos get more used to being at home together while you work, you can utilize this less, but don't feel guilty when you need it.
5. Nap Time/ Quiet Time
It's really hard to work when both my kids are awake. But if even one of them is napping, I try to use the other tricks on this list to get the other one to play independently so I can work. When both are asleep, I really try to buckle down and focus on work!
If your kids are older, you might institute some silent reading/silent play time. Encourage them to play with things that are less noisy and stimulating, like puzzles, drawing, etc., rather than screen time. This can help bring some calm to their day.
(My 3yo is not at a place where he cares about puzzles or drawing by himself, but he still takes an afternoon nap so use your judgement about what will work for your kids).
6. Let Older Kids Work Beside You
Now, I don't really have experience with this one because mine are both still little. But if I had kids who were in school, I would try to set them up to work on their schoolwork while I did my work (this will be heavily dependent on the type of schoolwork they have to do and their age). Then you really can feel like coworkers! I know I tend to be able to focus better on work when I feel like others are working, too, so the same could be true for your kids. Plus, if they really get stuck on something, you're right there for them to ask questions.
7. Get Help From Your Partner
This one assumes your partner is also home from work, so if that's not the case, feel free to skip this section.
My husband is getting his Ph.d., so we try to take turns being the “primary” on watching the kids. If I'm the primary, I tell the kids to talk to me, not my husband, if they need anything. I also intervene when the kids do go to my husband and remind them that if they need something, they need to talk to me.
I might take the kids outside or play with them in their room to give him a better chance to focus. When my husband is primary, he does the same.
Who is primary depends on a couple of things. If I have a meeting, my husband is primary. If he's got a class via zoom, I'm primary. If I'm behind on my work hours for the week, or he's got an assignment due...you see how it works. If one of us has been primary for a while and is starting to get frustrated, we switch off. Do what works for you.
8. Make Time for Your Kids
If your kids are little, they might not understand why Mom or Dad is home but unavailable. If your kids are older, they might understand just enough to be anxious about what's going on. Either way, they need your time and attention. Try to give them even just a little bit of time where you are focused on them. This can help ease their worries and make them more able to play independently at other times.
Take advantage of the opportunity to do things with your kids you don't normally get to! Have a picnic lunch or just pause in your work to read a story together. Yes, this is a scary time, but you can still find joy, especially in the little things. I love working from home because I get to be there with my kids. It's hard, but it's also a blessing.
9. Work With Your Mental State
If you're struggling to focus, even when your kids are quiet, it's okay. Anxiety about the situation we're in and even just stress from trying to be parent and provider can make it hard to focus.
Sometimes when I just don't feel I can focus, I stop working and do something else. Doing laundry or the dishes or a workout can help burn off some restless energy and allow me to check something off my list so I feel productive. Some days I just have to realize it's not going to be a good work day. Those days, I do the essentials like attend meetings, but I don't try to force myself to work when I'm not going to be affective. Instead, I'll do housework or spend time with my kids. The next day, when my house is clean and my brain has reset, I can try to focus again.
10. Trial and Error
Not everything you try will work the first time. Some days, nothing will work and you'll feel like everything is falling to pieces.
That's okay. You're still a good parent. You're still valuable to your workplace. Let it go and try again tomorrow.
This is temporary; eventually things will go back to normal and you'll miss the extra time you got to spend with your kids, even if it doesn't seem like it now. Or you might not miss it. You might be grateful to get out of the house and go to your job and come home to your family in the evenings. Likely, it will be a mixed bag of feelings. But my point is that this too shall pass. Cut yourself and your kiddos some slack and just do your best.
It'll be okay.