How to work from home with kids. I’ve worked from home with kids for over 10 years. Here’s the mistakes I’ve learned and how to have a successful career balancing kids and working from home.
I’ve worked from home for over 10 years with kids at home.
Since Covid-19, more parents than ever are trying to work from home with their kids alongside them.
The good news: you don’t have to rely on screen-time alone to watch your kids while you work.
While I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, as a single parent, I’ve been able to build and maintain a successful career working from home with kids.
When my kids were toddlers, I started working from home a couple of days per week. When they were in school, I began working from home more often, and in the last four years, I now work from home full time.
During the school year, it’s pretty straightforward. When the kids are at school, I work.
But during the summer or when the kids are home, it’s more tricky. I have to figure out how to get my work done while they’re at home and want my attention.
How to work from home when you’ve got kids
1. Have a dedicated workspace, BUT…
When searching for advice as to how to work from home with kids underfoot, everyone will tell you to have a dedicated workspace. And I agree with this advice. With one caveat…
Don’t make your workspace inaccessible to your kids. Either have your desk, computer, and work things in the corner of the family room, or in a different place but keep the door open.
If you try to shut the kids out, you’ll be in for a power fight.
I’ve moved my “office” multiple times. I started out in the corner of my basement, which was also the family room. This location was perfect because the kids still hung out there to watch TV, but it was also out of the way when I wasn’t working.
Later I moved my office to an empty room. I kept the door open while I was working but was still able to shut the door while I wasn’t working to “shut the office down.” Like out of sight, out of mind.
Now, I have my office in the main family room.
Having my workspace here means it’s always within sight. I won’t recommend this if you’re just beginning to work from home. You may find it tempting to jump on the computer at any time. More on this later.
Since I’ve been doing this for over ten years, I no longer have this compulsion. I’ve learned tough lessons.
The plus to having my workspace in the middle of the living room is that I’m able to work in the middle of the chaos kids bring to life.
I’m available to the kids all day long. I no longer need intense concentration, and my kids are older, so if needed, I can easily ask for their quiet.
Why a closed-off workspace doesn’t work
You might be thinking you need the door closed all day long. You may think you need firm boundaries with your kids, and if the door is shut, they will leave you alone, and that will be the cue to them not to bug you.
Working at home with kids takes immense amounts of giving and take with the kids. And even more, letting go of all your plans.
You’ll have to be okay with not being able to get much more than a few minutes of uninterrupted time.
Your kids will decide when you get 20 minutes of silence, and when you don’t. If you try to force it with a closed door, you’ll end up with tears and fights.
Unless you try a flexible work schedule.
2. Flexible work and life schedule
The best way to get work done at home with kids is to rearrange your schedule and your kid’s schedule.
Flexibility is key.
If you can get up and work early and let your kids sleep in, you can easily get at least half your workday in before your kids wake up. For example, you can get up and start working at 5 am and work until 9 am, then get your kids up, and you can work 4 hours.
Finding a broken-up 4 hours throughout the rest of the day becomes much more manageable at this point because your mind shift has already changed. You feel accomplished and positive.
Think about how you can be more flexible with your schedule. If you have to get in a set number of hours per week, talk to your manager after you’ve come up with possible ideas.
- Can you make up hours on the weekend?
- Can you work late in the evening when the kids are in bed?
- If you have teenagers, they can sleep even later, and you can get almost a full workday complete before they wake up.
- Maybe you can take a nap with your little ones in the middle of the day if it allows you to get in 4 hours of work super early and late at night but then be present for them during the day.
Let go of ideal situations
You have to let go of the ideal situations and make do. Ideally, you wouldn’t let your kids sleep till noon. Ideally, you wouldn’t work from 10 pm-midnight.
But those are other people’s schedules. And maybe they don’t get to stay home with their kids and have to juggle a work-from-home life.
There will always be trades. And this is yours.
3. Dedicated kid time is just as valuable as dedicated work time.
When you get your kids up at 900 a.m., put your work aside entirely for at least an hour, and give your kids your full attention.
Usually, this fills your child’s bucket so full; that they’re willing to either entertain themselves for the next hour or so by themselves or, at the very least, they’re easier to get along with.
The biggest mistake I made in the early years of working from home was thinking I could do both equally well at the same time: mother and work.
I’d sit in bed with my laptop while my child read a book. I’d tell myself I was spending quality time with my kids and getting work done. If my kids asked questions, I’d say to them, “mommy’s working.”
I bought into the lie that it’s good for kids to see mommy working. Maybe it is, but is it good for them to see mommy working all the time? Every evening mommy is either sitting with her laptop, tapping away on her work phone, or taking phone calls? Never fully engaging in any child-related interest?
I clearly remember when my son was eight years old, and I reached for my iPad one evening for something not work-related. My son began crying and said, “mom, can you please stop working for once?”
It had gotten to the point he couldn’t stand to see me with any electronics: laptop, phone, or iPad. It took years for kids to see me with an iPad or my phone and be okay with it. In their minds, any electronics meant mom would be ignoring them and most likely would be short-tempered with them.
After that, I learned quickly what my hours would be and set my boundaries around work.
When my kids are in school, I make sure only to open my computer when the kids are away at school. The minute they come home, I shut my laptop.
During the summer or when the kids are out of school, it’s not so clear-cut. During these times is when I default back to the beginning of this post when I let my kids sleep in longer, and I get up early and work during the mornings. I can also get a lot done on Saturdays since the kids sleep longer.
I can also get a lot of work completed in the afternoons when the kids are either busy with friends or involved in their own activities like their online games or sports.
As a single mom, I can find the extra time when the kids are at their dad’s, but I never open the laptop or any emails on Sundays.
Every person will have their own boundaries. Whatever they are, determining what they will be at the beginning is helpful not only for your kids but also for yourself.
It prevents you from overworking (guilty!) and getting into situations with employers who will take full advantage of you if you don’t hold onto your boundaries from the beginning.
Since you aren’t leaving work at a physical workplace, employers are great with thinking they can ask you to work 24/7 if you don’t either refuse to answer emails or state from the beginning when you will and won’t work.
Should you tell your employer your kids are home?
Some employers will be sympathetic to you working from home with kids, and some would rather not hear about it.
For this reason, I prefer to never use my kids as a reason for why I can’t get on a teleconference or make a meeting at the last minute.
You can always attend a teleconference with no video and blame technology. If necessary and you can’t make a call at all (kids are fighting, a child is bleeding), then blame spotty internet.
Trust me, after over a decade of working from home; people do it all the time. I’ve been supervising people who work from home for the past three years, and while I can swear some of them are lying at times, I can’t prove it.
Don’t make a habit out of it, or your manager will insist you either upgrade your internet connection or start coming into the office, but also don’t beat yourself up if you need to take care of a crying baby instead of attending a call.
You will get caught up later even when it feels like you won’t at the time.
Bottom line – You will need to choose
There is no such thing as balancing work from home life with kids at home. What does exist – exchanges.
You exchange sleep for work. You exchange getting ahead in the company for more time with your kids. You exchange what your co-workers think of you for what your children think of you. You exchange the world’s idea of success for God’s definition of success.