It’s not always easy to work from home when you have children running around. The dream is that you get to spend all day with them, while still earning a living, but the reality might be very different. With fears over coronavirus spreading, many people are facing a few weeks with no childcare. So, as a former childcare expert who now runs a business at home with a toddler and a preschooler, here are my top tips for working at home when you have children.

Outsource

First of all, outsource everything you can. If you’re working at home as a short term measure then you might be able to outsource work-related tasks to a VA, a copywriter or even look at automation. Anything that cuts down on the amount you personally have to do.

The same applies to home tasks, if you have a teenager consider paying them to do things like cleaning and meal prep. It will keep them occupied for part of the day and free you up to work. At the very least, split housework between all the adults in the house. Think as well about anything you can cut back on. Of course, basic hygiene is especially important at the moment, but do all your meals need to be elaborate dishes cooked from scratch? Do the Pyjamas really need to be ironed?

Usually, a parent working from home would outsource at least some childcare by arranging play dates, having grandparents help out, sending older children to the cinema or working at a softplay center, as well as making use of formal childcare. Of course, if the aim is to reduce social contact and avoid spreading coronavirus then none of these are currently an option. Luckily there are plenty of other things you can do.

A laptop on a table, with a baby and toddler playing in the background.

Split childcare duty

If there are two parents working from home then arrange a trade-off so that you aren’t both trying to work at once. One of you could take the children for the morning while the other gets an early start to crack on with work tasks. After lunch you swap over and the other parent works a little later than usual. It’s surprising how little time you might need to do a “full day’s work.”

It’s best to set up some kind of home office, even if that’s a fold away table in your bedroom. If someone else is with the children, whoever is working from home really needs to be out of sight and sound. That way you cut down dramatically on interruptions.

Independent Play

This is the holy grail if you need to work at home! When you have children who happily occupy themselves for hours life is certainly much easier. Unfortunately it is a skill that needs to be learnt, but there’s no time like now to start. I usually find that it takes at least four or five days for a child who is used to being kept busy at school or nursery to stop asking for constant entertainment and start to just play. Be prepared for that transition time and expect a few days of constant interruptions.

You can encourage a bit of quiet playing by setting up open-ended activities like playdough or water play. Something you can supervise from the other side of the kitchen, and worry about cleaning it up later. You could also take your cue from nursery teachers and set up a small number of toys to look inviting, anything from a teddy’s tea party to dinosaurs building lego. Known as an “invitation to play”, children are much more likely to dive in and get absorbed when things are set up for them rather than shut away in boxes.

If you are interested in learning more about how to promote independent play over time, this is a great resource.

Make use of naps

If you have children who nap then that is your golden opportunity so don’t waste a second of it! When you plan your activities for the day decide on the most important thing you will do during naptime and make sure to start as soon as they go to sleep. If you finish that task and they haven’t woken up yet, move onto the next. It’s surprising how productive you can be in a couple of hours when you know it’s all you’ve got.

Routine

Most children like to have a structure to their day, something that lets them know what’s coming next and helps them to feel safe and secure. Depending on the age of the child, developing a new routine while you are at home might help your days to flow much better. It will take a few days to sink in but pretty soon everyone will know what to expect.

You already know that you won’t be able to work 9-5 without interruption, so build child-focused time into your plan. Perhaps you all go out for a walk, then when you return they do schoolwork or craft activities while you write emails. An older child could be in charge of making sandwiches for lunch, then you stop work and all eat together.

You might also need to work for a few hours in the evening, or even early in the morning before the children wake up. Try to see that as an exchange, you are just swapping things around. You’ll gain a few hours to bake a cake with your four year old in the afternoon and give up mindless channel surfing instead.

Manage Expectations

Make sure everyone is realistic about what the next few weeks will look like. You’ll run into problems if your boss expects you to be available for video calls at any time of day, your children are looking forward to an extended holiday and your spouse thinks you can do all the housework, since you’re at home anyway.

Be very clear to everyone about what you can and can’t do, then stick to whatever you’ve promised.

Use screens

If you have a strict policy on screentime this might be the moment to consider relaxing it. Of course for some children, screentime leads directly to poor behaviour so if that’s your situation its probably best avoided. If not, a little bit more TV than usual could give you that extra breathing room you need to get your work done.

Ditch the guilt

Working from home when you have children around is not easy. There will be times when it goes well, but there will also be moments when you just want to run away to the office (or give up work to be a stay at home mum!) Whatever happens, you’re doing your best in a difficult situation so take a deep breath, forgive yourself, hug your children, learn any lessons and move on.

You certainly won’t be the only one.

Categories: Working Mums