Being a parent of young children is a full-time job, but what if you have to work while caring for your kids?
It’s a challenge when you need to focus on important tasks while one or more kids scream for snacks and attention or attempt dangerous stunts around the house.
You want to be brilliant at being a parent, but you also want to succeed at your career.
The thing is, I’m going to be honest right up front. You will never be able to work full-time daylight hours at home while caring for young children.
As feminists and people with ambition, we want to be able to have it all. But if you are working from home full-time, with no childcare for help, then unfortunately you need to accept that not everything is possible.
Now that’s not to say you can’t earn a full-time income while caring for kids. You just need to get creative with the hours you need to put in.
What you do need to accept is that a 9 to 5 working day while the kids are around just is not possible. It’s not the same as when you’re in the office and it never will be.
But you can definitely get a few hours of work in while caring for kids at home. It’s absolutely possible. We just need to get a little creative!
My working from home story
I have been working from home while caring for one or both of my kids for two years.
In that time I have occasionally had the kids in a day or two of childcare to help out. However for long spells I have had no childcare.
Since leaving my full-time job as a journalist for a national newspaper in 2018 I have made money through this blog and as a freelance PR consultant.
Thankfully this is work that I can do in my own hours most of the time. Sometimes I have had to call on help when there is a set meeting I have to attend out of the house.
But I have been able to muddle through, some days easier than others, to the point where I earn enough money to get by while also spending extra time with the children.
I am able to be there for the school run every morning and afternoon, and I spend way more time with my three-year-old than I was able to do with her sister when she was a toddler.
So if you’re facing a short or long spell of working from home while caring for your children, here are some tips for getting through the challenge of juggling two very different jobs.
Set up space for everyone in your house
It’s important to make sure the house works for everyone depending on their needs.
Your children need a safe space for them to play. Depending on their age, you may need to work close by where you can actually see them to ensure they are safe.
A baby will need to play, and sleep if they are under six months, in the same room as you. So set up the room where you need to work with a comfortable desk and chair for you, as well as a play mat, bouncy chair and toys for your baby.
For toddlers, a small table and chair can be a brilliant way of giving them a work space to do colouring or play with play dough.
We are lucky enough to have a conservatory which we have set up as the children’s playroom. It has a table and chairs, comfy seats for chilling out with a book and lots of toys such as Lego.
This is a safe space for them, and it’s also easy for me to sit close by and monitor what they are up to.
Take a look at the layout of your house and think about any changes you could make to make working while supervising your children a little easier.
Find ways to gain an hour of quiet time
Sometimes you have to get creative, but there are ways you can gain an hour of quiet time so you can get crucial tasks done.
I have an entire blog post with tips for how to gain an hour of quiet time, but one of the most effective ones is to set them challenges with a timer to show them when they can show you what they have done.
You may need to spend around 10 minutes getting them set up with an activity but once they’re doing it this can be a great way to motivate them to just get on with something alone.
Sometimes I challenge mine to make a meal using play dough. Other times I ask them to build a special house for their Lego characters.
Tell them that when the hour is up you will come and check out what they have done.
Establish a routine
Try creating the routine with both yours and your children’s needs in mind.
Figure out how many hours of work you want to achieve during the day, and then split it into chunks (you need to get really good at working hard for 10 minutes, then being interrupted, then getting back to the task again!).
Be disciplined when it comes to getting up early and starting at a normal working hour, however accept that the first thing you may need to do is set the children up with something to keep them busy.
If you like to get some tasks done first thing in the morning, you may need to set your alarm an hour or two early so you can get up while everyone is sleeping and make some progress.
Once your children are up and dressed, then do something productive with them. If you are home schooling, spend 45 minutes doing some work on reading, writing or maths, then offer them something creative to do.
If you are home schooling, it’s worth remembering that even in school young children will only spend around an hour or two maximum doing constructive learning every day. Don’t pressure yourself to spend hours and hours on tuition with your kids!
Once your have spent a couple of hours with the children in the morning, it’s time for you. Get them distracted with an activity or something on television and give yourself a solid hour before lunchtime.
After lunch do some more parent-led activities with them, similar to the morning, before allowing them to choose how they play. Then you can get some more time to do work.
It may be that you need to work some more in the evening, especially if things don’t go to plan during the day. While you can set a routine, you need to have some flexibility with young children, who won’t understand why you need to spend some time at your desk.
Our typical daily work from home routine looks like this:
- 7am – Wake up and have breakfast
- 8am – Get everyone dressed
- 8.30am – Do a fun learning activity about the alphabet, writing, spelling or numbers. This could involve using work sheets, doing games on the computer or challenging the children to spell words of things they see around the house.
- 9.30am – Creative activity such as baking.
- 10.30am – Mum does some work while kids are distracted with TV, drawing, Lego or play dough
- 12midday – lunch
- 1pm – Fun learning activity
- 2pm – Play
- 2.30pm – Mum does some work while kids are distracted
- 5pm – Dinner
- 6pm – There may be an opportunity to do some work now while kids are playing before bedtime.
- 7pm – Bedtime
Try to maintain your patience
It’s worth remembering that even when you’re not actively playing with your kids they will still of course be asking you for things. They may want a drink, a snack, a hug or to ask you a million questions.
It’s tough to keep your patience, especially if you have managed to focus your concentration on something only for it to be broken at a crucial moment.
Try to remember that this is not your children’s fault, or choice, that you’re trying to mesh two different aspects of your life together.
The kids need to come first at all times. While work deadlines are of course important, you may need to accept that much of the work you need to get done may need to be done in the evenings.
Mix things up with fun activities together
It’s important to do some home learning activities with your kids, but they learn just as much from play, especially in the early years.
Creative play gets your child’s imagination flowing and helps them to grow in confidence.
Creative activities could include baking, painting, making something from old toilet rolls and cereal boxes, or going on a bug hunt in the garden then drawing the creatures they find. You could challenge your kids to make a treasure map to something hidden in the garden or house.
Make the most of nap time
If you are lucky enough to have a child who still naps, then make the most of this time!
It can be easy to sit down and get lost in social media updates or waste away an hour watching TV.
Unfortunately if you have work to do, now is the time to get on and do it. My children used to nap for around two hours after lunch and if you are focused there is a whole lot you can get done in those two hours.
To ease the pain of not being able to use this time as a break for yourself, be sure to reward yourself with snacks. Keep them healthy if you’re worried about overindulging, but now’s a good time to crack out the treats as your child won’t be able to steal them!
Allow them to be bored
If you set up activities and play for every minute of the day then you will be exhausted.
Sometimes children just need to be bored, and actually studies have shown it’s extremely good for them to be left to their own devices.
Being bored forces children to find their own ways to entertain themselves. They create little games, scenarios and imaginary playmates in their heads.
While you may experience complaints for 30 minutes or so, many children quickly find a way to occupy themselves when left to their own devices.
Don’t forget, they are in a house of toys and so have plenty of things they can pick up and use to entertain themselves.
Use resources available to teach and entertain children
It’s incredible how many free resources are available online for toddlers and young children.
You can print off colouring sheets, worksheets, challenges, treasure hunt lists, mazes and more.
I have a list of great websites offering free resources over on this blog post.
It’s well worth researching what is out there, because you’ll likely find enough to fill every day for the next year!
Be honest with colleagues and your boss
Don’t try to work with young children in the house without your boss being fully aware of your situation.
At some point you will be caught out! Your kids might scream during a conference call or suddenly appear in the shot of your Zoom conference, kind of like what happened to Robert Kelly when he appeared on BBC News and his kids crashed the live interview.
It’s better to be totally up front with your boss and any colleagues or potential clients that you have kids at home with you.
This way they won’t feel misled. If you’re working to your best ability and meeting targets, they shouldn’t discriminate against you because of this.
Use screens where you need to
There’s nothing wrong with getting an iPad, smartphone of Amazon Fire tablet and using it to give your child something to do.
There are plenty of educational activities you can use on these devices and really it’s all about moderation. If you are balancing screen time with other activities too, its absolutely fine!
The more you vary the activities you give your kids to do the more likely you can distract them for periods of time, so don’t feel bad about using a screen!
Don’t knock yourself for one or two bad days
Some days you will feel like you got absolutely nothing done. It will seem as if you didn’t help the kids learn anything at all and you haven’t managed to do any work.
This is totally normal and not something you should dwell on. Bad days will happen, whether it’s because your kids are feeling grouchy or they’re not very well.
You can try to make up for these days by scheduling in some time to work at the weekend when your partner can help. Otherwise you may have to rely on the television more than you might prefer to.
Squash the guilt and use whatever means necessary to distract your kids so that you can get some stuff done.
I hope these tips have given you some useful ideas for what to do when working at home with your children!
You may also find these posts with play ideas useful: