Kids home from school? Have a toddler who can’t attend preschool? Here are my tips for working from home WITH kids. These tips make a hard job easier.
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My first son was born in 2011 and I started blogging as a fun activity on the side. Almost nine years later, I built my blog into a business and now have three children, ages 2, 6, and 8. I’ve built a lot of my business while being a stay at home mom.
In January or February 2020, I decided I’d had enough. I wanted dedicated, uninterrupted time to work. I decided to put my 2 year old in school more frequently. My oldest sons were in kindergarten and 2nd grade.
At that point, I was trying to decide between hiring an au pair to come live with us or just signing up for more hours at a daycare.
Just as I was finalizing some paperwork for daycare, COVID shut everything down. So not only did I have my 2 year old home, my two older kids were home and needed to be home schooled. I signed the paperwork for the au pair to come in July. I kept telling myself, “I just need to hang in there until July… then I’ll have another set of hands!”
Then in late June, Trump signed an executive order to block anyone from getting Visas to come into the country until December 31, 2020. So our lovely au pair isn’t able to come now (hopefully she’ll still be able to come in January).
I locked myself in the bathroom and cried hysterically off and on for two days and my husband was like, “Hey Danielle were you upset the other day?”
No, not at all… why would I be upset…. ((internal screaming)).
I’ve been dealing with the frustration of trying to work from home with kids for almost 9 years now and FRIENDS!!! It IS NOT SUSTAINABLE LONG TERM. It’s doable, but trying to multi-task all of the time makes it very difficult.
A quick note— I called my PCP the other day and asked for an antidepressant because I was spending too much time crying and curled up in a ball of energy-less apathy. I feel like I’ve had a pretty good handle on my anxiety and depression in the past years, but this situation has made it very hard to cope. Please, if you’re feeling like I do, speak to a doctor or therapist. There are so many fantastic coping mechanisms for depression and anxiety, but many of them aren’t “pandemic friendly.” Sometimes we need a little help to get through things.
Despite my warnings about this being extremely frustrating and not sustainable, sometimes we don’t have options. The reality is that as this continues, women, in particular, will be “taking one for the team” when it comes to parenting and homeschooling through a pandemic.
According to this Washington Post article, there’s currently “a 12 percentage point drop in mothers’ labor force participation with no detectable impact on fathers.” Day cares aren’t open or they’re open at reduced capacity. For the day cares that are open, if a child comes in with a fever, the entire classroom gets sent home until the child has a negative COVID test, or until a 2 week quarantine period has passed.
What this boils down to is that you may end up working at home with the kids around. Or we’ll see parents quit jobs to stay at home with their children for lack of better options.
So let’s talk about how to work at home successfully. I have a LOT of tips that have helped me over the past nine years; PLEASE leave your tips in the comments! Parents need to come together and talk about WHAT WORKS! We need to brainstorm ideas so we can survive this!
First, here’s a video of my tips….
If you aren’t a video person, keep reading.
Table of contents
- Ideal Work Time
- Setting up Play Zones
- Mother’s Helpers/Trading Kids/Outsource
- “Mommy Can You Play With Me?”
- Getting Kids Involved in Your Work
- Dealing with Siblings Fighting
- Avoid High Frustration Tasks
- The Importance of Schedules
- What does this all look like?
- Activity: Organizing What Tasks to Do When
Tips for Working from Home with Children!
Ideal Work Time
For solo, uninterrupted work time, you are looking at three times during your day: nap time, after bedtime, or during screen time.
Add up how many hours that is… it’ll give you a good idea of how much focused time you will get.
My rule is that screen time is me time… so if they’re fighting during screen time or interrupting me, screen time is over. They get one reminder before I cut that off for the day. My older kids get two hours of video game time on non school days with time deducted if they misbehave.
Safe Play Zones
Set up a safe play zone, or multiple zones in your home where they can play nearby as you work.
I find it BEST to have bins of toys… they can have one bin to play with, then once they clean that up, they can swap it out for another.
Sensory bins or other types of sensory play are fantastic for keeping young kids engaged for a while so you can work.
If they get bored with one zone, it’s helpful to have a change of scenery. That’s where having a couple of zones to work is helpful. You could even work on the deck while the kids play with the water table.
Mother’s Helpers / Trading Kids / Outsource Tasks
While the middle of a pandemic might be a bad time to be using babysitters or trading kids, I think it makes sense to setup small playgroups where you can swap kids. This allows the kids to still get some socialization without increasing your chances of getting sick by a lot (assuming you trust the other family/ies).
For the Fall, if schools aren’t in session normally, small homeschooling pods might make sense. Johnny, Suzy, and Sam go to Sam’s house once a week for math and social studies, they go to Suzy’s house once a week for reading, and they go to Johnny’s house once a week for science.
These swaps mean that you need to dedicate some time when it’s your turn to supervising extra kids, but it also means that you have 100% kid free time on your days off.
Hiring a mother’s helper or babysitter is a great plan if you can find a consistent provider. I won’t speak to the safety piece with COVID, but I want to remind you that it’s important to consider the cost of a babysitter vs. the cost of outsourcing a task.
If it costs me $15-20/hr for a babysitter and I can outsource a task for the same or less, then I will outsource.
Just remember that if someone charges $50/hr for what is a one hour job for them, but it would take you 5 hours to complete, it’s cheaper to hire them than to get a babysitter.
Naturally, if you don’t work for yourself then you need to run any outsourcing by your management team.
You can also outsource other tasks like house cleaning or cooking (RealEats is a company that delivers quick, healthy meals that only need to be heated up).
“Mommy Can You Play with Me?”
Set up times to play with your kids through your day. I recommend making these dual purpose events. For example, if you need to prepare a meal then have your child help you prepare the meal. Exercising is always a good way to break up your day… have a dance party.
If my kids ask me to play, I usually request they clean up their mess first (or do some other task). It gives me a moment to wrap up what I was doing. Occasionally they’ll engage back with their toys and forget.
With little kids, I will sometimes setup time increments of work vs. play. “Let’s set a timer for 15 minutes. Once mommy has worked uninterrupted for 15 minutes, I’ll play with you for 15 minutes.” You can use longer periods when they’re older, but young kids need shorter wait times.
Getting Kids Involved in Your Work
This requires some creativity, but can be feasible for some jobs. When I was young, I used to sit in my dad’s drafting table (he’s a builder) and draw up plans for my dream home and the castle I wanted to build. I let my kids help me iron fabric when I’m sewing, or use my screwdriver to put together something I’m building. Painting? Give them their own canvas to paint.
Hands on jobs are easier for kids to help with, but get creative.
You can also consider paying your older kids a small “mother’s helper” fee to watch a younger sibling.
Dealing with Fighting Children
If you have more than one child, your kids will get in arguments or fight. This is why I like being nearby, particularly if the kids are younger. I keep an ear open to escalating behavior (the little things they say that are obviously leading up to them punching each other)).
If I hear something that seems like it’s going bad places, I try to distract them. DO NOT ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION. Pretend you didn’t even hear it. I might ask one kid to let the dog out, or ask them to both go to their rooms to get their dirty laundry together. Ideally, you get them away from each other for 5 minutes so you can disrupt the “conversation.”
Naturally, if they hit each other or are rude, they have a consequence. I really like the 1-2-3 Magic method for parenting because it’s simple and easy to implement.
Working from home IS NOT FEASIBLE if you do all of the chores too. Everyone needs to pitch in. Throw on the clean up song every day and everyone in the family can do a quick cleaning for 10 minutes.
My older kids are responsible for putting away clean dishes and putting away their clean clothing. The toddler helps with small tasks through my day as I request help. He cleans up his toys.
Consider putting together a list of chores for everyone in the family so they’re divided evenly.
Avoid High Frustration Tasks
For every job, there are a few “high frustration tasks” that you should avoid while the kids are awake, if possible. High frustration tasks are ones where, when interrupted, you feel yourself get REALLY MAD at your kids. They may also be tasks that you end up having to do over and over because the kids are in the background.
For example, I do a lot of video editing. I HATE having to edit out kids’ noise in the background. A 10 minute job can take an hour with them around. So I save that task for when they’re quiet.
If you have a conference call at 10 am, you cannot give your kids screen time prior. Prior to 10, you need to make sure they’ve been playing HARD so they’re ready to take a rest. At 9:55 am, you give them a snack, a drink, and the iPad. This should get you through the meeting (hopefully).
We all thrive on a schedule. If kids know what to expect, they’re more likely to be compliant and helpful.
MAKE A SCHEDULE. Stick to it.
I did this schedule with my Cricut for last school year and my kids really responded well. I should probably do another for Fall if we home school.
If you plan out your schedule, it will feel like your time is a bit more in your control. Just make sure to be realistic. Your schedule can’t be: “Work from 9-5 while my 2 year old plays independently.”
What does this look like?
If you want to see what working from home with kids looks like- the good, the bad, and the ugly, you should check out some of my video series from September 2016 on YouTube. I did a series of DIY gift ideas and my kids participated in quite a few of the videos. I have cut scenes to the ends of a few of them that are nothing short of hilarious. Two favorites include the cut scenes at 10:30 for my DIY Grocery Bag Holders and 7:30 for my DIY Bread Bags.
It’s stressful to work from home while parenting. Sometimes it’ll feel like you spent twice as long working to get half as much done. But it can be done.
ACTIVITY: Work From Home Planning
Okay so here’s where you need to sit down and plan out your work (and home) tasks. If your job is fairly consistent, you only need to do this once.
Create a table with FOUR columns:
- Short tasks: Things you can complete in 15 minute increments
- Multi-tasking: Things you can do while doing other tasks
- Solo/high frustration tasks
- Tasks you can involve your kids in
So just to give you an idea, this might be what my tasks look like… I didn’t fill it out completely…
You should also make a list of short activities you can do with your kids when you take breaks from working- things like a short dance party, yoga, coloring together, baking something sweet, board game, etc.
Make a chore list for everyone in the house, including your spouse. See if there are any tasks you can outsource or automate (ie. we have an automatic lawn mower for our backyard). Figure out if there’s anywhere you can save time.
Last, make your schedule. Prepare to be flexible. Good luck.
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