Working from home isn't easy, but it is very possible even with kids at home. This work from home homeschooling mom offers 12 tips for giving your job your best while still being a mom and caring for your kids.
For the first part of my working life, I was a high school teacher. Teaching requires a lot of nights and weekends spent grading papers and planning lessons. The day doesn't end when you walk out the door. So my first daughter was used to me putting in time outside of work to accomplish work tasks.
For the second part of my working life, I worked from home. I left teaching when my second daughter was born, and I started working from home shortly after. It was tough in those early days because I had a newborn and a 3-year-old, and they both needed a lot of hands-on maintenance. Joe worked during the days while I took care of the kids, and I worked at night while he took care of them. We couldn't have done it any other way.
As my kids got older, my work from home experience changed. I went through several different jobs and schedules as companies closed and contracts ended, always preferring to work in the evenings and into the night. But at one important juncture, I changed from part-time employee to full-time employee, and with that came a schedule change. Companies expect their full-time employees to work normal business hours which meant I would have to manage my kids and my job at the same time. Today, my kids are 9 and 12, and I work from home at a full time 7:30-4 job for a multi-national health insurance company and homeschool them in the evenings.
It is possible, mama. It is also hard. There is no denying that it is hard, especially if your kids are a lot younger than mine. But you CAN do it.
How to Work from Home with Kids - 12 Tips from a 9 Year Veteran Work from Home Homeschooling Mom
Working from home with kids is not an ideal situation. I'll be honest. It would be easier, maybe even better, if you could not work at all or if you could send your kids off to school while you work.
Whether you are committed to homeschooling or you have been forced into this situation by circumstances outside of your control, you need ways to manage the chaos. Here's how I do it:
- Don't wake them up in the morning. Let them sleep in as long as their bodies need, within reason. Let them stay up a little later than you normally would to encourage them to sleep later in the morning.
What does this look like in real life? I used to make my kids go to bed between 8 and 9 pm, and they woke up between 6 and 8. I didn't wake them, but they naturally woke up. I've relaxed that quite a bit in the last year, and now, I let them stay up as late as they want. My 9-year-old is usually in bed by 10, and my 12-year-old stays up a little later but not much. As a result, they sleep in a little later. Allie, the 9-year-old, sometimes gets up as late as 10:30, and I'm totally okay with that. Now, having said that, if my kids were waking up at noon, I would have a problem. I would enforce an earlier bedtime and an earlier wake up time. But if it's within reason, I'm okay with them staying up later and waking later because it gives me more quiet time in the morning.
- Let them pursue their passions as they see fit. I can see this point as being controversial, but hear me out. During my work hours, I place no restrictions on screen time. Absolutely none. If my kids want to watch tv or YouTube the entire 8 hours I'm working, I allow it. Here's why: screens keep them quiet and engaged. Is this ideal? No, it is not. Would I prefer they limit their screen time to an hour or two a day? Yes, of course. But this is real life, and I have to have quiet to get my work done, and they have to entertain themselves for long stretches of the day.
When I started my current job, I initially limited screen time to 2 hours per day. After the 2 hours were up, my kids harassed me for something to do. We were using Brave Writer at the time (this is a language arts curriculum for homeschoolers), and Julie Bogart, the brilliant author, told me to let them use screens as much as they wanted to pursue their own passions. "What will it hurt?" she asked me. "If they are doing something they love, they are learning. Let them learn." So I did.
What does this look like in real life? Allie loves Minecraft. She spends a good chunk of her day playing Minecraft and a good chunk watching Minecraft videos on YouTube. She has learned an incredible amount about renewable and non-renewable resources, mineralogy, and more. Grace loves drawing. She spends a good chunk of her day actually drawing on paper and drawing on our iPad Pro and a good chunk watching drawing tutorials on YouTube. She has learned all kinds of new techniques and concepts including perspective and shading. She also practices the piano willingly several times a day.
Kids need to be able to explore their passions, and sometimes YouTube is the best way to do it. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of really good YouTube tutorials happening right now as educators and artists try to help families quarantined by COVID-19, and once you find some that your kids like, they will go to town experimenting and watching.
- Organize stations. Stations make it easy for kids to do what they want to do without direction or guidance from you. Once you remove the limits on screen time, it no longer becomes something to be devoured at every opportunity. (It will be devoured endlessly for a few days, so be prepared for that, but the obsession will peter out and they will get bored with YouTube or whatever they have been doing.) If you plan ahead and organize enticing stations for your kids, they will naturally play and occupy themselves without their screens and without your intervention.
What does this look like in real life? Allie has Lego in a trunk next to a small table in the living room. She has Barbies in a bin next to her Barbie house, also in the living room. She has some one-player logic games and puzzles in a box in the living room closet. Grace has boxes of art supplies next to the desk in her bedroom, and the craft supplies are on several large bookshelves in our basement.
- School doesn't have to happen in the morning. This is so important if you have set work hours like me. There is no reason that school has to happen during work hours. Get the schoolwork done after work. Do it after supper. Do it in the afternoons. Do it anytime that they - and you - want to.
What does this look like in real life? My kids do their schoolwork in the evening, sometimes right before supper and sometimes right after, often a little of both. It gets crazy when we have lessons and activities in the evenings, and sometimes we end up doing it on the weekend, but we still get in the required number of days per week and per year, so it all works out.
- Teach them to feed themselves. When you are working, you can't be running to the kitchen every hour to make snacks, so you need to get things that they can prepare on their own and eat when they want. Put out bins on the table with allowed snacks, and even ration them by child if you want, and let them know that they are there and available when they want them. Give up the control of who eats what when and let them self-manage.
What does this look like in real life? We don't limit snacks by kid. They know that there are low fat mozzarella sticks in the refrigerator, crackers and peanut butter in the pantry, apples and Cuties in the fruit bowl, and cereal on top of the fridge. Sometimes we have applesauce pouches, almonds, and packages of cheese crackers. I make sure the girls know exactly where to find each item, and I make sure they are stocked enough for several snacks per day. Sometimes I make a lunch of Ramen noodles (Allie's favorite food) or grilled cheese, but more often than not, they just snack all day and skip a noon meal.
- Set clear boundaries. You have to work, and there are certain times of the day when you cannot be interrupted. Give your kids a clear boundary so that they know when it is okay to interrupt and when it is not okay.
What does this look like in real life? I took the door off my office so that I could put cat furniture up on the wall, so I no longer have that as a communication tool. However, my kids know what my conference call screen looks like, and they know that the only reason they can interrupt when that screen is open on my monitor is a life threatening emergency. If I am on a call and they do barge in, I hold my hand up in a stop sign. 99% of the time, this stops them and they resolve whatever problem they had. If it was a true emergency, they know they are allowed to persist.
- Give them the freedom to be independent. Kids are capable of self-monitoring if you let them. They will get bored with screens; I promise you that they will. When that happens, they will move on to other activities. They will get hungry, and they will feed themselves. If you expect them to clean up after themselves, they will do it (this might take some prompting at first). Freedom to be independent is empowering, and they will step up to the task.
What does this look like in real life? My kids self-monitor all day long. They basically do what they want when they want. They each have a printed and bound copy of my 150 Screen-Free Activities for Kids and Teens, and they use those when they get bored. Grace goes outside to draw on the table in the yard. Allie plays. They both read and listen to audiobooks. They know they have the freedom to do whatever feels right, so they are responsible for themselves. I check in with them when I can, and they know if I am not on a call, they can interrupt me, but they are fairly autonomous throughout the day.
- Choose your battles. You can't have everything you want. You just can't; get over it. Pick the things that are really important to you and enforce those, and let the rest go. Some battles are important, like picking up after yourself. Others are not. You get to decide what is and is not important.
What does this look like in real life? When I first started my current job, I told the girls that they had to go outside for an hour a day. They hated this, but I made them do it every single work day. They would sit on the picnic table on our back porch and yell in my office window, "How long do we have to stay out here?" "How long now?" "Can we come inside yet?" for the entire hour. I thought if I persevered, they would eventually go out and enjoy the backyard, but they didn't. After two weeks of the nonsense, I gave up and let them sit in the house all day long.
- Embrace good enough. This goes along with choosing your battles. Having your kids in front of screens for 8 hours a day is not ideal. I'm with you 100% on that. But the fact is that you have to work, and you have to work in peace, and they have to be quiet, so you have to be okay with them doing that on their own. Also, they will get bored, and that is totally okay. Boredom is good for the brain, and it inspires imagination and creativity. My kids have heard me say that at least three hundred times. "Boredom is good for your brain."
What does this look like in real life? As I've said several times before, I give my kids the freedom to pursue their own passions however they see fit. It's good enough. I know they are learning something no matter what they are doing, and I let them self monitor until I get done working and start the school business.
- You need a way to de-stress. This is a non-negotiable. Take a walk on your lunch break. Exercise is an amazing anti depressant and anti anxiety strategy, and it makes you feel really good. It's great for managing stress. Pair a walk with an engrossing audiobook, and you have a perfect way to destress and relax in the middle of a stressful situation.
What does this look like in real life? This is what I do every single working day: I set my computer's status to Away, I put in my Airpods (love love love my Airpods), I turn on an audiobook, and I leave the house for about 40 minutes. Every day. No matter what is happening. My kids know they are on their own while I'm walking.
- Close the door. When there is fighting or nonsense going on that is noisy, simply close the door and block it out. Let them work out whatever the problem is. If it's an emergency, they will come find you and let you know, but you don't have to be involved in most issues.
What does this look like in real life? I already told you that I took the door off the hinges in my office, so I can't do this. But before I removed it, I closed the door once in a while to give myself more quiet and less nonsense.
- Plan ahead. You have to plan ahead for snacks and food, for toys and games, and for other activities. Working from home takes some set up. I make screen-free time happen often using Kiwi Crates which I've explained below. I like them because they are self-contained and 100% kid-ready.
What does this look like in real life? I already mentioned how we have stations at different areas of the house. We also subscribe to Kiwi Crates which give the kids pre-planned activity boxes with kid-friendly instructions to make on their own. They have the ones below, and there are a few more including the Eureka Crate which is for ages 14 and up. I have a friend who gets that one for her daughter, and they love it. Her most recent project was a fully functional desk lamp with electricity. It was really cool. In case you're wondering, I purchased a yearlong subscription to the Kiwi Crate for Allie and the Doodle Crate for Grace, and they have both been very age appropriate.
So that's it. Those are my 12 suggestions for working from home while your kids are also at home. I know it's not easy or ideal, but it is possible if you embrace the concept that good enough is okay. You CAN do this.
How are you coping with your kids while you work at home?