Working from home with kids – 15 tips to make it work
So, I’ve shared my top pantry tips during self-isolation, but navigating working from home with kids might be even more pressing right now.
Life as you know it has changed, in the most unimaginable way. Popping to the shops is a big deal. You’re working from home. More to the point, if you’ve got kids at home.
If you’re working from home with toddlers, or older children, I feel you. This is the biggest juggle of your life. Your kids need attention and if they’re school age, you’re expected to follow some sort of learning schedule.
I don’t have school age kids, but I do have a bright, inquisitive two-year-old that (understandably) wants all of mummy’s attention. So I’m very much in the camp of working at home with a toddler. Oh, and she doesn’t nap. She never slept well. And I’m expecting baby no.2 any day now.
The difference is, this has been my life since my daughter was born. Minus the quarantine and social distancing, of course. I set up my own PR consultancy in 2015, thinking I’d carry on as normal after my daughter was born in 2017, working while she sleeps (yeah, I know, what was I thinking?). I tried nannies and nursery, but it neither were the right fit. So I worked around her. Not full-time, I must add, but I kept things going, working on my consultancy, blog, and then more recently wrote my book (you could say I got issues).
So juggling for me isn’t the scary new normal it is for many others. Therefore I wanted to share some ideas that worked for me, that may just help you in this crazy unusual time. I’ve also dipped into the experience of others, as we’re all going through this together.
But before I dive in, I want to share some disclaimers:
- I am NOT a smug mum. I have not got my sh*t together at all. I make mistakes. I don’t want to come across as a preachy Supermum. I am far from this. I wanted to put this out there straight away as it’s hard enough for us mums to make it work without feeling like other mums have it sorted.
- What works for my family might not work for yours. My daughter is two-and-a-half, so you might need to adjust tips to make them age appropriate for your kids. I’ll try and make them relevant where I can.
- This is NOT a plan for doing an eight-hour shift. I personally think you shouldn’t be expected to in the current climate. But that’s a debate above my pay grade.
- I run my own business so I work my own hours. This might seem easier, yet in some ways it’s harder. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.
So here are my top 15 tips for working from home with kids:
Start with a to-do list, with some built in slack
I’m a big fan of to-do lists. I start the day with a handwritten to-do list in my journal. The list is usually quite long, and I sometimes include life admin in there too (i.e. order my daughter’s Aveeno cream).
As life and work have merged together like never before, I think it’s easier and less overwhelming to keep one list rather than have to manage two. The reason my list is long is because I allow it to spill over to the next day is tasks aren’t completed. Also, if I don’t write on the list, I’ll forget.
This bit is important, I put a disclaimer at the bottom of the list, saying if I can only do 10% of what’s on the list, then that’s OK. This takes the pressure off, and as a result I end up doing much more than 10% and feel very good about it. This disclaimer has a real psychological benefit, you’ll likely do more than 10% and feel good about it, rather than beating yourself up about not completing your exhaustive list.
Relax about screen time – TV isn’t the enemy
Yes, we’ve all heard the guidance around screen time. There was a report a while back about limiting it to one hour a day for kids (lol). My totally non-expert view is that unless these advisers want to offer up some free babysitting, they can keep their unrealistic advice to themselves. I think it’s what you watch rather than how much screen time that makes the difference. There’s a wealth of programmes on CBeebies which are actually pretty educational – Alphablocks and Numberblocks, Yakka Dee… Not Bing though. That annoying bunny gets away with murder and Flop never reprimands him, making the rest of us look like bad parents. Oh and I don’t like Tiny Pop, the bright, loud insane colours have me tripping.
Abandon the classroom structure
You don’t have to replicate the school environment at home. Many a homeschooling teacher will attest this. Kids learn from arts and crafts (fine motor skills) outdoor play (understanding nature and textures), and as I mentioned there are many educational programmes on TV. Coming to think of it, when I was in school, we often had screen time (anyone remember Badger Girl and Geordie Racer?). I never thought for a second that the teachers were skiving. They probably were.
IPhone notes are your friend
Yeah, so you know how people say they want to write a book while they’re on mat leave? We’ll I’m one of those weirdos that actually went and did it. Except I wasn’t quite on mat leave, I was freelancing as a PR consultant, running a blog and looking after a toddler at the time of writing my debut novel. And since last summer, I threw pregnancy into the mix. (Side note: the book is here, as if you’ve got time to read it).
As my work mainly revolves around writing, one of my biggest tools was the notes section on my IPhone. I literally drafted chapters on there. Many a blog post was drafted while I was nursing my daughter at night. It kept me sane and on top of the load. Obviously the drafts were riddled with grammatical errors, but I’d tidy them up on my laptop in the clear light of day and I was good to go. I couldn’t tell you how many hours of work I saved with this method. So if you can’t always access a laptop, considering utilising the notes function on your phone.
Allow yourself angry days, but don’t let it carry over
Let’s not sugar-coat it, this is a weird, rubbish and unprecedented time. So you’re allowed to be resentful, annoyed and feeling just a bit sorry for yourself. It’s hard enough seeing social media posts about perfect schedules, and memes about how we’ve got to get on with it. And we do have to get onto it. But embrace your right to whinge.
Mum guilt is bad enough without feeling guilty about working too much/not working enough/ not making organic meals from scratch. So let rip, have a day where you don’t get changed or brush your hair. However my advice would be don’t let that day spill over to the next. Give yourself a day to whinge and feel upset at everyone and everything, draw a line under it, and start afresh tomorrow.
When working from home, you’ll find lots of excuses not to do work – so create a ‘home office’
When I first started freelancing, I was working from my living room using a dining chair. But being inches from the sofa and TV was just weird. Particularly the days that I had lunch at home too, as work and home seemed to become one. So turning our spare bedroom into an office was the best thing I could have done. Having at least some sort of separation meant that I felt like I was working. This might not work for you, but is there a space that you can make ‘mummy’s work corner’?
Find the time to work that suits you and your schedule
I heard a rumour that employers expect kids to gatecrash conference calls. Is this true? It should be. Aside from compulsory calls and deadlines, exercise flexibity where you can. This mean doing an hour in the evening when the kids are asleep, or on the weekend when you can share childcare duties. Yeah it sucks, but it’s the new normal. Plus it’s not like any of us have hectic social calendars right now.
Find a way for the kids to get involved
So I made a magical discovery the other day. Hannah feels left out if I’m on the laptop typing away. Yet she has no issue when I’m writing a business plan/calendar in coloured crayon on an A3 sheet of paper. Why? Because she can create her own ‘plan’ at the same time. She thinks it’s playtime and we’re both colouring in. I got to write my 2020/2021 planner (yes it was in mutlicoloured crayon), which there would have been no chance to do if I was huddled over my laptop. So if you’ve got a pitch to plan for, or minutes to write up, try this method while your small thinks they’re involved.
This tip extends to domestic chores. Kids just love getting involved in grown-up things. Hannah’s been peeling garlic with me, even loading the washing machine. Please don’t tell social services.
Play to their independence
Find that one task that they just have to do by themselves. Every kid has one activity or game that pushes them just the right amount, which really plays to their independence. For my daughter, when it comes to jigsaw puzzles and block building, I absolutely have to be involved, sat there on all fours while heavily pregnant.
However, we recently bought a coloured sand mould packet thing. Initially, I resented the purchase. It’s wet sand that looks messy, pointless and a bit toxic but she absolutely loves it. I can sit her next to me on the table while she plays with this and I do my work. It’s the best £3 I’ve spent. So find that task that they just have to do by themselves without mummy’s involvement and give them lots of praise when they complete it (on their own). You get to do your work, they get to play and you’re both together but not. That’s a win-win.
Another mum’s top tips on working from home when the kids are home:
Dr Irute Karanicholos, an associate professor in Marketing from London, says:
- Harsh prioritisation – only do jobs that are important and not the ones that are urgent. There are four types of jobs: 1) important and urgent, 2) important and not urgent, 3) not important and urgent and 4) not important and not urgent. Some researchers found that most of the jobs that we do on daily basis may, unfortunately, be unimportant but urgent. Emails may seem like the one which takes up a lot of the time and never ends – schedule a time for it (eg. 30min in the morning, midday and towards the end of the day and no more). Stay focused on what really matters (important jobs) – this is what we are paid for and what will create a better future for us and our families.
- Not every jobs needs to be performed to a high standard and even not all job need to be performed to the deadline – it is ok to not be perfectionist at times and even miss deadlines – makes us more human and, importantly, alleviates pressure from us. I found myself constantly trying to deal with guilt and I honestly feel happier when I do not expect 100% or even more from myself. So expect a little and get a lot.
- Accept the fact things will NOT go to the plan and you will feel amazed by how much you can do.
Tips from the experts
Amanda Cullen, who runs Business Made Simpler – Coaching and Workshops for Small Business Owners, says:
As we all know, these are incredibly challenging times. I am reminding everyone (including myself) to be kind to themselves, let go of what can’t be managed and focus on what can. Neuroscience (the study of the brain) tells us that we need three things for our brains to function effectively:
So we need to make sure we eat well, take some regular exercise (even at home yoga) and get plenty of rest in order to stay resilient.
Paula Ruane, Stress specialist, resilience trainer and speaker, says:
If your children (or partner) are driving you mad, go out for short walk, even if only in your garden. Walk slowly and leisurely and look around making a point of listening out for how many different birds you hear. This is to allow the mind and brain to come out of the reactive, black/white – yes/no – flight/flight area and put the empathetic, reasonable, resourceful and creative part of the brain online again.
If your partner’s at home, remember that a partnership is not 50/50, but 100%/100%. If the other person isn’t stepping up, you must be the bigger person. In the overall scheme of things, what does it really matter if the loo seat is left up, yesterday’s clothes on the floor?
On that note, I would add accept that things will be different and something’s got to give. You think your house is a tip? Come round and see mine. In fact, please don’t.
Do you have any hacks for working from home when the kids are home? Share in a comment below. We all need the help!
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About the Author
I’m not a makeup artist, chef, lifestyle guru or stylist. I’m just me. And like you, I’m trying to make the best of most things, only I’m sharing my warts-and-all thoughts along the way.