How on Earth do you survive working from home with children without losing your mind in the process? How do you stay productive, even though you have to deal with crying babies, constant interruptions, a puking kid here and there, and eventually daily school drop-offs and pickups?
I don’t have all the answers, but as a mother of three who turned in my apron (at least from 9 to 6) for working-from-home for almost seven years now, I’ve certainly learned a trick or two, and I'd be happy to share my experience with you.
Perhaps you wonder why I went to work; when I first started working from home, it was something I needed to do for my family; I’m sure many parents can relate. My children were ages 8, 6 and 13 months at the time I started working from home.
Fast-forward to today; I have two teenagers and a second grader…and I’m still working from home full-time. Has it been easy? No way! The last six plus years has been chockfull of challenges, scheduling conflicts, potty-training puppies, puke buckets (parents you get this one), plumbers’ service calls, client interviews, and everything in between.
But, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. It has challenged me to the bone and taught me out to be more organized and efficient than ever before. It’s taught me that the “speed of particle flow” trumps everything, especially when it comes to productivity and completing assignments.
Show me a woman (or man) who can run a household and work from home at the same time, and I’ll show you a superhero; maybe they’re slightly sleep-deprived or a little crazy, but they’re nothing short of remarkable. If you’re trying to survive working from home with children, here’s my advice:
1. Get help if you can.
I never paid for an in-home nanny or babysitter, but in the beginning, my husband and I literally switched roles. I went from the stay-at-home parent to the working parent, while he started taking care of our 13-month old and our two older children. If your spouse, or a grandparent, an older child, or an aunt or uncle can help you out with the children while you work, then that will be a huge plus.
2. Work around the kids’ schedules.
Eventually, my husband grew tired of being out of the workforce and went back to work. At this point, I was on my own with the kids. I basically learned to work around the kids’ nap, eating and school schedules. I’d drop my older girls off at school around 7:30 am and head straight to my home office. Around this time, my youngest was about three-years-old.
Out of fear of my three-year-old watching TV eight hours a day (while I worked), I put her in preschool about 20 hours a week. Honestly, this transition was much harder on me than it was on her. On that first day of preschool, I cried, but she forgot all about me until pickup time! Up until the day she started Kindergarten, I gradually increased her time at preschool until she was there all day.
I would have preferred her to be with me, my mother or mother-in-law most of the time, but with them both living out-of-state – that was not possible. As parents, we may feel guilty about putting our youngsters in daycare or preschool, but it can be the best for them when you can’t give them all the time and attention they deserve, especially when the only alternative is sticking them in front of what my mom called the "one-eyed-babysitter," otherwise known as the TV all day!
3. Move close to the kids’ schools.
When I first started working from home, I lived in Southern Georgia on a dirt road across from a cotton field. I was lucky because the school bus would drop my kids off right in front of our house. It was almost magical; the yellow bus would come roaring up our unpaved road from the woods (I think the bus driver had a bit of a lead foot), dirt and dust blowing everywhere; I’ll never forget the sight of the bus lights and the dust cloud on foggy mornings. But, my stay in the South was short-lived and my family moved back to a concrete jungle, where school drop-offs soon became a logistical nightmare.
When we moved to sunny Las Vegas, our home was less than a few miles from the school but it took a good hour to pick up my kids from school. Since we lived too close for our kids to take the bus, we had to drive them to and from school every day. After about a year of sitting in the car a good hour and a half a day, I enrolled them in the afterschool program, which was a saving grace.
Even if they were only there one hour a day, it saved me an hour or more sitting in the car! I’d roll up to the school an hour after it got out, and I’d be back home and back working in 15 minutes – this meant I could end off working a whole hour earlier and I still produced the same amount of work.
Eventually, we moved into a home that is literally across the street from both of my children’s schools. Now, it only takes me two minutes to pick up my second grader (on foot) and she no longer has to attend afterschool programs. Instead, she’s home with me and we’ve eased into a nice routine.
My advice to parents who work from home: Try to move close to your children’s schools! The less time you spend in the car, the more time you can spend working. And…when you finish working earlier, the sooner you can get your work done and be with your families!
4. Establish a routine.
All kids need routines, right? It doesn’t matter if my kids were two-years-old or twelve-years-old, it always helped to have a routine. For example, when my seven-year-old gets home from school at 2:40 pm, our routine is: snack, homework, reading, and then free time to play.
By the time she finishes eating, doing her homework, and playing, I’m usually wrapping up my work for the day. As far as my teenagers are concerned, their afterschool routines mainly consist of: homework, chores, and do what they want (as long as it’s moral, ethical, legal, and doesn’t put their lives at risk) – in that order.
5. Stay organized in your work.
When you work from home, you’re inevitably dealing with interruptions, having to give rides to extracurricular activities, and possibly client calls. Because you’re dealing with so much more than you would be at the office, you have to stay organized in your work. This means strategic planning ahead, and scheduling your most complicated tasks for when your children are at school, napping, in bed, or being watched by somebody else.
I try to save my easier, less complicated tasks for when the kids are home. In order to ensure peaceful client calls – I always schedule those for when my children are not around, even if it means giving my older girls $10 to go have ice cream at the little burger place down the street.
Personally, I love working from home. It’s been challenging, but it gets easier every year. If you’re considering working from home with kids, know that it’s completely doable. It’s just a matter of trial and error – eventually you’ll find your own rhythm and your family will be glad you made a go of it and found a way to make it all work.
Elainna Ciaramella is an independent journalist, business blogger, and ghostwriter for entrepreneurs and business professionals nationwide. She has written extensively on the topics of business, entrepreneurship, law, and medicine. She is well-versed in search engine optimization, content marketing, and social media. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and Instagram.
Originally published on LinkedIn.