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12 ways to make working from home with kids easier
According to a recent survey, 58% of Americans report having the ability to work from home at least once a week. Flexible work is today’s new normal — but these changes come with their own unique challenges.
For parents, learning how to work from home with kids is crucial for productivity, professional growth, and work-life balance. However, it can be tricky to manage. You want to make sure your children’s needs are met, without dropping the ball at work.
The coronavirus pandemic made this especially difficult. The support systems that many parents relied on evaporated in 2020, forcing them to take on the additional role of homeschool teachers.
Even though it feels like things are “back to normal” today, working parents might not want to send their kids back to daycare. Whether it’s due to health concerns or the fact that childcare costs have risen by 41%, many parents still have young children at home full-time.
But even if your kids aren’t home during the workday, juggling daycare and school schedules on top of your video calls can get tough. The good news? With a few adjustments to your routine, you can make things easier — without sacrificing the time you love spending with your kiddos.
12 ways to make working from home with kids easier
Ready to learn how to work from home with kids (without losing your mind)? These 12 tips will help you take care of your mental health, protect your time, and give your kids all the love they need, too:
Pick something to let go of
Communicate with key people at work
Set up a home office
Get out of the house sometimes
Go easy on yourself
Ask for help
Tire the kids out
Create a family schedule
Take a mental health day
1. Stop multitasking
Despite the popularity of the myth, multitasking isn’t a good idea. The brain is far less efficient when working on more than one task at a time. Unfortunately, working from home without childcare is basically a masterclass in multitasking — meaning you’re already starting at a disadvantage.
When you have little ones running around the house, any time that you have to focus on just one thing feels like a mini-vacation. So instead of multitasking, set up and take advantage of pockets of time when you have the luxury of focus.
That doesn’t mean just cramming in as much work as you can during nap time. When you drive, just drive. When you’re helping the kids with schoolwork, stay present. Having moments where you’re fully present will make you feel less overwhelmed.
2. Pick something to let go of
You can’t do it all, no matter what the self-help books tell you. However, you can have everything that’s important to you. Remember, you can pick your priorities — your friends, boss, coworkers, and social media shouldn’t choose them for you.
Rather than waiting for something to fall by the wayside, pick something that you’re willing to give up or relax your standards on (but keep in mind, your health, sleep, and time for self-care aren’t an option here).
Letting go might mean letting the kids put away their own laundry, ordering take-out, or allowing the dishes to chill in the sink for a bit. Whatever it is, it should help you feel more relaxed and available for what matters most.
3. Communicate with key people at work
One BetterUp study of working parents showed that communication was a top concern during coaching sessions. Many parents are concerned that if they speak up about their struggles, it could reflect poorly on their work performance. Deciding how open to be is a constant challenge, especially for working moms.
That said, work-from-home parents need to remember that they are not alone. Most managers are more understanding than they’ve been at possibly any point in modern history — and they might even be in the same boat.
In this case, honesty about your home life is the best policy. Let your manager and coworkers know about sick children or times when you need to be offline. If you don’t communicate clearly about why you’re unavailable, they could assume the worst. If you tell the truth, though, your coworkers are likely to be understanding and even offer support.
4. Set up a home office
Parents working from home long term need to get off the kitchen table and into a home office. If you don’t have a dedicated space, family members are more likely to interrupt your work time.
A home office for any remote job is a visual reminder to everyone that when you’re sitting there, it’s probably not the best time to bother you. Here are a few tips to help you start building your workspace:
Keep it quiet: Even if you can’t dedicate a whole room to your office, choose a quiet corner that’s out of the way. Setting up your desk by the TV probably won’t make your kids happy when you need that space for important calls.
Make it comfortable: If you’re constantly on the couch with your laptop, your kids will get confused about when it’s work time vs. playtime. Get a comfy chair, a standing desk, or whatever else you need to stay in your office throughout the day.
Calming touches: Learning how to work from home with kids isn’t easy. Treat yourself to a nice candle, special mug, or houseplant. These small touches will make your workspace a pleasant place to be.
5. Get out of the house sometimes
One of the downsides of working from home is that you may find yourself sitting indoors for hours on end. A change of pace and scenery can be medicinal.
Time in the sun is one of the best ways to quickly boost your mood and your energy. Try reducing your screen time by taking a conference call outside or enjoying a midday walk. You could even treat your kids to an alfresco lunch in the neighborhood park.
6. Go easy on yourself
Give yourself some credit for everything you’re trying to manage. Try to release the anxiety and guilt around not being able to keep things to the standard you’re used to. If you tend to be particularly hard on yourself, think of this as a great time to model grace under pressure for your kids.
Throughout the workday, listen to your self-talk. Are you treating yourself like you would a friend? Or are you constantly criticizing yourself? Support yourself like you would support someone you love. Working from home with kids is challenging, and you’re doing the best you can.
7. Prioritize self-care
When your work schedule is full and your family life is busy, making time for yourself is easier said than done. However, without self-care, stress is a recipe for burnout and overwhelm. Remember: in the long run, prioritizing your well-being will make you both a better caregiver and employee.
Here are some simple self-care ideas for parents:
Keep a bottle of water on your desk so that you don’t forget to stay hydrated
Eat nourishing foods that make your body feel good, not sluggish
Take the hour you’re not using to commute to get some extra sleep
Give yourself an extra five minutes between meetings so you can decompress
Make a short gratitude list each day to remember what you’re thankful for
Spend five to ten minutes journaling, so you can get stressful thoughts out of your head
Self-care doesn’t have to be a complicated ritual. If you just build a few healthy habits into your daily schedule, it can make a big difference in your happiness.
Consider using some of your precious free time to meditate. In addition to lowering stress, meditation builds several other useful skills. It helps you regulate your emotions and learn to focus more effectively (when you are able to focus, that is). It can also help you become a more mindful parent.
When you’re in hustle mode, it’s tempting to just power through — but taking breaks actually improves your ability to work effectively.
9. Ask for help
You might be able to lean on friends, grandparents, or your spouse for support. For example, you can ask loved ones for practical help like driving your older children to sports practice or keeping your little ones entertained during an important Zoom call.
If that’s not feasible, though, see if it’s possible to recruit professional help. Hire a housekeeper, get a babysitter for a couple of days a week, or use an app to get the laundry picked up. Getting help for even a couple of hours a week can be life-changing.
10. Tire the kids out
Every parent knows that sometimes the best strategy to get a little peace and quiet is to run down your kids’ batteries. Staying in the house all day quickly leads to cabin fever, so get outside and engaged when you can.
One way to do this is by checking in with fellow friends who are working from home without childcare. See if you can help each other out by taking turns hosting playdates between your children. This will tire out both sets of kids, and allow you each more time to focus.
11. Create a family schedule
When everyone in the house has different work, school, and social schedules, it might be time to put it all on a calendar. Whether it’s digital or pinned to the fridge, you can create a daily schedule that includes quiet time for your meetings, homework time for your older kids, and family fun time, too.
It might take some time to adjust, but boundaries are key to thriving when you’re working remotely. If you get interrupted during your focus time, just gently remind your child or spouse that you’re busy and will be able to catch up with them later. Ultimately, a schedule can help everyone get on the same page and reduce stress.
12. Take a mental health day
When all else fails, it’s time to call in sick and take a mental health day. Sometimes, everything is just too much, and that’s okay to admit. Mental health is health, after all.
Use your day off to recharge, relax, and reflect. You may want to ask yourself, why are you doing what you’re doing? Is it still aligned with your personal and family values? Going back to your “why” will help you return to work the next day with more energy and peace.
Remember — this won’t last forever
When you’re working from home with kids, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees. But no circumstance, no matter how trying, lasts forever. Eventually, babies grow up, kids go to college, and life finds a rhythm again. But the habits you cultivate make you better, more agile, more creative (and okay, fine, more tired).
Try to maintain perspective, and keep things simple wherever you can. Use each moment of calm to remind yourself that you’re doing the impossible — and that’s pretty cool.