People choose to work from home for a variety of reasons, and if you are a parent working from home whether or not it was a choice – it was mine – you will be faced with having your children at home with you for at least some of the time, and the presence of those little darlings can make your dream career infinitely less dreamy. I mention choice here because often if you make a choice and it turns out to be hard, people, or your inner voice, will wonder what exactly you were expecting, and leave you feeling bad about moaning because you’re finding it difficult. I chose to work from home partly because I wanted to spend more time with my children, but also because the opportunity to start my own business presented itself and I thought it would be worthwhile.
And it has been – it has been an exhilarating challenge, with all the highs and lows you should expect from taking a flying leap into the unknown. It’s ironic that many of the low points have come from not actually having time to focus on my business, because, and you’ve guessed it, I have to focus on my children. This pull between to opposite poles is especially difficult to manage during the holidays, because I can’t afford childcare and obviously, I wanted to spend more time with my children. So I’ve had to make it work, and here are some of the strategies that have been successful for me.
My top tips for working from home with children
1. Create a routine – during the holidays I try to stick to the same routine they follow at school: getting them dressed and setting a nine o’clock activity, then I can work next to them while they do this and ignore them when they wonder off. 10:30 is snack time for everyone, and then they go outside. Set a timer that they can see – or use alternative ways of tracking the time – three episodes of Arthur; one Enchantamils movie; until daddy gets back, until lunch time, and be clear about when you will do something with them, and when you will be working, even if it’s in the same room.
2. Things change – as the children grow their needs and abilities change. What is working now that they’re six didn’t work when they were five, and probably won’t work when they’re seven. Situations also change: holidays, sick days, half days. Daddy picking up over time, a family member needing help. Things change and it’s okay to be flexible: you must be. Take a deep breath and lean into it.
3. Wake up early. This worked brilliantly for me until they started waking up early too (see tip no. 2) – but up till then it was a game changer. Four days a week I wake up before 6 and get a head start on planning and emails. I do some exercise, some affirmations, some meditation and practice some gratitude. These feelings of accomplishment and wellbeing last the whole day. Like making your bed, it’s wonderful to start the day off with a win. I still do it, with a child on my knee or playing next to me, and it’s become part of their internal routine.
4. Don’t just leave your planning for your business. Plan your meals and keep a calendar of
appointments, play dates and time for wine. If you know it’s happening, you can be ready for it. There’s enough uncertainty out there! It’s not boring knowing what you’re going to be cooking for dinner every day for the next week, it’s relaxing. A seven-day plan is enough planning for me, but you might want to do a three-week plan, or just a few days. We always have pizza and a movie on Saturdays, and on Sunday I clean the kitchen and then do a big cook out of something that will take hours of prep and either be in the slow cooker all day or the oven for a few hours, and some baking. This big meal results in leftovers which either make a Monday meal or go in the freezer for emergencies, or for when the plan doesn’t cut it.
5. I wrote last week about involving your children in what you do – sacrificing some materials so they can ‘help make’ works for me and lets us spend time together. I’m also lucky that my girls are at the age when I can take them with me to markets when I need to.
My tips work for me but might not suit what you do, so tip number five really is to find your own way: only you know your family and how best to order your life, so own it. Lean into the chaos and challenge and delight that is working from home: you made this choice because you have the exact skills and temperament to face to make it work. If it wasn’t your choice, keep trying and keep breathing. The holidays are soon over.