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Are you considering taking the leap from working full time to staying at home? Are you already a stay at home parent and thinking about adding a part time or full time job to the mix? Is your company going through an office remodel and you have to WFH? Either way, working at home with kids isn’t for the faint of heart.
I don’t want to scare you off, because working at home is both liberating and empowering. There’s something wonderful about being able to be with your kids and make extra money.
But it can also be frustrating, discouraging, and exhausting. There’s a learning curve that goes along with it, and as long as you head into this decision with an open mind and an understanding that it’ll take time to adjust, you should be just fine.
In any case, if you’re thinking about working at home with kids or you already do work at home with kids and you’re struggling, here are some tips.
1. Set a schedule
It doesn’t matter how old your kids are. Setting a schedule and establishing a routine is critical for working at home with kids. People thrive on what’s expected of them.
Here’s a bit of a truth bomb for you: it doesn’t even matter if you stick to the schedule. Should you try? Yes. Is it going to ruin your entire life if you deviate from it or get distracted occasionally? No.
Take it from someone who has been working at home for the past six years. Simply having a schedule is a lifesaver. Even when we all have a bad day, I know we have something to fall back on and get us back on track tomorrow.
The schedule you build is going to look completely different than anyone else’s. You need to create something that works for you and your kids based on the type of work you do, where you live, how old your kids are, and a lot of other factors like:
- If you homeschool your kids, your schedule will include lesson times.
- If your kids are in elementary school, your schedule will include interruptions in your day for pick up and drop off.
- If your kids are older and relatively self-sufficient, you may only break for a quick lunch together and then all get back to your own routines.
Priority number one is taking some time out of your busy schedule to make one. It may need some tweaking as you all get used to it, but spending time to make a schedule will actually save you time later.
Have everyone weigh in on how they think the schedule should look. You’ll all be held accountable to the routine you established together and you can keep each other motivated.
There will be days when what you do looks absolutely nothing like the schedule. Don’t let that discourage you. You can do this.
2. Get dressed every morning
The beauty of being at home is that you don’t have to dress up like you’re going to work. But changing out of your pajamas can focus your mind and body on your work. It may not sound like much, but changing your physical appearance can shift your mental perspective.
For me, that means changing out of my sleeping sweats and into my daytime stretchy pants. It sounds completely ridiculous, but I simply can’t wear my pajamas all day. I’ll end up lounging around on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy.
Train your body to wake up and be productive. On days when you simply don’t make it this far, give yourself a break and try again tomorrow.
3. Separate work from home
Seems impossible, right? There are dishes in the sink, clothes in the washer, and toys all over the floor. How in the world do you separate the two when you’re in the midst of it every day?
Your schedule is a part of that. There’s a time for everything. But there’s also a place.
You should make sure you designate a working spot in your home that’s dedicated to simply that. It’s where you go to focus and get work done. Nothing else matters in this spot.
Will you get interrupted by a two-year-old who wants chocolate milk? Sometimes (or in my case, all the times). But it’s another way to train your mind to get down to business when it’s time to be productive.
4. Move around
Making sure you take breaks to stretch your body will keep your mind alive. Moving your body exercises your mind, too. We like to take an afternoon walk as a family just to stay active, break up the day, and spend time together.
It’s tough to stay healthy when you’re cooped up at home all day without anyone to hold you accountable. If you’re able to keep yourself accountable to healthy eating habits, I commend you.
I was the first to fall off the wagon. So making sure I at least do one physical thing a day makes me feel better about all of the other terrible things I eat. Believe me, you don’t want to see my daily food intake.
You don’t have to have an exercise routine per se. You just need to make sure you get up and grab a glass of water every once in a while. It’s a nice distraction from the monotony and can help you focus again when you sit back down at your desk.
5. Establish boundaries
My kids are all less than ten years old. My youngest is only two. There are four of them and we homeschool them all. So this is really important for me. My kids have to understand that just because we’re all at home together doesn’t mean that Mom and Dad don’t have to work.
We’ve learned not to feel guilty for asking them to go play. Our unfinished basement is the perfect place for them to go. They can’t possibly destroy anything down there because there’s nothing there to destroy.
We’ve designated one whole corner of the basement to a toy room. We moved every toy in the house to that spot and set up rules for when and where they have to go play so we can focus.
It doesn’t matter where or how you do this. However, I will tell you that establishing physical boundaries helps them to understand mental, emotional, and time sensitive boundaries as well.
Independent play is the perfect way for your children to learn patience and respect while using their imaginations. You’re not going to hurt them by asking them to leave you alone for an hour or two.
If you have older kids, they may already understand these rules and know how to entertain themselves for longer. Their boundaries may include their room with books, school lessons, and other educational items they can do on their own.
Some older kids may still need guided learning, but they can carry out instructions better and occupy themselves for longer periods of time.
6. Electronics aren’t the enemy
We’ve all read about how much screen time kids are supposed to have. Scientists have proven how detrimental they can be to a child’s mind.
But I have a secret for you. Do you want to hear it? You’re not perfect and neither are your kids.
There. I said it. Please don’t be offended.
The honest truth is that there are some days when I just need something, anything, else to entertain my kids.
We don’t allow electronics everyday. In fact, unless it’s educational, we rarely allow them at all. One day a week, on Friday, we have a ‘campout’ in the living room together and we watch movies.
Other than that, our kids are playing outside, playing with toys, or reading books.
So I forgive myself for having a day every once in a while when I let them play video games for a few hours or chat to Grandma and Grandpa on messenger because I need a break.
7. Find resources to help
If you’re homeschooling, find some groups online. Participate in forums. Join your local homeschooling co-op. You can’t put a price on a support system of people who are going through the same things you’re going through.
If you’re new to working at home with kids, find a group on Facebook you can join. This will be something you can research and find on your own because there are a lot of different work from home groups out there with many different goals for their members.
There are more people who work at home with kids than you think, so they’ll have even more tips they can offer to make it easier on you.
Having a place where you can go to ask questions or vent will make everything so much easier.
8. Relax and go with the flow
This isn’t easy. It never will be. But it will get better. You and your kids will learn how to work and play together and you’ll be rewarded with quality time together every single day. Working from home with kids is one of the most exciting things you can do, and you won’t regret it.
This is cliche advice that you’ve likely heard over and over again.
- No one has ever made a better decision than to work from home and spend time with their kids.
- The days are long but the years are short.
- You’ll never get this time back.
Blah, blah, blah. Do you know why people say those things? Because they’re true. Embrace the chaos. Take control of it by using the tips I’ve suggested.
They won’t all work for everyone, but try them out and put your own personal spin on them. Once you find what does work, you’ll settle into a routine that everyone can live with. If it’s not working, change it.
You have the freedom to make your own rules. Be your own boss. Do what works for you. That’s why you made the decision to work from home with kids in the first place.
There’s no magic potion you can drink or spell you can cast. But you will find ways you can cope with the transition and enjoy the best of both worlds.
9. Be kind to yourself
Don’t beat yourself up if you fail for a day. Maybe it’s the mental break you and your kids needed. Do what you need to do. See #6 above. It’s not going to hurt anyone to have a cheat day and get back on track tomorrow.
If you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Your kids might have a tough time adjusting to you being around all the time, too. Be understanding of their situation.
There’s no reason to be harder on yourself than you need to be. It will just stress you out more.
Find some breathing exercises you can do to relax or establish a routine that helps you decompress after a stressful day. Take care of yourself and give yourself a break.
The Moral of the Story
Working at home with kids can be tough, but worth it. I’ve been doing it for a long time and I still have days when I struggle. But it’s a lot better than it used to be. I just about gave up in the beginning.
I did it alone for years before my husband started working from home full time as well. That was another huge adjustment for everyone. Now we tag team work, kids, and household chores together.
My story isn’t over yet, and yours is just beginning. You have the power to make it great. Looking back, days that aren’t great are still pretty great. When I have to toss work out the window, I try not to let it get to me.
It takes a ton of organization, flexibility, and the ability to just let the little things go. It’s a wonderful mess of structure and freedom. When you finally strike the right balance, it’s a thing of beauty.
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life. You really won’t regret it. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make. We’re all in this together.
And now I’m out of cliches. If you’re on the fence, just do it, and do it now.