Today, I’ll talk about how you can achieve the impossible.
Are you a working mom, reporting to an actual employer from 9am -5pm, but do not have family close by to help with childcare? Hiring help is also not an option for you?
Well, you’re not alone. Many moms find themselves juggling kids of all ages at home while trying to take a conference call, and nurse a baby at the same time. To be clear, I am not one of those supermoms, but on some days when daycare is closed, I have worked from home full-time while trying to juggle a baby and a 3-year old toddler with no help. I didn’t do it by choice, but we just needed to manage the impossible of working from home without childcare. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it is doable with lots of planning to help navigate the situation and ensure you stay productive with minimal interruptions.
Before I share my tips and tricks, let me clarify one point: working from home with kids and without childcare is HARD. Parenting is a full-time job in itself, so having to work 9am-5pm is like having a second full-time job! However, keep in mind that if you need to work from home with kids occasionally, no one is expecting perfection. For me, as long as I get things done at the end of the day, and my kids are healthy and happy and alive, I consider that a successful day!
Personally, I have adopted a few strategies to work from home with a baby and a 3-year-old (and without going insane and still remain productive!). Here are some tips to help you get through the work day with small children at home:
1. Wake up a little earlier
While I value my sleep a lot, I know that waking up an hour before everyone else does makes a huge difference. Within that hour, when all is quiet and calm, I can focus on work without interruptions. I usually pick the most important thing that needs to get done, and try to knock it out within that hour.
That way, when the kids are up and require my attention during the day, I don’t need to worry about finishing up that task.
2. Create your environment
Be sure to set up a dedicated space where you work at home and tell your kids that it is mommy’s work space. Well, my baby didn’t understand that for obvious reasons, but my 3-year-old understood that when mommy is sitting down at the desk, it is her time to focus on work.
For my baby who was not mobile back then, I usually have a swing set or play center set up close by and within line of sight to keep her occupied. She slept for majority of the day, so it was easier to take care of her needs. Her naps overlapped with about 4 to 5 hours of my work day, so I could still get some things done. Thankfully, I also sleep-trained her so she didn’t have to be rocked to sleep. All I had to do was put her down in her crib and give her a quick kiss, and she will be fine on her own. When my baby is fussy, I usually just carried her in my baby carrier and she would be fine. A baby carrier is so awesome because it allows me to be hands free at the same time!
Now, for my 3-year-old, it gets a little tricky. I still utilized different stations with books, toys and sensory activities around the living room, but those did not sustain her interest for too long. One of the things that I did was plan a busy and high energy morning for her and she would usually take a long nap in the afternoon. That’s when I would be able to get in a few solid hours of work when she napped.
3. Create a schedule, but be flexible
Kids thrive on consistency. If they usually have 2 breaks at school, aim to do the same at home so it will be a little easier on your child.
So what can you do in terms of a schedule when you need to work from home with small children? Sketch one out the night before, and try to adhere to it. For example, if your toddler likes to wake up at 7am, eat breakfast at 7:30am, and then do a little activity at 8am, stick to that, but be flexible when the situation calls for it. After all, when it comes to kids, nothing is predictable.
Then create blocks of time for them to work on activities while you work. For my 3 year-old, she really enjoyed playing with play dough and kinetic sand, and she can usually do that for a good hour. So we would plan to do that for an hour while I work alongside with her, then we would take a 10-minute break together before we do another activity.
4. Communicate your schedule to your colleagues
Not all of your colleagues will have kids, but people are usually understanding if you communicate about your schedule before-hand. For example, I would tell people about the pockets of time when I won’t be available as I have to feed my kids, or take them out for a quick walk to break up their day.
My colleagues have learned to work around my schedule, and by being upfront about the reality of your day, it goes a long way to create trust and foster efficiency.
5. Catch up on work at other times of the day
For me, when my kids are home, I can only manage about 4 to 5 hours of work during the day. To make up for the other 3 – 4 hours of time, I would sneak in about 30 minutes – 1 hour of work after dinner while my husband watches the kids, and then another 2 hours of work after the kids are asleep. This is not the ideal arrangement, but it’s the best that I can do.
Since working at night is my least favorite thing to do because I’m always so tired, I usually leave the easiest work to the end of the day.
I also worked whenever I could throughout the day. If my daughter has her attention on Peppa Pig for about 15 minutes in the morning, I would sneak in a little time there to respond to quick emails. By tackling work during these short sessions, I get to strike out quick tasks and feel less overwhelmed with a shorter to-do list.
6. Utilize the mute button and blur that background
I’m sure no one wants to hear your toddler screaming in the background during your conference call with colleagues. So use that mute button when you’re not speaking, and unmute only when you need to talk. Also, apply a generic background or blur it on your video calls. We’ve all heard about those stories about how work video calls have gone wrong, and I’m sure you don’t want that to happen to you.
7. Keep expectations reasonable
Working from home with kids is tricky. No matter how much you plan, expect kids to throw you a curve ball now and then. Cut yourself some slack if that happens. Just remember to do your best, don’t lose your cool, and that it will be better next time.
8. Allow screen time
This is a necessary evil. As much as you would like to limit screen time, it is so useful in keeping the kids occupied. If you would like have some productive time while working from home with toddlers, I think you can throw the screen limits out the window if you want to be able to stay sane.
Screen time doesn’t necessarily mean silly cartoons. You can play educational videos for your kids to watch. Might as well make the best out of it right?
9. Encourage your kids to play independently
For my baby, I would “train” her to play independently by putting her in her play pen with some toys. I would start with just 10 minutes, and repeat this the next day while increasing the length of time. By the time my baby turned one, she was able to play by herself for a good 40 minutes.
As for my 3-year-old, she is able to play on her own in her room if she wants to. She would play with her stuffy, magnet tiles or even flip through her books. This allowed me to have some quiet time and it all worked out great.
10. Prepare lots of food and snacks
My kids love to eat. When they are eating, they are happy. On days when they are home, I would prepare many healthy snacks and lay them out on the dining room table. My 3-year-old loves it! She values her independence and would help herself to snacks whenever she needed one without asking me for any help.
11. Rely on neighbor’s help
Thankfully, I have neighbors who are retired, as well as stay-home-moms who have kids of their own, and they can help whenever I needed them. On days when I would have important calls or client meetings to take, and if my husband is not available to watch the kids, I would ask my neighbors to watch them for 1 to 2 hours.
Working from home with two kids is difficult, but it is not impossible. To make work-from-home with small children successful, you need to prioritize your needs against everyone else’s needs. If there are house chores that can wait, postpone that in order to meet your work deadline.
Working from home without childcare can be a work-in-progress, so the key to surviving is also to be flexible. Whatever works today may not work tomorrow, so it’s important to adjust whenever necessary.
So what other advice can you offer to parents out there who work from home with their babies and toddlers? Leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you!
Before you leave, check out my other post on tips to survive working from home while your kids are sick.