When I tell people that I work full-time from home with a 3 and 5 year old, I get all types of responses. Some people think I am crazy, some people think I am super woman, some people think I must ignore my kids all day.
Depending on the day, they are all a little bit right. For all of my fellow and aspiring work-at-home moms, I have put together a list of tips that will help you figure out how to work from home with kids.
Update: When I originally wrote this post, I had a 3 and 5 year old. Now, I have an almost 5 year old, an almost 7 year old and a 1 year old. And two dogs. I’m revisiting this post to make some updates as I’ve continued learning a lot about working from home with kids, specifically as they get older.
FINDING BALANCE AS A WORK AT HOME MOM
The first time I worked from home full-time I didn’t have kids yet. It was literally just like working in an office except my only co-worker at the time was my cat, I wore PJs, and I ate too much because no one was watching. Now I have to hide in random corners of my house just to get a bite of food that doesn’t get hijacked by tiny humans.
In hindsight, working from home pre-kids was awful. At least the way I did it. I love working from home full-time with kids because they keep me active. I can tend to be a workaholic. Left on my own I could sit at the computer for hours and never move. I find that having so many moving parts in my day keeps me not only more active, but also more productive during the time I am working because I have to be. I cannot waste time. Focus is key.
When I became a work-at-home mom I had one precious little newborn baby. Mamas, enjoy this time because this will be the easiest phase of your work-at-home life, ever. They don’t move. They don’t talk. They don’t demand you come turn the bathroom light on for them so they can pee 50 times per day.
In those early days, my husband would come home from work to find me sitting on the couch nursing Kai on a nursing pillow, the phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, and my laptop just within hands reach so I could run a report while I answered my client’s questions. I thought I was juggling a lot. Current me looks back and laughs at former me.
The biggest thing to remember if you are starting out working at home with kids is that every time you think you’ve got a good system figured out, your kids are going to change and you are going to have to adjust again. You can either get stressed about this or be happy that your life is never boring or repetitive. I suggest the latter. Roll with it. It’s a fun life!
I can’t tell you that I follow one exact schedule every day of the week. I never have, and likely never will. I have tried, and failed. I will share what has worked for me though!
How to Work from Home with Kids
1) Make a To-Do List Before Bed.
I can’t stress this enough, making a list before you go to bed is KEY. Not only will it help you sleep because you’ve dumped those thoughts out of your brain and onto paper, but it will help you focus the next day. Only have 15 minutes to work? No problem. You have a list already made and you can start checking it off.
You can also have your daily agenda pre-made if you need to do a lot of the same things every day or certain days of the week. For example, I have certain reports I run every Monday. They are set up as recurring items on my Google Calendar. Every Monday morning at 5am I receive an email with my “agenda” for that day, which is basically just a list of the things I need to do every Monday. You can read more about how to do that here.
Lists are key. Lists are life, you guys. If you are feeling overwhelmed you are going to waste time. Have you ever sat down to work and realized you don’t even know where to start? You probably didn’t have a list, so go make one.
And yes, I am that person who adds additional things I accomplish throughout the day to my list just so I can mark through them. It boosts moral. Try it.
2) Wake Up Earlier Than Everyone Else in Your House
Kidding, kind of. They’re not monsters but it feels like they are if they get up before my coffee does. If I set my alarm for 1-2 hours before my kids get up it’s truly a game changer. I get to have some peace and quiet to myself before they start demanding things, and I get to be productive to start the day. When I do this, it always makes us have a better day. I feel “ahead of the game”, less rushed, and I’m overall just a nicer mom.
Even if you don’t work from home I would recommend getting up an hour before your kids so you can become sane and feel like part of your day is yours before you go on duty.
In different phases of life this has not worked, like when we’ve had nursing babies who are up at all hours of the night and I just have to sleep when I can sleep. If you are in one of those phases, don’t feel like you’re failing if you can’t put this into practice just yet. Try 15 minutes before they get up, then 30 and so on. It still makes a difference.
3) Work in the “Cracks” of the Day
There are so many times throughout my day when I can squeeze in times to work. Now that my kids are a little older and one is still so little, I have a lot of interruptions, but they also play together and are good at entertaining themselves.
Today, for example, I took them to the playground first thing in the morning. When we came home, I expected them to entertain themselves for a while so I could catch up on work. For these times during the day, I work on my laptop at my dining room table because it’s a good center point in my house. I can watch and listen to them wherever they are and check off some items on my list.
If I am cooking dinner and I have a few minutes in between tasks, I will answer emails and check things off my list from the kitchen on my laptop. Checking my recipe or working, no one around here knows the difference.
4) Use Timers to Stay Focused on the Task at Hand
During these “cracks” in the day I rely on timers. They keep me on task. I could get a full hour of work time while the kids play and still get almost nothing done. That has actually happened. It’s key for me to have my list handy, and set a timer for short increments of time so I can focus on one thing at a time. It almost becomes like a game to focus in and beat the clock, then move onto the next thing. I have found that if I give myself 30 minutes to complete a task I will take 30 minutes, but if I give myself 15 instead, I can normally do it in 15.
5) Use Bath Time as Work Time
This started way back when Kai was a toddler. I would sit in the bathroom with my laptop while he played in the bathtub. Now that the kids are bigger I can sit right outside the bathroom at the dining room table and listen to them. I typically get 30-45 minutes of work-time out of bath time while they’re playing, and then I stop to bathe them, dress them, and we do something else for a bit.
Update: This doesn’t work so well when your kids are a little older and they just want a quick shower. But, it does work for those with smaller kids who love to play in the tub!
I also store blocks of frozen toys in the freezer in case they randomly decide they’re bored by the bath tub. This is easy. Fill a tupperware container with water, drop in some little animal or people figures or blocks, and stick it in the freezer. When you’re in a bind and need to entertain them for a bit, pull it out and give it to them with some little tools to excavate. My kids love this in the bath tub or outside on the sidewalk, either way.
6) Let Them Be “Bored” and Figure Out How to Entertain Themselves
To all of those people who have told me they wouldn’t want to work from home and ignore their kids, well I do! I ignore them sometimes, and I do it on purpose.
It’s healthy to say “I have responsibilities I need to take care of. Go find something to do.” They need that time to learn to be creative, play together, play by themselves and figure out how to entertain themselves. I actually really love working while I listen to their laughter and hear their imaginations work. I also sometimes stop to break up fights, just keeping it real.
If we still had to wash each piece of laundry by hand, each dish one-by-one, line dry clothes, cook everything from scratch and grown our own food, we wouldn’t be so concerned about how much we sit and play with our kids. We’d be putting them to work.
Trust me, if it were still safe in this day and age to lock your kids outside the house until dinner time I would totally be that mom because I think it’s good for them!
Before I get hate mail, I actually do love playing with my kids and I make sure we get quality one-on-one time daily. We read books, paint, do puzzles, exercise together, go to the playground or the beach. For me, quality vs quantity is key.
7) Work After the Kids Go To Bed
Right now my kids go to bed between 7:30-8:00pm, so that gives me plenty of time to have some quality time with my husband and also finish any work I need to do for the day. Do I always have quality time with my husband? No. Do I always work every night? No.
I just try to keep a healthy balance and be aware when one or the other needs more of my attention. Most nights Chris has just gotten home from work and he really wants to just have some chill out time without having to talk. We both sit outside at our patio table and listen to music while he looks at sports stuff on his tablet and I get some work done. We have random conversations in between that are sometimes short and sometimes last for hours, it’s never the same but it works for us!
8) Hire a Mother’s Helper
I have used a “mother’s helper” off and on over the years in varying degrees. It started with my mom helping me for a few hours a few days per week when I had a toddler and an infant. After we lost my mom, and the kids were still pretty little, I had a sitter come over for around the same amount of time each week.
During that phase of life that worked best because I was able to focus all of my attention on the kids for the morning, and then focus all of my attention on work in the afternoon. They were much smaller and couldn’t really be trusted not to eat crayons or climb furniture, much more supervision was required.
This goes back to what I mentioned about the phases and things constantly changing. Now that they are more independent, I have a teenage girl come over once per week. I have a conference call during that time and then she stays for a few hours. This gives me some more focused computer time without interruptions, so I tend to save bigger projects like creating emails for this time. She plays with them and they absolutely love her.
9) Give Them Creative Activities to Do
While I fully support letting your kids be bored and figure out how to entertain themselves, hence #6 above, I also love giving my kids creative things to do to keep the day flowing nicely. Often times, once I give them once creative thing to do, they move on naturally to something else on their own.
Use this list of 50 Creative Things to Do With Your Kids at Home for ideas!
10) Prioritize, Prioritize
Whether in work or life, everything cannot get done every day. You have to prioritize and be okay with some things waiting. I normally segment my to-do list into what MUST be done today, and what must be done this week, and then also pending items (these are things that need to be done in the near future or I don’t want to forget about, but they are not top priorities at all right now). If I only get what MUST be done today finished, I have won the day. If I get more of the weekly items done too, now that’s even better.
Start writing out everything that’s on your to-do list into segments so you don’t get overwhelmed by a huge list of stuff that doesn’t all HAVE to be done today. That will help you focus in and check things off your list in the “cracks of the day” while working from home with kids.
Working from home with kids is definitely not for everyone. For us, it’s ideal. I don’t have to miss anything with my kids, but I get to challenge myself and follow my own passions. I love to work, so I really don’t think I could ever stop. I also love being a stay-at-home mom, and won’t give that up for anything!
Some days are hectic, but I truly love being a work-at-home mom! Whenever I get overwhelmed I think of my top priorities as plates I’m spinning, trying to keep them all in the air like they would in a circus act. Husband, Kids, Household, Work, Self-Care. Which ones are still going strong, and which ones look like they’re slowing down and need a spin?
I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect daily balance, but there can be life balance even for work-at-home moms when we know our priorities and stay aware of what needs our attention most each day.
Hi, I’m Jessica! I am wife to Chris, and mom to Kaiper, Alana and Koa. I am a graphic designer, website developer and aspiring author. In this space, I share about everything from parenting, working from home, food we cook, and lots of things for kids! Learn more about me here.