How to juggle working from home with children: a hands-full guide

Working a full-time job from home can be problematic if it’s just you on your own. Add bored kids into the mix, and it can become super-stressful. But there are ways to juggle the two, get at least some work done and not end the day a frazzled mess!

Working from home takes discipline. The working environment of a home office or kitchen table might be more relaxed, but the mindset you have to adopt needs to be just as regimented as for an office nine-to-five. You must take breaks; you must get away from your desk; you must try to talk to other people during the day and try to separate your work and personal lives. At Canstar, we’ve already covered this in our story: COVID-19: How to Stay Motivated During Self-Isolation and Working From Home.

What we didn’t cover in that story is kids. If they are at home, too, trying to maintain any semblance of a normal working day can go to the wall as quickly as a baby’s breakfast. And I should know. Because for ten years I was a stay-at-home dad, juggling a day job and deadlines with two little girls – who, even now, during NZ’s current lockdown, are regularly shouting for snacks, squabbling and demanding instant tech fixes. This is what I’ve learned:

How to work while looking after pre-schoolers

YOU CAN’T … sorry if that’s not the answer you wanted, but unless you plan to completely self-isolate them (think cage, with blackout cover, in soundproof room) it’s pretty much impossible to leave them to their own devices … or even a device for more than the length of one episode of Peppa Pig, Thomas or PAW Patrol.

I went into working from home with a naive image of myself sitting working at my desk, looking down at a blithe infant, happily playing with their toys on the floor. By lunch on the first morning, reality had set in: you can’t work and care for pre-schoolers at the same time. It’s one or the other. To make it work, I had to change my entire schedule to fit in around my daughter’s day.

Luckily, as an infant, she was a great daytime sleeper. During her morning and afternoon naps, I’d get at least 4-5 hours work done. In between those naps, she had my full attention. The rest of my work was done during the evening, after my wife returned home from work and took over the childcare duties. The minute I stopped trying to mix childcare and work, both became far easier and enjoyable. We enjoyed quality dad-daughter time, and I enjoyed working at my desk each evening, with a glass of red, listening to late-night radio.

Stressed work at home dad
And you thought having your boss on your back all day was hard work!

Of course, if there’s two of you at home to juggle the kids, it makes life a lot easier. But it still pays to divide up your day. After the birth of my second daughter, my wife joined me working from home and we divvied up the work. During the week, we’d work in shifts. One of us would look after the kids in the mornings, while the other worked; we’d swap over around lunchtime. That way each of us would get a clear six hours of work in each day, without constant disruptions.

How to work with pre-schoolers:

  • Don’t try to juggle the two; it’s one or the other
  • Define clear periods when you are able to work, and stick to them
  • If possible tag-team: one caregiver on duty, the other working
  • Remember, they’ll soon be of school age!

How to work while looking after pre-teens

While my girls were both still under five, I’d often wish they were old enough to just content themselves with a computer or device. In return for their eyesight dwindling and brains shrivelling like old Play-Doh, I could get a couple of hours of peace. Ironically, now that time has arrived, the fact they’ll happily sit and play video games all day, or stare at their phones has brought a different set of problems … and solutions:

Don’t sweat the tech

Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions. Of course, usually you’d want to limit your child’s screen time: get them outside with their friends, running around at the park or the beach. But at the moment they can’t do that, and if you’ve got work to do and need a clear hour or so during the day to get some important work done, let them binge on their gadgets!

It takes years of constant gaming to turn into a withdrawn, overweight couch potato covered with Cheezels dust. Anyway, modern gaming can be highly social. Though be sure your eleven-year-old is enjoying something age specific with their friends, such as Roblox, and isn’t playing battle royale on Call of Duty. You can even turn screen time into something creative, for example getting them to make their own lockdown videos!

Stick to a routine

Kids are like dogs: they love routine and to know who’s the boss. Fortunately, teachers have already done a lot of the hard work for us, by imposing the daily school timetable on our children. Do yourself a favour and stick to it: morning tea 10.30am, lunch 12.30pm, afternoon snack 3.30pm. If your children know when they can expect to be fed, it will cut down the constant interruptions to your working day.

Set your own break times to coincide with theirs, and take the opportunity to feed yourself as well as them. When working from home, it’s all too easy to get to 3pm and realise you’re irritable and tired because you’ve not eaten anything since breakfast.

Be prepared

Putting in a little prep time before breakfast or the night before can pay big dividends. Presenting your child with a list of options of things to do – activities that you’ve vetted and chosen to fit in around your work – will always pay dividends.

You can chose easily controllable options: drawing, board games, Lego, painting outside on the deck, video games, reading, etc. If you leave it up to them, they’re sure to pick high-maintenance stuff: baking, making slime, sewing, intricate crafts, anything to do with glitter.

Learn to ignore

I know this sounds a bit heartless, but when you’re trying to get work done at home while the kids are around, one of the best things to do is to learn to ignore them. Tell them you need to be left alone for an hour, give them free rein of the house and then either shut out the noise, or even better put on headphones and listen to something calming.

Every time you hear someone scream “Mum!” or “Dad!” resist the temptation to jump up and go see what the matter is. If it’s important, they’ll come find you. Same with most other crashes and bumps. Unless it’s the sound of breaking glass/china most other disturbances can wait. Same with crying and injuries. If limbs are still attached and blood isn’t pooling around them, they’ll be OK.

And, most importantly, as the mess and clutter builds over the day, the kitchen bench becomes awash with dirty plates and cups, and every floor becomes a trip hazard, just ignore it. Save the cleaning until after you’ve finished your work, otherwise you’ll spend your entire day running from one childhood non-emergency to another with a dustpan and brush in your hand.

Plan together time

One of the great things about working from home is that if you do it properly, you should have more time on your hands to spend with your kids: no commuting, no getting ready in the morning, making lunches, working back late. By starting earlier, you can finish your working day earlier, giving you more quality time to spend with your kids.

Home for good!

If working at home during lockdown is proving a positive experience, why not make it a permanent move? It can be financially rewarding, too, as home offices are tax deductible. If it’s something you’re considering, you might need to move to a bigger house with room for an office, or convert an existing room by fitting it out with office furniture. If so, Canstar can help with comparisons of the best home loans and personal loans on the market:


Need a personal loan to pay for a home office? Click to check out Canstar's comparison of loan providers!

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