working from home with kids

Tips for working from home with kids (Ep #56)

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with Rachael Jansen

Working from home sounds like a great idea, and it is for many women, but doing it with kids in tow comes with challenges.

I’ve been working from home with kids for almost 16 years, either as a contractor, employee or in my own business, from the time my oldest was a newborn, to now as she’s going on 16.

I’ve worked while breastfeeding my newborn whilst typing one-handed to meet a deadline, to perfecting the art of ignoring my teenagers for hours on end. I’ve dragged them to high level work meetings, locked them out of the house screaming so I could finish an interview, and watched them eat off the floor while I was on a call.

I’ve worked from the home office, the dining table, a picnic rug, the car, soccer practice and on holidays.

Some days have gone well, some days not so much.

Some days are productive, other days not at all.

Many women are already used to working from home with kids, and every school holidays we lament the difficulty of achieving much while we have to also parent. I actually have a rule where I don’t take on clients or work for pretty much all the school holidays, particularly December and January, although I can be more flexible with this now the kids are older.

As so many more of us are currently experiencing working from home with kids, I thought it timely to share some tips that have helped me over the past decade-and-a-half.

Lower your expectations

If you’re new to working from home, it helps to understand that it’s different to being in a workplace, especially if you also have to look after your kids as well, let alone help with their school work too.

Expectations – and whether they are met or not – is where disappointment and frustration live. When things don’t go the way we expect them too, it stresses us and certainly doesn’t make us happy. So from the outset, you have to manage your expectations so they’re realistic for your circumstances in order to avoid frustration and anger creeping in.

Expect to be interrupted. Expect the days to feel chaotic. Expect the differences and challenges. It won’t make your days easier as such but it can help you to feel better about it and not explode at anyone from frustration.

You have to be flexible

Flexibility is necessary but it will often feel like chaos. Work hours cannot be the same as if you had gone to the office as normal, especially if your kids are young.

Work before they get up and get going. Work while they’re involved in an activity. Work while they watch a movie. Work during naps. Work at night or over the weekend if it’s possible.

It is fractured and that can make you feel tired in ways you’ve not experienced but if you manage it for the most part, it can actually work well for you too.

Limit your to do list

Only aim to achieve exactly what is necessary on any day. Working from home with kids is like running a military offensive (I imagine, as I’ve never actually run one of those). You have to set a target – the most important one – and hone in on it with determination and precision so that you can get it done in the time you have.

Be specific. It’s a great exercise in productivity if you do it right.

Lower your standards

Standards have to slip. You just won’t have the same time available that you once did, but that doesn’t have to be a negative. Do not stress small stuff. Relax some of the usual rules. You may find the results are better and life is nicer. Relaxing standards of perfection will often coincide with a reduction of stress, funnily enough.

Most of the stuff we worry about really, really doesn’t matter.

In the current context, my kids have had more screen time in the past few weeks than they’ve had their entire lives. And yet they’ve also helped out around the house more willingly and unprompted.

Choose your priority

Sometimes work has to come before all the rest. It just has to.

So dinner will be late or toast. The house won’t be clean. Clothes will be dirty.

And, at the moment, school may be skipped. If work must come before schooling, so be it. School can be caught up on, especially for those below Yr12. If my kids were still in primary school, I wouldn’t be stressing about their learning or achievement given the circumstances, especially if I had fulltime work to manage.

If you are largely responsible for monitoring and organising your kids’ school work at the moment, and you just can’t  get to it sometimes because of work, give yourself a break.

That said, sometimes your kids absolutely need to come before work. Especially at this time when they may well be emotional, sick or struggling. Stopping work to sit with them, watch a movie, go for a walk or whatever you need to do just has to be OK. Work will still be there when you get back to it.

Set some rules

I had one rule for my kids when they were younger – do not interrupt me when I’m on the phone unless you can see blood, either yours or someone else’s.

I had to set some boundaries on noise and interruptions. I warned them ahead of time when I had an interview and needed them to be quiet – my son was always allowed to watch a movie during this time. I always thanked them afterwards when I let them know I was finished and available again.

They’re very used to it now so I don’t have to say anything other than I have a call and let them know the time. I make sure they have everything they need from me before I retreat to the office, and check their plans for the time I’ll be unavailable.

Then I can concentrate on what I need to without worrying about where they are or what they’re doing.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

My kids from a very young age had some capacity to understand I had to work. I explained to them from the time they could understand me that I was working.

I have always tried to keep my kids in the loop, explaining what I was doing, what I needed from them and why, and for how long.

The more I communicate with them, rather than just telling them what to do, the better things go. Now that they’re older, I am upfront with them if they’re annoying me or if I am stressed so that they’re aware that I’m human and have responsibilities other than them.

When they were small, they really responded and wanted to be supportive. They still are now too for the most part.

Communication is everything, especially when stressful situations are involved.

At the moment, I’m also making sure I listen to them (communication goes both ways) and what they’re dealing as they adjust to being at home, giving them space to air any grievances, acknowledging any difficulties they feel, and encouraging them that all will eventually be OK and that all they can do is the best they can. I’ve let them know I don’t expect anything of them other than to turn up to their online classes and do their best. I’ve let them know I understand it may be difficult to learn this way, that I realise it’s all new for them and their teachers.

I’m trying to be supportive, open, honest and whilst acknowledging the changes, losses and difficulties, also look for the positives of this time together.

Don’t feel guilty

Do not feel guilty, about either your work performance or your mothering. All we can do right now is our best under the circumstances.

If the kids are making noise while you’re on a work call, so be it. Everybody knows what’s going on. I used to be a little tense about not having the kids make noise when I was on a work call, or that my need to be a mother not impact on my work schedule as I felt I’d be judged and not taken seriously. I’m sure that was the case then, but not at the moment.

It won’t apply at the moment with so many people working from home – dads also have kids in the background at the moment. My husband’s conference calls have coincided with my son’s trumpet lessons – for the first time in history, it’s OK to acknowledge kids in the workplace. This is a very, very good thing and something I hope is carried into the future.


You can choose to listen to my experiences on this via the podcast too.


Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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