How to successfully work at home when your kids are always there

It might be tough, but it is possible to work at home with your kids underfoot.  Not perfectly, but effectively and with integrity.  These 3 tips should help.

mom working with kids

I want you to imagine that you have just had your 4th baby in about 3 years. She’s around 10 months old. Your husband recently graduated from law school, and you’ve just found out that he lost his job. That was me about 10 years ago. I want you to think about what sort of advice you would have given me.


I desperately wanted to bring in some extra income for our precious little family, but I also had four littles at home and trying to work from home. It was hard. Today in this episode, I am going to tell you what I wish someone would have told me back then.


As the coronavirus, and social distancing and homeschooling take over our lives as moms, we’re at home with kids more. Working has become both a necessity (for some of us) and even more difficult than it typically is.


I know what it’s like to work at home with kids around all the time


I have four kids, ages 9 to 12, and I work from home. I’ve been working from home since 2007 when my oldest twin boys were born. I get it. I get the unique set of challenges that comes from working at home with kids, and it’s not easy.


Before I jump into the tips that I’ve got for you today, I want to offer a bit of hope and encouragement. I get it. I typically work 24 hours per week. I tried to homeschool my kids and that first week I was only able to work about 4 hours. But I have adjusted and I’m using the tips I’m going to share with you today to help.


One of my very favorite things about having less time to get something done is that it forces me to focus on the most important things. Being productive isn’t really about doing more. It’s about learning how to say no to what is less important so you can do what is most important. A limited amount of time compels you to choose what is the most important.


The hours I have worked since my kids have been home from school have been my most productive. I’m hoping that you’ll find yourself moving the needle in your business in ways you never have before, during this unique time in history. All right.


3 Tips to help you work at home with kids home


Tip #1 – Boundaries


You need to set boundaries between work time and family time. This requires clear communication and expectations. If you want to learn how to work from home with kids, you’ve got to get good at your communication. Treat your kids as if they’re part of a family council. Be open with them about why you need to work and what your work provides for them.


For example, my kids know that my job gives incredible fulfillment to me, which makes me a happier mom when I am with them. They also know that the money I earn pays for our family vacations and allows me to help and serve and give to others. Let your kids know what it is that your business means to you, why you’re doing it, and the blessings that it brings to your family.


Next, ask them when they would like to have time with you. Would they prefer that be in the morning, after lunch, right before bed? Even little kids, two and three-year-old kids, are going to have an opinion here and if they feel like they are being listened to, they are going to be much more likely to respect the boundaries you set once you know when they would like to have time with you.


Establish rules about when and how they can interrupt you when you’re working and what things they should be able to handle on their own. If it’s a problem where somebody is going to be hurt, then that is an emergency and you need to come to get mom, but if it is a problem where no one is being hurt, then you need to work it out on your own. Obviously, you would need to adjust that for your own family and kids. But I’ve found that to be a relatively good guideline.


Also important with the idea of boundaries is the fact that you must respect those boundaries as well. Discipline yourself to only work during work time. Get off your phone when it’s family time and kid time. Don’t check your email. Give your family your full attention. Be present. As you do so, your kids will learn that they’re important to you and they’ll feel less of a need to bug you while you are working because when you are with them, you’re 100% there. 


Tip #2 – Routines


Tip number two is one you might have heard before, but I have a few pieces of advice here that might be new to you. The tip is to create a routine with your kids. The kids thrive on routine. They need to know what’s going to happen when, and what to expect, in order to stay emotionally stable. Follow the same basic pattern every day, but let yourself be flexible with the exact times.


If you’re a mom, you know, kids create unexpected circumstances. You need to accept that and expect it. Embracing the unexpected is going to make it easier for you to go with the flow and keep your stress from rubbing off on your kids, which is just going to make your job harder. So create a routine, but be flexible with the exact times inside this routine.


Schedule your work during sleep time for your kids whenever possible. If you’re a morning person, consider getting up an hour or two before your kids and working while the house is quiet or maybe an hour or two after they go to bed. Or if all your kids still nap, work while they’re napping. Just make sure that you’re getting enough sleep yourself because grumpy moms rub off and create grumpy kids.


Make sure that you include exercise in your routine. This helps your kids to get their energy out. One of the things I did often when my kids were little and I’ve started doing again now during the coronavirus, is to exercise with my kids. We have dance parties. We run up and down the stairs. We do a gazillion jumping jacks and pushups, and it’s fun. It builds a relationship. It also helps them to get their energy out.


Make sure your routine has built-in breaks. When my kids were little, I would set a timer for 15 to maybe 30 minutes, and then I would take a 10-minute break to play with the kids. Now that they’re older, I can typically get an hour or two between the breaks that I’m taking.


I’m also going to tell you to use your screen time to your advantage. Schedule it during the baby’s nap so you can work while everyone is occupied, or you can even require that screen time be active, like go noodle or the connect on Xbox, or Just Dance Kids so that they’re getting exercise while they’re in front of the screen.


As my kids transitioned out of napping, we added something called quiet room time into their routine. I would create a bored bucket for them which was full of age-appropriate toys and activities that they could do on their own. I would have them play with that bucket for 30 to 60 minutes depending on the kid. Since they only got to play with these toys during quiet room time, they looked forward to that time every day.  That would give me some time as they were transitioning out of that nap.


As you are trying to set up this routine, use your alone time for just work. So don’t exercise alone. Exercise with your kids. Don’t clean the bathroom alone, clean the bathroom with your kids. You are only going to get so much alone time, so use it for activities that need your 100% focus and that your kids cannot help with.


For example, when my kids were little, I would read my scriptures before they woke up because they were so distracting. But now that they’re older and their home all day during this coronavirus, we read our personal scriptures together. We are all in the same room, but reading separately.


My last tip as you build your routine is to make sure that you schedule one on one time with your kids. Kids thrive on connection and it’s difficult for them to feel connected to you if they don’t ever get your undivided attention. So schedule that with each of your kids as part of your routine. It doesn’t have to be hours, but if they are getting that one on one time, they are going to be less likely to demand it when you do need to work.


Tip #3 – Involve your kids


My last tip is to involve your kids in your work. When mine were babies, like little babies, I’d wear them or I would put them in a bouncer next to me and bounce them with my foot. As they got to be a little bit older, I would save housework for times when I was not working and times when they were not napping so that I didn’t have to do housework while they were napping and I had them help with things like cleaning windows.


Now, I understand that a two-year-old child is not extremely helpful when you’re trying to clean a window, but you know what? It occupies them. I would spray it, give them a paper towel and they would wipe the window and I would go get a few dishes washed and I’d come back and spray it again or spray off different windows and have them wipe that window. It gave us time together and it taught them to work as they were growing.


I’ve actually been able to involve them in my business. The business I had before this one was centered around emergency preparedness and I used to have them help me cook food storage recipes, and they always got to be in my pictures. They loved that.


As they have gotten even older, I now have them download stock images and rename them in descriptive ways. So instead of image 1290576, they name it ‘Bright, happy white desk flowers’ so that I can easily search and find images. I have them transcribe videos for me. I’ve had them create Google slides templates. I’ve had them take blog posts and turn them into slides so that I can create videos out of them.


So there you have it. My three tips are:

#1- set boundaries between your work time and your family time.

#2- make sure you have a routine that is flexible.

#3- involve your kids in your work, whether that’s housework or business work.


I hope those tips help you find a little bit more balance at home – with your business and your family.

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This post originally aired as an episode of The Goodness Squad podcast. New episodes are no longer being recorded, but you can still listen to past episodes on your favorite podcast app.

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