Many parents are now working from home while at the same time caring for their children. This constant juggling can be quite overwhelming. So, if you’re feeling a bit more anxious than usual, this is completely normal, and you are not the only one going through this. Just take a deep breath and acknowledge that during these unprecedented times it might be impossible to stick to “business as usual”. And, let’s face it, not everything will be perfect.
Some calls will get a bit noisy with your children’s voices in the background. Some emails will have a few extra typos done by those little hands. Some of your colleagues will be entertained by your little one babbling on your lap during a video conference call. But it’s all ok! Just try to relax, laugh it off and smile. We’re all in the same boat.
To help you manage the unpredictability of all this, we’ve collated some tips on working from home while looking after your children. Even if it feels overwhelming at times, you’ve still got this!
How to cope with working from home
Here are some tips for working from home with a child or children under 3 years of age:
- Work while your child sleeps. Take advantage of your children’s naps to tackle the most pressing tasks. If your children have a fairly predictable sleep routine, you may be able to knock off the most important phone calls or focus on a project when they are likely to be snoozing. Working before they wake up or after they go to sleep is another good idea, especially if your job allows this kind of flexibility.
- Share the load. If both you and your partner are home, you might like to take turns with one of you feeding or playing with your children while the other gets the chance to work. By taking “shifts,” you can both get things done while your little ones are tended to.
- Try to plan out your day and week. Having a plan and a list of tasks will help you focus on the most critical items in the face of distractions and deprioritise the less critical ones.
- Dress for work. You may find it helpful to dress professionally so that you feel you are “at work” during work hours, and then change into more casual clothes in the evening. This also helps break up the day and may help you get into the mindset for both work and leisure. On the flipside, you may want to take advantage of the opportunity to work in the comfort of your leggings and T-shirt.
- Working while your children play. You may be able to get short bursts of work done while your children occupy themselves. If possible, the kind of work you attempt while your children are up should be the kind that can be interrupted, as your little ones will likely be trying to get your attention.
- Try to prepare in advance, if possible. For example, you might like to cook in advance when you’ll have some spare moments so that you have lunches and snacks ready. Another good choice for the weekend is to research some ideas for indoor activities for your baby or toddler.
- Remove other distractions. You already have enough on your plate with your little one. If you can, remove other “time-wasters” like social media. There are apps you can use that block your access to social media during work hours, for example. It might also help to schedule half an hour each day for chores so that you’re not constantly wanting to get up and put things away.
- Be realistic. You will most likely have to be more flexible in how you work and more creative in how you use the hours you have at your disposal. Don't beat yourself up if you can't do everything or can't do everything perfectly - no one can!
- Take time for yourself, if you can. It’s natural to get cabin fever if you’re working from home for an extended stretch while also caring for your child. If you can, during their daytime nap or once your children are asleep, take some time to do something for yourself like watching a series, having a pampering bath, or doing some exercise.
Read on for specific tips on working with a newborn, older baby, or toddler in the house.
Working at home with Your newborn
Your newborn will likely be sleeping in three- to four-hour stretches all through the day, so you may be able to get solid blocks of time to work during their daytime sleep periods. Keep in mind that you’ll also be waking up for feedings, even if you're splitting these with your partner, so be prepared to feel a little groggier during the day.
As you work, you might like to “wear” your newborn in a baby carrier, sling, or wrap so your newborn can enjoy feeling close to you while you get things done.
Although it’s just a nice-to-have extra, a Moses basket can be helpful for a work-at-home parent, as it can easily be moved to be right by your desk or table, allowing you to remain close to your newborn as you work so you can keep a close eye on them throughout the day.
Of course, if the width of your doorways allows it, you can also move your little one’s crib from room to room. Keep in mind that for your baby’s safety they should sleep only in their crib or Moses basket.
Managing work while you’re home with an older baby
As your baby will want to be near you, and you'll want to keep an eye on them, place a few toys or an activity centre on a play mat or in a playpen that you place right by you. This way you might be able to work while your little one plays next to you.
If your baby enjoys it and you have one, they can also spend short stints in a baby swing, glider, or bouncer. This way, you may be able to have some peace and quiet to work as your baby entertains themselves.
Your baby likely has two naps a day - one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon - so take advantage of these opportunities and remember to take some time off for yourself as well.
Working from home while caring for your toddler
Working from home with a toddler has its upsides and downsides. The positives are that your toddler may be able to entertain themselves for short periods and may still take one or two naps a day, during which you can manage some work-related tasks. The challenge is that when your toddler is up, they may want more of your attention.
It’s ok to expect your older toddler to entertain themselves for short intervals on occasion. You may need to be firm in telling them they have toys to play with and that for the next 30 minutes they need to play quietly. To help your child understand the independent play time has an end in sight, consider setting a timer on your phone or microwave. Reassure them that once the timer goes off, you’ll be able to take a break and spend some time with them – like play their favourite game or read a few books. Remember, independent play and being able to use their imagination and stave off boredom is an important skill to learn.
To help support their solo play, create a safe space for your toddler to play in. It might be that you thoroughly childproof the living room and let your toddler play freely in that area while you work nearby from the kitchen counter or dining room table.
Reward your toddler for playing nicely by themselves by praising them and showing interest in what they were up to.
Another option is to get your older toddler set up with their own “workstation” at the other end of the table to you. They could be busy “working” on a drawing, while you’re busy writing emails, for example. You could tell them that they’re a big kid now and that you’ll both be working for 30 minutes before you can take a break together.
Example of a daily schedule when working from home
Although you’ll need to find a routine that works for you and your family, here’s a sample of what a day could look like while working from home while caring for your children:
Early Morning: Aim to get your most important work done before your children wake up, as you won’t have many distractions. You might also like to use this time to do some exercise and get ready yourself.
Breakfast: Grab some breakfast and feed your little ones. Dress your children and brush their teeth.
Mid-morning: Spend some time playing with your little ones. If your children have a morning nap or if your children have periods where they can play alone or together, you might want to use this time to do some work.
Lunch: Grab a bite to eat and feed your baby or toddler.
Afternoon: If your children have an afternoon nap, use this time to make some important phone calls or finish any time-sensitive work. You may like to put aside 30 minutes for the most pressing household chores. When they are up, spend some time playing with them, but if they are playing solo, you can use that time to get some work done.
Dinner: Enjoy some quality time with your little ones, have some dinner, and give your children a nice bath and a relaxing bedtime story.
If you’re new to working from home and caring for your children at the same time, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself time to adjust and figure out what’s most effective for you in terms of routines. With a little trial and error, you’ll soon fall into a groove that works for your family.