Working from Home with Kids (Without Losing Your Sanity)

/ 7 min read
Kat Boogaard

You’ve probably seen the now-famous clip: A dad participates in an interview on live TV, desperately trying to maintain his composure while his wife frantically pulls their meandering toddler out of the room in the background.

It’s a strikingly relatable moment for any parent who has ever been stuck working from home with kids—with their constant interruptions, endless demands for snacks, and impeccable timing for disrupting the most important of phone calls and virtual meetings.

Hey, it makes for an adorable GIF or a hilarious video, but a pretty harsh reality. So, if you’re trying to navigate the seemingly impossible balance of managing child care and your work responsibilities, we have some tips to help.

We’re not going to promise that you’ll thrive—but these tips will at least get you through the stressful times (even if there’s a little more screen time in the mix).

1. Keep your expectations low (like, really low)

It’s tempting to think that working from your kitchen table with your kiddos in tow is going to be the best of both worlds: You get extra quality time with family while conquering your to-do list.

And then reality sets in. You can’t seem to get a moment of uninterrupted work time. Even nap times seem to be over in the blink of an eye.

That’s why it’s time to bring your expectations way, way, waaaay down. We’re talking bare minimum here.

The hard truth is this isn’t going to be a period of time when you’re knocking your work responsibilities out of the park. You’ll get done what needs to be done (if you’re lucky) and... not much else.

Those low expectations don’t just apply to your professional life—they apply to your personal time and parenting tactics too. Forget carefully-curated art projects, sensory bins, clever scavenger hunts, and enriching or developmentally-appropriate activity times.

You need simple (and, ideally, quiet) activities that keep your kiddos safe, occupied, and out of your way.

It might sound discouraging, but when you’re trying to balance work and childcare, you probably won’t be winning any “parent of the year” awards.

Keep in mind that this isn’t permanent and you’re just doing what you need to do to get through it.

2. Enlist a support team

Doing this alone is next to impossible (so, hats off to any single parent who managed to pull it off during unprecedented situations). You’re going to need help.

If you have a partner at home with you, work out an adjusted schedule or split schedule where you can each get some uninterrupted work time.

While the other one focuses during their primary work block, the other is on active child duty. After a set amount of time, you switch.

Don’t have somebody home to help wrangle the kiddos? Call grandma or grandpa. Or your brother. Or your neighbour. Or your third cousin twice removed.

Heck, see if your mailperson is up for a babysitting challenge. You need a village here.

3. Prioritize the important stuff

You know those workdays when you sip your coffee while you leisurely scroll through your inbox, quietly pulling together your daily to-do list?

Well, those days are gone when you have kids home. You’re putting your typical workday on hyperdrive.

That means an intense focus on what absolutely needs to get done. When you’re able to sit down for a minute (again, easier said than done) and chip away at your work, determine your top three priorities for the day.

An Eisenhower matrix can help you separate the urgent and important from everything else.

Do you have any really timely or pressing projects? Important client phone calls or video meetings? Requests that you need to get to today—or else?

Those deserve all of your focus and work time for that day. You’ll feel at least a little less stressed when you’re able to get those super sensitive tasks tackled. And if you can get to something else after that? You deserve a gold medal.

4. Practice working in short bursts

Working from home with kids comes with near-constant interruptions. Somebody needs help going potty. Somebody wants to know if they can play video games. Somebody is asking what you’re doing for the 493rd time.

You need to become a master of working in short (sometimes super short) bursts. Your goal here is to make the most of every small pocket of extra time you can get.

So, answer that email while the mac and cheese heats up in the microwave. Finish that document in the backyard while your kids run through the sprinkler.

Forget the dishes in the sink and the crayons strewn across the dining room table and maximize nap times for work and only work.

On the bright side, you’ll probably surprise yourself with just how productive and efficient you can be.

5. Let your kids roam free(ish)

Okay, we aren’t advocating that you let your kids aimlessly wander the neighbourhood like a bunch of stray cats. But, you also won’t be able to give them your undivided attention when you also have work tasks to handle.

For that reason, you need to set yourself up for some times when you can tear your eyes away from your children without worrying about their safety.

You could try:

  • Using a baby gate to keep kids contained to one or two child-proof rooms
  • Setting up some activity stations that they can wander between, like a bunch of art supplies on the kitchen table and fort-building stuff in the living room
  • Repurposing your baby monitors to keep watch over them, even if you aren’t in the same space

There’s no way to give work or your kids your full focus, so get creative to find ways that your kids can enjoy some independent activities (while still having the peace of mind that they’re in one piece).

6. Go for a daily “reset” walk

Working from home with your kids is a lot—not just for you, but for them too.

Frustrations are bound to run high and it’s not surprising if somebody ends up hiding in the pantry while crying over an open bag of goldfish crackers (and yes, we’re talking about you, not the kids).

When those big feelings reach a boiling point, a quick walk outside can be a literal lifesaver.

Spending 15 minutes of family time together to burn some energy and get some fresh air can be the reset you all need to make it through that stressful situation with a bit less screaming and hair-pulling (and yes, we’re talking about you again).

7. Stop panicking about screen time

Listen, we all know that hours and hours per day of screen time isn’t the best for kids’ developing brains.

But, this isn’t the time to guilt yourself about your lack of educational activities. Stressful times call for emergency measures and a little bit of screen time can act as your digital babysitter so you can make it through your conference calls or crucial meetings.

Set a timer and give your kids a designated period of time to watch a video or play a game on the tablet. We promise, they’ll be okay—and you’ll be grateful for that brief respite of quiet time to actually think.

8. Avoid unhelpful comparisons

Wait, that mum on Instagram finished her workday, baked banana bread, and fingerpainted with her kids? And her hair is somehow perfectly curled?

That dad posting on LinkedIn supposedly aced a presentation, went for a family bike ride, and now is grilling out steaks for dinner?

Why is everybody having such an effortless, social media-worthy time with this while you feed your kids cereal for dinner and can hardly remember the last time you showered?

Here’s the truth: They’re not having an easy time with it. They want you to think they are, but their reality probably looks a lot different.

Stop your scrolling and set the comparisons aside. You’re matching yourself up against an unrealistic ideal and it isn’t doing anything but making you feel bad.

At the end of the day, if everybody in your home is still alive, you’re doing great.

9. Carve out some time for yourself

You love your kids, but dang, they’re relentless. They keep poking their head in at two-minute increments to see if you’re done yet.

You literally can’t pee without somebody banging on the bathroom door to ask what’s for dinner. You need some time for yourself to breathe deep, recharge, and restore your sanity.

If you have a partner home with you, try scheduling intentional breaks where you can each get a few minutes to recenter yourselves (or, you know, use the bathroom alone).

Oh, and if you can find a dedicated workspace for yourself that’s away from all of the clutter and chaos, that will work wonders too.

10. Don’t forget to laugh

Working from home with kids is difficult. Ridiculously difficult. Dare we say near impossible?

There will be moments when you reach your wit’s end. Like when the baby has a next-level blowout, your toddler dumped an entire box of cereal on the floor, and your Zoom meeting is starting in three minutes.

In those moments, try your best to just laugh at the ludicrousness of it all. While it might not feel like it, these will probably be fond memories that make you chuckle someday anyway.

And honestly, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.

Be kind to your kids (and yourself)

When you have no choice but to work from home with your kids, the only thing you can do is your best.

We aren’t talking “my to-do list is completed and my kids are thriving” kind of best. It’s more like “we made it to the end of the day and everybody is still miraculously in one piece” kind of best.

If that’s what you manage to accomplish, know that you aren’t a bad parent and you aren’t a bad employee—you’re doing what you can with impossible circumstances.

And, if that still isn’t enough for you to hold your chin high, remember this: If you can work from home with kids, you can do pretty much anything.

About the author
Kat Boogaard
Paperform Contributor
Kat is a freelance writer focused on our working world. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her spending time with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.

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