How to Work from Home When You Have Kids


Posted 2 years ago in Small Business Tips
by Katie Pryal

Whether you work for yourself out of a home office, or you work for a large company and periodically telecommute, you probably can’t escape working from home from time to time. And if you work from home and have children, you might find yourself with a special challenge. Children of all ages often have trouble understanding that a parent’s presence does not necessarily mean that a parent is there to parent.

Here are some tips to help you signal to the others in your household when you are working, and that your work is important.

This is not a post about how to get good childcare. That part is up to you. Nor is this post about a parenting. I’m not about to wade into the shark-infested waters of parenting advice columns.

Rather, this post is about how to create space for yourself and your work in a place that might feel a little overrun by your adorable little goblins darlings.

Your workspace

The first, obvious step is to create a workspace that is yours. This is not a table that you clear when it is time to do your work. This is a space that is your own, permanently. This rule applies whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco or a spacious home in North Carolina. You must have an inviolable workspace. And everyone in your home, your kids included, know that the space is yours. If you live in a smaller space, you might get a fold-away desk from IKEA. If you have more room, get a nice table from a furniture consignment shop. Whatever you choose for you desk, it’s yours.

Psychologically, having a workspace that is yours does wonders for your relationship to your work. When you sit down at the desk to work, you are suddenly “at work.” Have the workspace all helps your relationship with the rest of your household. They have more respect for your work. They know when you are at your desk that you are working. This lesson might need gentle reinforcing over time, but my kids get it now, and one is still Pre-K.

Isolation in the crowd

Find a way to isolate yourself, even if that isolation is just headphones and white noise. I just inherited a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, something I would never spring for for myself—I did just mention that I have kids, and I’m therefore poor—but man, do they work. Fortunately, you can go on other websites and buy great headphones that do similar work for much less money. Then you log onto Coffitivity and magically you are transported to a white noise heaven. You can practically smell the French roast. That’s what the headphones do for you, the person working.

But the headphones also help communicate to your family that they need to take your work time seriously. My kids know that when I’m at my special desk and I’m wearing my special headphones that I’m working. I’m there in case there if there is an emergency, but their other care provider (read: their Dad) is the one they should be going to with their quotidian concerns. Thus, the headphones are a signal.

Share your schedule

Create a set work schedule for each day, and share it with your family. You might be able to create a schedule for the entire week or month, or you might have to set this schedule day- to-day. Whatever you need to do, be sure you create a schedule and share it in the morning—say, by putting a not on the fridge whiteboard—so everyone knows the hours that you are working. “Everyone” includes, you, too. You know that you are working from 8am until 12pm. You know that you are going to take the kids to lunch and the park from 12pm to 2pm. You know that you are going to work from 2pm to 6pm. You know your schedule, and you will stick to it.

And, of course, your kids will know your schedule. Having your kids know your schedule prevents the “trip to Disneyland” problem:

“Are you done yet?”

“When will you be done?”

“Are we leaving yet?”

“Is it time for lunch yet?”

Everyone in the household knows your schedule, so they do not need to ask you when it’s time to go. The information is right there, on the whiteboard.

These tips will work differently with children of different ages, of course, and it will help immensely if the person who is providing primary childcare for your children also buys in on the rules. But the person who must buy in is you.

If you don’t believe your work time at home is important enough to guard against interruptions, no one else will.