Working from home might have its disadvantages, but it certainly has its benefits: no commute, a flexible schedule and the option to wear pajamas all day if you really want. But it isn’t always easy when you have a family. Anyone who has ever tried to meet deadlines or take a call with a client while kids are screaming in the background knows how hard it can be.
To find out how to make working at home actually work when you have children, we asked multiple work-at-home parents to share their strategies. Read on for their tips on balancing working at home with the demands of a family — and the desire to spend time with them.
1. Separate Work From Family
When you work at home, “it’s so easy to sneak back in the office after dinner to check your email or to unnecessarily work a little extra on the weekends,” said Kyle James, who is the founder of coupon website Rather-Be-Shopping.com and father of three children. He said he frequently did this when he first started working at home 12 years ago. “I vividly remember my son catching me in my office on a Sunday afternoon and telling me that he wished I worked somewhere else so I couldn’t work on weekends. I knew I had to change my habits.”
To combat the temptation to work all the time because his home was his office, James decided to clock in and clock out like a regular job — not stepping foot back in his office once he was done for the day. Initially, he even recorded his clock-in and clock-out times on a clipboard that hung outside his office. “Once my brain and body started getting used to it, I lost the temptation to get back on the computer, got rid of the clipboard and things got a lot better at home,” James said.
2. Be Willing to Work After the Kids Go to Bed
Lauren Greutman, who is the creator of the Iamthatlady.com blog, has been working at home for five years. And her husband, Mark, left his full-time job more than a year ago to work with her on their MarkandLaurenG.com website. With both working at home, they have more time with each other and their four young children. “We now get to be together as a family … and enjoy each other more than ever,” said Lauren.
But it takes some creative scheduling to make it work. The Greutmans have a nanny who comes two days a week, giving the couple time to focus on their websites. But because they “try not to work too much while the kids are running around the house,” Lauren said the couple works four nights a week after the kids go to bed.
3. Ask Your Spouse to Make Schedule Adjustments
After her son was born about a year ago, Farnoosh Torabi discovered that it was difficult to juggle working at home and caring for a small child. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to get her work done. By the time her husband got home around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., she didn’t have any energy left to work.
So the author of "When She Makes More" and host of the daily podcast "So Money" had a conversation with her husband about his work schedule, and he agreed to start at an earlier hour to be home by 4 p.m. to watch their son. “Those extra two hours later in the day help me tie up loose ends or go to an afternoon meeting out of the house and be back home in time for dinner stress-free and able to focus fully on family time,” Torabi said.
4. Build a Support Network
Lina Alattar left an office job as an art director to spend more time at home with her two children and pursue her passion for painting. Once both of her children were in school, she started working as a full-time artist from a studio she created in her house. “By working for myself, I can create my own workflow and balance work and family,” Alattar said.
To make working at home work, Alattar built a support network of babysitters, helpful neighbors and her husband. When she has to work extra to meet deadlines for art gallery shows, she hires a sitter. She gets regular help from neighbors, who take turns watching each other’s kids when they play after school. “This gives me free time and a lot of support,” Alattar said. And her husband’s willingness to help her juggle her work and family is “huge."
5. Outsource Like Crazy
Emma Johnson, a freelance journalist and creator of WealthySingleMommy.com, has found that one of the best ways to balance being the mother of two young kids and working at home is to outsource daily household chores. If you can afford to have someone clean your house, do the laundry or prepare meals, then you can make better use of your time. “If you can spend those [extra] hours weekly building your business or enjoying your kids, it is worth it to pay someone else to wash your sheets,” she said.
Also outsource bigger household projects that can consume a lot of your time and energy. “If you have been stressing and annoyed by the old, dirty paint in your home, call the painter today and free up that negative mental energy for some positive thoughts and activity,” said Johnson.
6. Let Your Kids Work With You
Plenty of parents take their children to the office once a year for “Take Your Child to Work” day. But artist and photographer Chan Chao found that he had to take his adopted daughter with him to photo shoots at times because she had separation anxiety, and there were only a few family members and close friends she was comfortable being left with when she was young. Surprisingly, it was actually a win-win situation.
The first photo shoot Chao took his daughter to was for a client with whom he had a good personal relationship, he said. It went well, so he took her to more, letting her snap pictures at times to make her feel like she was part of the process. “I looked at these experiences as a teaching opportunity for her,” Chao said. And many of his clients enjoyed having her there. One time, Chao said that taking his daughter with him to a shoot allowed his client to see him as “a paternal figure, which made for a better personal relationship.”
7. Appreciate the Flexibility of Working at Home
Many people who decide to leave an office job to work at home, including Sara Peak, do so because they want more time with their children. But it can make you feel isolated from other adults and make you question your decision to work at a home office.
“Whenever I feel the monotony or loneliness of working from home kick in, I remind myself of what a blessing it has been for my family,” said Peak, who is a co-owner of Dean & Grace, a shop-by-text boutique. She has been working at home for five years, which means she doesn’t have to pay for a full day of child care for her two children. Because she sets her own schedule, Peak can attend her children’s school programs in the middle of the day or grab lunch with her husband. “I am able to have so much flexibility, which for me, is worth any other sacrifices I may make in exchange,” she said.