I’ve worked from home. I’ve worked in an office. I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home mom. And I’ve worked from home when my kids are home too.
That last arrangement, though it has its perks, is the most challenging—it’s not even close.
When you’re a work-from-home and stay-at-home parent, you can begin to feel like you’re not doing either job well. I have muted many a conference call to rock a baby I *thought* would be sleeping when I scheduled the call. I have ended calls early. I have manipulated my baby’s schedules in an attempt to get a regular window of working hours. I have apologized to my distributors from South America because my husband got home late and I had to cancel a video chat. My children have cried more than they would have otherwise. My house is regularly a wreck. I’ve had to forgo precious hours of sleep to catch up on work. I have answered calls and texts and emails in places that would likely shock my boss.
The truth is, being a stay-at-home parent is more than a full-time job. It’s hard and exhausting. Throw in another job, even part-time from home, and there’s no doubt you’ll begin to feel overwhelmed at some point.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that have helped bring my family some semblance of peace and have kept my clients happy as well. And while I feel like Katniss a la Hunger Games delving into these tips, know that you can do it—it’s wonderful to be home with your children, even if at times you kind of want to die.
1. Create a working window
This isn’t easy to do with newborns since their schedules are extremely unpredictable, but as soon as my babies are ready for a schedule, I am a taskmaster about it.
I say no to outings if it’s during nap time, and I make sure we are home in the evening so they go to bed at the same time. I need my kids to have a predictable schedule so that I can schedule calls and carve out time to work during their naps, quiet time, or school day, and it’s the same time every day.
My clients know when it’s a good time to reach me. And I rarely have to take calls or schedule work during times when the kids are awake. Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. But for the most part, having a consistent schedule has been my best tool as a work-from-home mom.
2. Talk to your kids about your work
I have always been very open with my daughters about my work and why it matters. I explain to them that our home, car, food, ballet classes, etc. cost money. I tell them how fortunate we are that I get to stay home with them during the day and work.
For very young children, this approach may not seem effective. But because I have always been open about what I do and why I do it, my now 4-year-old respects when I need to answer an email or get on a call when she’s around.
3. Be honest with your clients and/or boss
There have been times when I have had to tell my boss or clients that I can’t talk because my child has a pressing need. This is embarrassing at times, but since I have always been clear that my children are my priority and that I am home with them during the day, most people have usually been understanding.
When you are clear about your childcare arrangements, it can save you from lying, neglecting your children, or appearing unprofessional.
4. Get some help
I do not work from home as a full-time parent without relying on childcare and friends.
As soon as I felt comfortable, I sent my girls to preschool. It’s not a full-time daycare, but just three to four hours a day for a couple of days a week. But during that time, I work like a mad-woman.
Consider hiring a nanny if you prefer not to send your kids to school or even do a nanny-share with another work-from-home parent. I do that twice a week during the summer when school is out and my girls are both at home. I arrange babysitting swaps with friends regularly as well, taking their children during times my kids are awake.
I do not believe parents were meant to raise their children without help. Work as efficiently as possible during the time they are in someone else’s care. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish when the house is quiet.
5. Carve out a work station
Working from the couch while your children run around you is just not effective.
The kitchen table is a precarious place to leave your laptop, but you don’t want to set up in a basement corner where you won’t be near where your children play either. Find a place that is near your children but is not in the center of the chaos.
My desk is set up in our master bedroom. And while I don’t always work there, it helps me stay organized and mentally allows me to shift from mom-mode to work-mode when it’s time.
6. Create a team mentality
I regularly remind my daughters that we are a team. Our family works together to make sure we are able to live as comfortably as possible. Their “job,” I often remind them, is to let me work when I need to.
I try to rarely work when they are awake or not in school. But on occasions when I need to, I tell them they are helping our family by reading quietly or playing in their room for a minute. Bribes also work.
7. Become both an early bird and a night owl
Let me just say that I need sleep to be effective at all as a parent or worker and human being. But sometimes, the only time I can work in a given day is when I burn the midnight oil. I try to get at least seven hours of sleep, but since both of my kids sleep 11-12 hours a night (if I’m lucky!), I have a few hours to work with.
My husband and I try to do what we call “power hour” after they go to bed, and we both work for an uninterrupted hour on projects. Then, we reward ourselves with Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix, read, or scroll mindlessly through the ‘gram.
I don’t often go out with friends unless it’s the weekend because I can get a lot of valuable work done at home when my kids are asleep.
8. Play hard with your kids when you’re not working
When I’m not on-the-clock, I try to put my phone away. I take the kids to the pool or park. We run errands together. We play pretend and read together. I schedule playdates. I try to give them all of my focus and attention, so when I do need to step away or focus on a work task: a) They don’t feel like that’s all I do, and b) I don’t feel as guilty about shifting my focus. I remind them regularly that they are my biggest priority, that I love them, and that I love staying home with them.
And yeah, sometimes I dream about dropping them off at daycare and wearing cute clothes and working in peace without someone yelling my name every five seconds or throwing a tantrum because I cut their sandwich wrong. I’m only human. But trying to genuinely have fun with them makes being a work-from-home parent less of a drag and reminds me why I’m still cool with this arrangement.
9. Simplify your life
You can’t do everything. Decide what your priorities are. If it’s being a decent parent and working too, great. That’s a huge undertaking.
Maybe you won’t be the room mom, maybe your kid will take store-bought cupcakes to school for their birthday. Maybe home-cooked meals and a pristine house and an amazing body will have to take a backseat during this time of your life. Do what you need to do to survive – whether that’s more take-out, grocery delivery, or a housecleaner. Accept that you are doing your best and be OK with that. Learn to say no.
I have had to tell friends many times that I can’t help them out with their children or meet for lunch or go to a gym class because I protect my working time like a hormonal mama bear. The less chaos and clutter in my home and schedule the better. I can’t be what my children and employer/clients need if I have unrealistic expectations about myself.
10. Give yourself some grace
You can’t please everyone perfectly doing this job. Give yourself some grace. Be proud of what you accomplish each day instead of focusing on what you failed at.
Motherhood, as my own mother often says, is not for the faint of heart. Work-from-home motherhood? It’s a sleep-deprived circus that also happens to be on fire.
Try to find joy during this time of life because you’re doing great, mama.
Read More: COVID-19 School Closures Are Here—This Is What Real Moms Are Doing to Occupy Their Kids