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Working from home with kids: 9 ways to find balance

November 2, 2021 - 11 min read

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How to work from home with kids 

9 ways to make working from home with kids easier

Remember — this won’t last forever

As human beings, we tend to like different parts of our lives in different compartments. We separate clothes by function (winter gear, gym clothes, bathing suits). We carry different bags for different occasions (suitcase, shopping bag, lunch bag). We even label the rooms in our house according to what we do when we’re in them.

Yet overnight, our homes started multitasking as offices, gyms, playspaces, and makeshift school rooms. Whereas we used to be able to leave work at work and kids at school, working from home with kids has begun to blur the lines — making it hard for us, and our families, to know what to expect.

Almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, and some things seem to have shifted for the long haul. One estimate published by CNBC this summer says that just under 50% of companies will continue to offer the option to work remotely or a hybrid work schedule. That’s a far cry from the two weeks many parents hoped would be the worst case scenario when we first went into lockdown.

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The effects of chronic stress are well documented — so it’s not surprising that many parents are stretched to their breaking point. Being a working parent is already challenging under the best circumstances, but constant uncertainty is a rain cloud dampening even the perks of work-at-home life. Being a caregiver while also having to manage social distancing is a crisis for mental health.

Many people cited better work-life balance as a key silver lining of the pandemic, but for working parents, those gains went largely unrealized. The support systems that many parents rely on for work-life balance (namely, consistent and reliable childcare) evaporated as many took on the additional role of homeschool teachers. 

Since it looks like life isn’t re-compartmentalizing itself anytime soon, here are some ideas on how working from home with your kids can be… not the worst thing ever.

How to work from home with kids 

The first thing is to understand that this isn’t easy. Just the cognitive dissonance of doing work in places that you don’t associate with work, while being around people that you don’t work with is challenging. 

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Despite the popularity of the myth, multitasking isn’t really a thing. The brain is far less efficient when working on more than one task at a time. Unfortunately, working from home without childcare is basically a masterclass in multitasking — meaning you’re already starting at something of a disadvantage.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is something you can do about it.

Why you need a home office

Most guides on how to work from home successfully anchor with one crucial piece of advice — set up a home office space. There’s a reason why everyone keeps coming back to this. Having a space to do work helps prime your brain to focus when you’re in that space. This helps to reinforce work - home - kids separation.

Practically speaking, it keeps you organized — a key way to save your sanity when you’re working from home, let alone working from home with your children. And your kids aren’t the only ones who will interrupt you. Spouses, other family members, phone calls, and even pets will begin to creep in on your work time. Setting up a space where you work is a visual reminder to everyone that it’s probably not the best time to bother you.

Your workspace doesn’t have to be elaborate or large. If you’re sharing space with a family, chances are that (much like you) your house is already serving more functions than it was designed to lately. The idea is that a home office provides a visual and mental boundary. It can be a room, repurposed space, or a particular spot on the sofa. 

Being dressed for work (read: anything that’s not pajamas) will help. You can also keep separate laptops for work and non-work so your family sees that work device = work time.

9 ways to make working from home with kids easier

Aside from setting up an office/corner/hiding spot to work from, there are a few other things you can do to make the new normal make a little more sense.

1. Be single-minded whenever you can

When you work from home with young children around the house, any time that you have to focus on just one thing feels like a mini-vacation. Set up and take advantage of pockets of time when you have the luxury of focus. 

That doesn’t mean just cramming in as much work as you can during nap time. When you drive, just drive. When you’re helping the kids with homework, stay present. When you’re watching a movie, put your phone away. Having moments where you’re fully present will make you feel less overwhelmed.

2. Pick something to let go of

You can’t do it all (no matter what the self-help books tell you) — but you can have it all. Rather than waiting for something to fall by the wayside, pick something that you’re willing to give up or relax your standards on (not sleep). That might mean letting the kids put away their own laundry, ordering take-out most nights, or letting the dishes chill in the sink for a bit. 

3. Communicate with key people at work

When it comes to re-learning how to work effectively from home, you’re not alone. Let your manager and coworkers know about things you’re dealing with, like a sick child or times where you need to be offline. Managers are certainly more understanding than they’ve been at possibly any point in modern history — since they’re likely in the same boat.

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4. Leave the house at some point

One of the downsides of working from home is that you may find yourself sitting indoors for much more time than you’re used to. Whether it’s for a walk or to pick up more coffee, a change of pace and scenery can be medicinal. Take a conference call outside, or take your kids to the park for an alfresco lunch.

5. Prioritize self-care

Making time for yourself is easier said than done, but it’s necessary. Without taking time for self-care, the added stress is a recipe for burnout, overwhelmed, and all kinds of stress-related illnesses. Build healthy habits into your routine. Keep a water bottle at your desk, eat nourishing meals, and use that hour you saved commuting to get more sleep.

6. Ask for help

You might be able to lean on friends, grandparents, or your spouse for support — which is great, since it couples a strong support network with social connection. If that’s not feasible, though, see if it’s possible to recruit professional help. Hire a housekeeper, get a babysitter for a couple days a week, and use an app to get the laundry picked up.

7. Tire them out

Every parent knows that sometimes the best strategy to get a little peace and quiet is to run down your kids’ batteries. Staying in the house all day quickly leads to cabin fever, so get outside and engaged when you can. If going out isn’t an option, try a virtual yoga class or video hide-and-seek with their friends.

8. Go easy on yourself

Give yourself some credit for everything you’re trying to manage. It’s easier said than done, but release the anxiety and guilt around not being able to keep things to the standard you’re used to. If you tend to be particularly hard on yourself, think of this as a great time to model grace under pressure for your kids.

9. Meditate

Consider using some of your precious free time to meditate. In addition to helping with stress, meditation builds several other useful skills. It helps you regulate your emotions and learn to focus more effectively (when you are able to focus, that is). When you’re in hustle mode, it’s tempting to just power through — but taking breaks actually improves your ability to work effectively.

Remember — this won’t last forever

When you’re working from home with kids, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees. But no circumstance, no matter how trying, lasts forever. Eventually, babies grow up, kids go back to school (in person), and life finds a rhythm again. But the habits you cultivate make you better, more agile, more creative (and okay, fine, more tired). Try to maintain perspective, and keep things simple wherever you can. Use each moment of calm to remind yourself that you’re doing the impossible — and that’s pretty cool.

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Published November 2, 2021

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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