Stuck In The Middle With You: Tips for Working at Home with a Child

Stuck In The Middle With You: Tips for Working at Home with a Child

Carrie McBride
Apr 5, 2011

Working at home with your kids can sound like the best of both worlds, but sometimes it feels like the worst of both. Work time can be filled with interruptions and you can't give your child your full attention. I work in the office a few days a week and the rest of the time at home with my nearly 3-year-old. Here are a few things that have helped me stay sane, get work done and still have fun with my son:


• My strategies for balancing worklife and homelife have changed and evolved as my son has gotten older. Working at home with an infant is a different ball of wax as is being at home with school age kids. If you have advice for these age groups, please share it.

• My job is almost 100% online. If you have an at-home job that requires being on the phone a lot or making things with your hands, your strategies may be entirely different.

Be Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
by Virginia Lee Burton is one of my favorite children's books. Mike claimed (with some doubt) that he and Mary Anne could do more work in a day than a hundred men could do in a week. I can't quite hope for that level of productivity, but I try to be as efficient as possible. Learn to be super productive. You don't have the interruptions of water cooler talk or petty office dramas so that's in your favor. Take a look at your work processes and see what can't be sped up, streamlined or otherwise made better. Don't get sucked into your personal email or Facebook or other tempting distractions.

Give Them Your Undivided Attention - At Least for Ten Minutes
Not every kid is happy to play by themselves and I realize I'm very lucky that my son is. Would he rather be playing with me? Sure he would. So I do. Rather than half listen to what he's saying or doing and also being distracted from my own work, I've found it's better to stop what I'm doing for ten minutes or so a few times during the day to give him my undivided attention.

Add Structure
I've found it helpful to create structure in our days at home. Make 11:00 every day coloring time. Make a visit to the library every Friday afternoon. We attend a Toddler Tom Tom's class once a week. It's early and right around the corner so we're home before the workday starts, but it's a relief knowing something is scheduled and it makes our morning at home afterwards much easier.

Get Dressed
Studies have shown that you are 28% less productive in your pajamas. Okay, I made that up, but it really does feel like it. It's tempting to stay in my pajamas all morning, but I always feel better and work better when I'm dressed. Sometimes I even go crazy and put on mascara.

Get Out Early
I think kids should get outside every day. Yep, I'm that mom dragging my kid out to the playground in the middle of a blizzard for "fresh air." Burning off energy early in the morning makes my son less stir crazy during the day so it's not uncommon to find us at a local playground at the crack of dawn before settling in again at home. Take your coffee and it can be a nice morning ritual.

Be An Early Bird or a Night Owl, Not Both
Working at home with kids is not a 9 to 5 job and unfortunately means I work on the weekends and before and after business hours (as those of you who get emails from me at 5 am know!). Unless you're under a tight deadline, try to get work done early in the morning or after your kids are in bed, but ideally not both. Not having time to decompress just makes you cranky. (I'm still working on this one.)

"Work" Alongside Each Other
This desk setup above is one Maxwell made for his daughter Ursula in his office to use when she visits. My son and I frequently sit side-by-side at the dining room table - me hard at work on Ohdeedoh; he hard at work on a puzzle. We can still chit chat or I can help find a puzzle piece and we're together, but I can still get work done.

Have a Bag of Tricks
Every parent should have a bag of tricks whether you're trying to get business done or laundry done. Alongside our cache of coloring books, crayons, markers, and stickers, I try to have a few special or new things to pull out if we're having a rough day (or I really need to get on a phone call). In a pinch, I just make something up. The activity above (cutting out shapes, tracing them with a marker onto paper and then having him glue them into place) takes about a minute to put together, but keeps him busy for at least 20.

Get a Lap Desk
I have a desk, but I rarely use it. The majority of my work time is spent on the couch while my son plays nearby or on the bed while he reads or even in the bathroom while he takes a bath. A lap desk is somewhat more ergonomic and also keeps your lap from getting hot.

I don't pretend to have all the answers - but maybe you've got some? What are your best tips and tricks for working at home with your kid(s)?

(Images: Carrie McBride except image 5: Maxwell Gilingham Ryan)

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