How to Work from Home with Kids

Three seasoned work-from-home pros share their tips and strategies

By Amy Newman

When the COVID-19 pandemic turned dining room tables into home offices almost overnight, parents who found themselves telecommuting were suddenly faced with one unalterable fact:

Working with kids at home is hard. Between dealing with starvation-like hunger that hits right when the phone rings or kids who decide to practice their streaking skills during the middle of a Zoom meeting, handling work, kids and schoolwork can sometimes feel like a job itself.

“It has its challenges, but it also is a blessing,” says Rylee Rudd, owner of Accent on You Marketing in Wasilla and mom to Emma, 7, and Mason, 18 months.

Though working from home with kids can sometimes leave you longing for the solitude of an office cubicle, these tips from veteran work-from-home parents will help make it work.

Create a schedule

Working from home usually means some degree of flexibility in your day. But dedicating set blocks of time to getting work done can help you stay on track and minimizes work life interfering with home life.
“Something that I definitely found out in all of this is I have to have it on my calendar,” Rylee says. “If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t happen.”

When setting a schedule, there is no one-size-fits-all approach (unless, of course, your job requires that you be available at certain times). Working during nap time or when the kids are at school are obvious opportunities to work free of distractions. How you structure the remainder of your work hours depends on when you feel most productive, with even some trial-and-error days.

“You have to find what works for you,” Rylee says. “I tried to run the business from 8 am to 4 pm, but that doesn’t work for me. I’m not a morning person. I don’t like it; it doesn’t make me extra motivated. I’d rather stay up late.”

Rylee’s solution was to create a hybrid work schedule. Certain tasks, like client meetings and networking events, can only be done during regular business hours; the rest, like sending e-mails, content creation, or project planning, she does after her kids go to bed.

Establishing a schedule also means constantly evaluating and adjusting it as needed to meet changing workplace and family needs, so an ability to quickly adapt is a necessity.

Ana Spaic Rodrigues works part-time from home as an insurance assistant for the Marsh & McLennan Agency. Like Rylee, some of her work – team meetings, new hire training, and supervisor meetings – must be done during regular business hours. The rest, she says, can be completed according to her own schedule, provided it’s completed on time. What that schedule looks like, though, has changed during the two years she’s worked from home.

“At the beginning of my work-from-home journey, I would get up early and got a good solid two hours of work in before (my son) woke up,” she explains. “Now with two, it’s a bigger challenge. I realized that with a newborn who wakes up multiple times during the night I needed more sleep. Right now, I am not waking up early to work before they wake up unless I really want to or I was a huge procrastinator and need to just get something done.”

Embrace distractions

Keeping the kids distracted is essential to getting work done. Sometimes, a good distraction is screen time, whether it’s a favorite show, educational app, or online game.

“I try to limit screen time to one hour a day, two hours at most, for my 3-year-old,” Ana says. “I use it as a reward maybe one-third of the time, because screen time shouldn’t be the only reward.”

With the warmer weather, outdoor time keeps kids occupied and provides some quiet moments to knock things off the to-do list. Rylee’s daughter keeps her younger sibling busy in the backyard, while Anchorage artist Christina Wilson often sits in the backyard doing some of her day-to-day administrative tasks while watching her children, 3-year-old Jonah and 8-month-old Avery, explore or play on the swing set.

Depending on the task, having the kids “help” serves as both distraction and quality time together. Christina’s son enjoys applying stickers to the cards she includes in every paint kit, while Rylee brainstorms logo ideas with her daughter.

Other ideas to keep the kids occupied when you need blocks of uninterrupted time:

Set boundaries

Kids naturally crave their parents’ attention, which makes setting boundaries important.

“One of the things I started immediately upon transitioning to working from home was explaining to my older son that sometimes I am in the middle of something on my work computer and I have to finish that thing before I can give him my full attention,” Ana explains.

Though it took time – as well as some tears – to fully enforce the rule, Ana says her son eventually learned that patience paid off.

“Within a month or so, he got used to waiting patiently while I finished up, and then I gave him the attention he wanted,” she says.

Just as important as establishing boundaries about work time is setting boundaries about the workspace.

“He has his own little keyboard and mouse that he can ‘work’ with,” Ana says of her son. “Mine are off-limits. I have to stay firm with this boundary.”

Create a support network

Having people who can step in to assume parenting duties can be a tremendous help.

“I have an amazing husband who’s super supportive,” Christina says, though she recognizes it’s a luxury not all work-from-home parents may have. Her husband not only keeps the kids occupied during her dedicated work time, but reminds her to take it.

Ana also says she’s thankful to have parents and siblings nearby who can pitch in and help, as well as a group of friends she shares babysitting duties with.

Sometimes, the support network extends to include clients and co-workers. Ana’s co-workers provide advance notice of meetings and trainings so she can arrange to have someone watch her children, and her supervisor checks-in before assigning urgent work. Many of Rylee’s clients are family-run businesses who understand her situation, which make it easier to work with the kids at home.

Go easy on yourself

From clingy kids to work emergencies to unexpected school closures, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Working from home means being able to embrace those changes.

“You have to be okay with the curveballs,” Rylee explains. “You can’t judge yourself on what other people are doing.”

And whether life as a work-from-home parent is temporary or is full-time, remember to cut yourself some slack.

“Give yourself grace,” Christina says. “I think taking breaks from your work is okay, and just not being so hard on yourself. If we aren’t flexible with ourselves, and we don’t fill our cups first, it will trickle down to our jobs.”