As a work-at-home mom, I can attest to the difficulty level of trying to manage a household and work in the same environment that the children are constantly running around in. For those who have what I would call the "luxury" of children in school during the day, you are so lucky! Although I have five children in school during the day, my three year old and my one year old are constantly home.
Until just recently, I worked in the middle of all of the action, at a computer desk situated either in the living room, the dining room, or sometimes my bedroom, when I really needed to try to separate myself from the chaos. However, it always seemed that I was so discouraged with the inability to work during the day that I took on the night shift, too.
This created two major problems:
a) I wasn't getting enough sleep, playing mommy all day and then working until 2 am, and then getting back up to play mommy again at 6 or 7 am.
b) I was severely limiting the amount of hours I could work.
Now that we've moved into a house with enough space for it, I have my own office to work in. :)
Despite the fact that I have a wonderful office that my dear hubby decorated to be nature-esque and calm and soothing, with a door that is kept closed when I'm working, I'm consistently telling children who think nothing of opening the door and calling out, "Mom!", followed by a question, comment, complaint, announcement, tattle tail, etc. Um, did you see that the door was closed??? What's the point of even closing the door?
So, how does a work at home parent set the boundaries that separate work from home on a level that the children understand?
Setting the Rules
Children need to know their boundaries and the rules. Surely, you already know this. And, although you would think that a dedicated office in the home setting adorned with a closed door would SIGNAL that you are working, that's simply not enough to keep the children from entering when they think they need you.
Therefore, a vital first step to making the home office work for both you and your children is to set down the ground rules. And, keep it simple, like, "When mommy - (or daddy) - has the office door closed, it means that I'm working". You will find yourself repeating this rule about 999 times before it really sinks in, but don't give up.
Now, you may not have the "luxury" of having an office, and I totally understand how this can be! You will still need to create a way to differentiate "work hours" from "mommy - or daddy - hours". Maybe you wear your "working shirt" or maybe when you are on the laptop, that signifies you are working. Come up with your own strategy and explain the ground rule.
Keeping them Busy
Once the rules are laid out, you can't just expect your kids to keep themselves busy...unless you're REALLY REALLY lucky! Make sure that all of their needs have been met - they're fed, they've had their drink, their diapers are fresh. Only then can you show them how to "work" while you work. :)
By the Ages
For little ones, grab two or three buckets of toys, organized into separate bins according to toy type. For example, a bucket of legos, a bucket of Hot Wheels and a bucket of building blocks...or army men, or baby toys. You know what makes your child tick - find it and start to play with them. Then, after about 5 minutes of play, tell them that you have to work and they can continue to build something beautiful for you - or something encouraging to help them on their way to individual play. While I'm lucky enough to have a 3 year old who will keep the one year old busy building and playing, this may prove to be another difficult task for those who don't. Keep working on it...they will eventually realize that they need to play while you work.
I've even given my littlest an old computer keyboard to bang on while I'm working - that seems to work for a little while. He thinks he's working, too!
For children ages 3-8 or 9, I would suggest movie or computer time if you need an hour or two to work during their waking hours. Yes, I know that doctors and child specialists will tell you to limit their television and computer time, but if you have to work, you have to work, right? Also, don't forget about little learning systems like Leap Frog and computer laptops for youngsters.
For parents with children who are older than 8 or 9, it shouldn't be as hard. Do they have homework to do? Can they read a book for an hour or two? Again, movies and games could be the ticket.
Don't forget coloring books and crayons for any age. You can even have the child/ren in your office, coloring quietly while you work.
Additionally, for those of you who simply cannot work until the older children come home, because your little one won't let you breathe, let alone work, you can recruit your older children to keep the little ones busy for a while.
Sometimes, nothing helps a parent more than a quick little negotiation session. "If you let mommy work for an hour, I will give you (fill in the blank). I will set the timer now, and when it beeps, you get (the reward).". Hey, a little bribing can go a long way!
Set A Schedule/Routine
It's a well-known fact that children adjust better to any situation when it's predictable. Therefore, if you set a schedule or routine for working during the day, you child/ren will get used to it. Yes, new schedules take time to get accustomed to, but it's worth every bit of effort.
So, look at a daily schedule that will work for your family. For example:
7:00-9:00 playtime - spend TIME with your child, that way this need of theirs is fulfilled
9:00 -9:30 breakfast
9:30-9:45 Introduce them to their "work" activity
9:45 to 11:45 Work time for you (you may have to insert a snacktime during this time frame, possibly a drink time, but if you get it prepared during breakfast time, it will be a quick 5 or 10 minute block out of your work time
11:45 to 12:45 lunch time/spend time with your child (and make sure you eat, too!)
12:45- 1:00 play with child, get child ready for movie or afternoon nap time (if you're lucky!), etc.
1:00 - 3:00 Work time for you (again, you may need a snack time in there)
Of course, you will need to adjust the times according to your child's needs, too, but there you have it, 4 hours of work time, even with the children home. No, it won't be easy, and it WILL require some work to get it right, but eventually, if you stick to the rules, the incentives, and the routine, you will find that you CAN work at home with children.
Please share your tricks of the trade in the comments!