Working at Home With Young Children

One of the changes that has occurred in society over the last decade or so is that more and more people are finding out that commuting for a traditional job or just plain “working at home” while being your own boss is becoming more of a trend. Some people start a business from scratch instead of the usual commuting; there are countless careers that are possible and actually thrive by doing this!

The first consideration that usually comes to mind (or should if it hasn’t already!) is the way your household is typically run and populated. As one example, if there are young children in the house, many people will stop the thought processes right away at that point and assume that a home office simply will not work for them. You may be surprised to find that exceptional parenting and working at home can indeed work in harmony.

Speaking from experience . . .

In my own world of home offices and “be your own boss” scenarios, I am a freelance writer and music publisher. I thankfully can work at home for all of those titles. I have taken mental notes for years on the things that sometimes get in the way of work and which things make the difference between the feeling of having been productive and the feeling of having essentially thrown the day away.

On the other side of the fence, my daughter was older when I started my home office and was never one to get in the way. I would have had to consider additional factors had she been younger when I began this career journey.

What is the concern exactly?

When deciding whether or not you can effectively run a home office, any children who will be in the home are just one consideration. There are other diversions and some points to keep in mind while deciding if you are going to attempt this venture. Ask yourself a few basic questions and you will have a better grasp on the possibility.

Okay, back to the diversions that you will have to deal with. I have heard of it coming in many forms but for this article I will use the terms “diversion devils” and “diversion darlings.” What is the difference? First the diversion darlings. You know the ones! They come in all forms and some of those forms are downright adorable and even cuddly! A diversion darling would be the two year old who is never content to sit on your lap until you’re working and using the computer.

Other diversion darlings are those pampered pets that many of us have. Now I don’t know about your situation, but my diversion darling, a fluffy feline fur child named Destiny loves lying directing in front of the keyboard; but only when the keyboard is in use. A decade could go by, I’ll bet, that she wouldn’t bother lying there for a nap if no one tried to use the keyboard.

And then there are the devils . . .

Diversion devils are much easier to deal with than those darlings that often we really don’t mind distracting us at all. We sometimes gladly leave the desk for a game of Candy Land or a bedtime story if we don’t have a schedule set in stone. Be that as it may, it could be time to get out the chisel, set those goals, and prepare an agenda written in stone once and for all.

The diversion devils include those annoyances that happen throughout a day that make us cringe. By name, this would include the phone ringing when you are not expecting any important calls, email that arrives at all times of the day and night, the never ending to-do list, and that nasty thing called housework.

Often the form of the distraction does not make a difference however, and the devils end up distracting as much as that board game or cleaning up spilled milk or cookie crumbs would distract.

Do you need to “cry uncle” and devise another plan?

So how do we decide whether or not we can effectively run a home office when there will always be these same diversions? How do we know we will succeed on the days that we really need to have a fruitful day at work? Especially if this is your only means of paying the bills and bringing money to the household, you need to set some rules for yourself and then work on making them succeed until these things become routine.

Thinking about these things and being honest with yourself about whether or not you will be able to apply them to your home office will help you determine if it can work for you. You will either say “I can make that work!” or “There’s no way that will work in my household!” The answer will be your guide for future plans.

Some of these points deal with running an office when children will be in the home and others will deal simply with things that come along with running a home business efficiently.

1. First of all, have a schedule and stick to it! Days when I think I’m going to get a chapter written, or an article deadline met, or a music demo sent out only seem to work when I know what hours I will be working. If I start with the “I’ll just go through this email first” or “I’d better stick a load of laundry in the washer first” it just doesn’t work for me. I need to schedule work time as well as break times to take care of some of those devils.

For those with children in house, additional diversions will be coming up to try to alter your schedule. Will you schedule time with the children into your day, or hire some kind of child care so that you can concentrate on your work?

2. Don’t forget to schedule breaks for yourself! Not only is it vital for your health (we all know what sitting for long periods of time can cause with blood clots!) but it also allows you to take care of some of those phone calls, emails, or household chores. Sufficient break times additionally give you some quality time with the diversion darlings. This is easier to do with older children if they are on summer break, as one example. They will know when your breaks are but toddlers and babies have demanding needs that simply can’t (and shouldn’t) wait for a scheduled break.

3. A constant flow of coffee might be something that is enjoyable to you, but remember that you need to eat, too. If you were working in another setting such as an office, you would be given a lunch break, so offer yourself the same perks. You really don’t want to burn out from overworking yourself, right? That would make you a lousy boss! This consideration is basically just for deciding whether having a home office is good for you.

4. Go ahead and check your email to make sure there isn’t something urgent that needs your attention (remembering to be honest with yourself and that very few things are truly urgent!) but then keep the replies for one of your breaks. As a personal side note and plea, if you are one of those people who feel the need to forward mail to everyone in your address book solely because the chain mail says to do that, please consider ridding yourself of the habit. Not only does it waste your precious work time, but believe it or not, a great percentage of your address book contacts will not be amused.

5. If others are in the house when you will be working, let them know that you are unavailable for whatever time block you will be using to work. Of course there are always exceptions if the others are children. Older children will understand that it is your working time but you may want to consider having a “mum’s helper” come in for preschoolers. It doesn’t need to be someone as old as you would require if you were going out and hiring a sitter because you will be there. It will basically be someone to play with the toddler and alert you if there is a problem. This works well if you can hire older siblings for the job during their summer vacation from school, but that still leaves 9 months when they won’t be home to help.

6. Take advantage of the perk of setting your own hours. If you deal with clients much better in the late afternoon, as one example, then make your hours 11 to 7 or 10 to 6 instead of the traditional 9 to 5. If you want to take an hour for jogging or the treadmill, start at 9:00 instead of 8:00, but be sure that when 9:00 rolls around you will be ready to get down to business. This is one place you can perhaps work around the schedule and do the greatest part of your work when someone else is home to help with babies and toddlers.

7. Take a moment to evaluate what you are actually doing on the days that seem to pass by without being very productive. It may surprise you to suddenly comprehend that “checking out only my three favorite blogs” actually leads to following links and suddenly it’s an hour later. Same goes for “a quick check of the news and weather.” When you see what is actually whittling the morning away on those days you don’t get much done, it will be easier to fix it. If you simply can’t begin a day without your blogs, news, weather, or maybe two cappuccinos and the morning paper, try setting the clock for 30 or 45 minutes earlier.

8. Let the answering machine or voice mail do its job. If you are truly afraid that you will miss something urgent, just make some kind of “signal” with family members that will tell you they have an emergency and then you can answer the phone.

9. Don’t set yourself up for failure. This may come in the form of telling yourself that this or that has to be done before you can work without feeling guilty. Remember the bottom line rule, though . . . if a “brick and mortar” boss of the customary kind wouldn’t be very thrilled to hear you calling to say you can’t come to work before your toilet is cleaned or before you finish that last chapter in your current book, then don’t try to pull it on your new boss (yourself!) either.

10. Last but certainly not least, be good to yourself. Don’t get into the mindset that because you are working at home, you have to abuse yourself and work harder and longer than you would in a traditional office. Don’t sit there at your desk working when the worst flu in a decade hits you if that would be sufficient reason to quit if a conventional boss would make you stay at your desk on a day like that.

In closing . . .

Obviously this was just a very basic list to give you a place at which to start making a plan. It is usually a good idea to slide into a home working job gradually if your current work schedule will allow it. A sort of “trail run” if possible. Before quitting an established job to bring your work home, test it out to see if you can have the privacy you need during the evenings or weekends. See if there is a friend or relative who will help with child care when needed.

Everyone will have his or her own priorities and some of us will still, no matter how we tried to follow the schedule, be sitting at the desk and computer at 3 a.m. to complete something. It may be a result of staying up extra late or getting up extra early, but whatever the case, even those catch-up nights or weekends are one of the perks of having a home office, so enjoy your independence and recognize it for the providential thing it is.

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