WORKING FROM HOME WITH TODDLERS AND NEWBORNS
So much has changed in the past two years, and working from home with toddlers is one of the most unexpected challenges currently facing millions of parents. Two very clear trends are going to make this an even bigger issue in the years to come.
First, the year-over-year rate of pregnancies increased at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s another baby boom! Second, more people than ever are working from home.
So, what’s the solution? For starters, parents need a plan for how to work from home with a baby.
We’ve chocked this article full of information on how to successfully work from home with a baby. Our goal is to help you remain productive and, perhaps most importantly, keep your sanity while balancing personal and professional responsibilities.
Create a Schedule
Before tackling almost any of the other recommendations in this article, it’s vital that you establish how you want your days to look, and how your time can be used to get work done within a reasonable amount of time.
No schedule can perfectly optimize for everything you need to tackle in a given day. Also, no person can perfectly stick to the exact same schedule every single day.
But, a reliable and realistic schedule will give you a successful framework required to maximize your efforts. Without a schedule, you’ll start to get tired from the constant need to come up with the next activity or productive use of time.
A functional schedule should account for things like the following:
- What your morning routine will look like?
- What time will you wake up, and (if you can control this) what time will the kids wake up?
- When do you need to start work? Have you shared those expectations with the family?
- Who is responsible for making breakfast, feeding the kids, getting them dressed, and preparing activities for the day? Can those responsibilities be split to maximize productivity?
- Do you need to work around the specific needs or schedules of your children? For example, if your child still takes multiple naps during the day, you’ll need to block times when you step away from work to put them down.
- What are your expectations and your family’s expectations for lunchtime? Is it easier to have everyone help make lunch and sit down together? Perhaps the best option is to take meals in shifts? It sounds a little silly, but answering these questions will help develop a more predictable and sane daily routine.
- Do you have designated time that is spent on a particular activity like a walk or nap? Can you rely on having this time spent the same way every afternoon?
- If you and your spouse are both working from home with toddlers, you’ll need some clear boundaries on when work ends (we’ll share more on this later) so you know when to shut the laptop.
- Will you be able to eat at the same time every night, and all together?
- Knowing when to begin the bedtime routine will help you plan the rest of your evening (depending on how old your kid or kids are). Can one parent put kids down while the other one catches up on work if they needed to end early?
These are just a few of the areas that your schedule might address. Answering those questions will at least help clarify some of the important transitional periods during the day to keep things on track as much as possible.
Use That PTO!
More and more companies are encouraging employees to actually use the time off that they’ve been given. If you have 3 or 4 weeks of paid time off, and you’re not planning a month-long excursion, perhaps you can take off one day a week for a month, giving you and your spouse a break and a little extra time with the kids.
Or, take time at the beginning of the year to intentionally plan rest periods once a month that will allow you to know exactly when you’ll be able to turn work off and focus 100% on spending time with your kids, getting outside, traveling to visit family or friends, and other healthy pastimes.
Set Boundaries, and Keep Them
Burnout can happen faster than you might realize. When you first start working from home, it might feel a little bit like a vacation - Zoom calls from the couch can even be fun.
However, after a few months, the reality might start to settle in, and while some people thrive on the focused and self-guided work time at home, others might lose the ability to distinguish between when it’s time to work and when it’s time to be with family or just rest.
Many parents also feel that they are failing specifically as a parent by letting work tasks and calls bleed into what would otherwise be family time. The stress of work combined with the anxiety from missing time with kids or spouses can be too much for some people to handle, and it’s no secret why.
Unfortunately, the data also shows that moms are burning out at a higher rate and in larger numbers than dads - which is more evidence of the need for a fair split of responsibility at home. TODAY ran a survey which found that nearly 83% of moms are feeling burnt out from the effects of the pandemic and the way that it has changed home life. The imbalance and burnout rates are even higher for those who don’t have access to adequate support or resources.
Here’s something that many parents need to be reminded of: work can be turned off. Now, i’m fully sympathetic to the fact that many parents have demanding jobs with time-sensitive tasks. But, there are standard business hours for a reason, and the emotional and physical needs of children cannot be constrained in the same way that crowded inboxes can.
Parents need and deserve permission to say no to work and yes to their families. Here’s how we suggest that you put this concept into practice at home.
Pick a time each day when you’ll definitively shut your laptop and put your phone on silent, or stick it in a drawer and “check out” from work. If you have a real home office, try using the door as both a physical and symbolic barrier. Once you close the door, it stays closed until the next day.
Make sure that you also communicate this barrier with your children (if they are old enough to comprehend the rule). Otherwise, you kids might (and reasonably so) assume that because you’re home you’re also available to spend time with them. A lack of structure and rules will leave them just as confused and frustrated as you.
As someone who has worked from home a lot of the last year, I can personally attest to the need for clear boundaries to avoid guilt as a parent and disappointed kids.
Partner with Your Spouse
If you’re married and both parents are learning what it’s like working with a toddler at home, there might be an opportunity to team up. You’ll need to creatively figure out periods when you can give each other focused work time and breaks. Without clear communication you might both end up getting frustrated with though no one has actually done anything wrong.
One practical way to stay on the same page is simply to have your own “business meetings,” though you won’t be reviewing quarterly earnings. Whether it’s once a week or every morning, you should set aside a dedicated time where you can both talk without interruption and plan out the coming day or week.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
This might seem obvious, but lots of parents continue to post up on the rocker or sectional while trying to do focused work and lead team meetings. For many reasons, it’s important to create a dedicated workspace within your own home. This will give you much-needed privacy and quiet while eliminating visual distractions. A closed-door is so important for getting into the right headspace and maintaining productivity throughout the day.
Home offices don’t need to be fancy. If you look online you’ll find thousands of examples of parents converting spare bedrooms, unfinished basements, broom closets, and even heated outdoor buildings into a home office.
You also need a place to leave work technology, files, notes, and anything else that has migrated from the office. A separate home office is the perfect place to protect things that toddlers would be thrilled to discover and immediately eat or break.
You might eventually realize that working from home with a toddler is simply too difficult and start to transition to an office or co-working space. That’s OK! But, giving yourself time to have a positive experience with working from home with a baby is important.
Take the Guesswork out of Playtime
Few things are more exhausting than constantly being asked by your kids to come up with new games, toys, stories, snacks, and other ways to pass the time. A relatively easy “life hack” for avoiding this situation is to simply list all of the options that could be available on a given day.
For example, you could list out the afternoon activities that can reasonably be done on an average afternoon. This might include activities like a puzzle, an educational video, a walk, and much more. The point here is not to necessarily be exhaustive. Instead, the point is to limit the available options to things that are easy to do and readily at hand.
This way, when your child is clearly bored and looking to you for entertainment, you have a pre-made list of activities that you know they like and you have sufficient time, energy, or materials to make it happen quickly.
The same type of list can be very helpful for snacks and meals. Think of this like a simple menu for helping you, a spouse, or your child easily select a feasible food option or past time.
Make a Playroom
Your child might not be at the point where you can reliably count on an hour or two of independent play, but that’s alright. Even starting with 10-15 minutes of self-guided play is a great way to introduce this practice to your kids and build up their capacity for independent play.
To help my kids get better at playing without either parent around or involved, we completely baby-proofed a large room in our basement by securing all of the furniture and outlets, covering the tile floor with squishy foam squares from wall-to-wall, and investing in high-quality toys that encourage healthy methods of play.
The finishing touch for our playroom was to install 2 cameras facing each other from opposite ends of the room to ensure that we can see every angle. Using an app and live feed we’re able to monitor our kids in real-time while they’re happily playing, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes.
Investing in a multi-functional playroom will give you peace of mind that they are safe and happy, and it will give your kids a chance to cut loose on their own. If your kids are anything like mine, then they will love making up their own play scenarios, running around in circles, and making lots of pretend food for their imaginary restaurant.
If you have an important work call or a project to finish before dinner, a safe and fun playroom will save you tons of headaches.
Is your child too young for a playroom? Even something as simple as a play mat or bouncy seat will help you keep them within your sight, out of trouble, and happily preoccupied for a few minutes while you tackle that next project.
Maximize At-Home Educational Opportunities
While newborns will need much more constant and active attention from one of their parents, toddlers will start to crave more complex interactions that can often be based on learning opportunities.
Flashcards, puzzles, books, and online programs can provide hours of critical entertainment in a healthier manner than cartoons or mindless videos. Educational toys (e.g. Montessori-inspired toys) are also great for inspiring more creative and independent learning and play. We carry an extensive collection of toys for kids of all ages. If you’re looking to expand the playroom selection while working from home with a toddler, check out our full collection of Montessori-inspired toys that are colorful, simple, and often made from natural materials.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
No, it’s not cruel to pop in some headphones to drown out crying or whining while your spouse or a babysitter is taking care of the baby. Technology can be hugely beneficial when you’re creating a usable work environment. Consider any of the following into your daily work habits to improve focus, efficiency, and productivity:
- Noise-canceling headphones. Wireless options are especially helpful for staying connected to a conference call even if you need to run to the basement or grab a drink from the fridge.
- White noise machines. Placed strategically outside of your office door (or your toddler’s playroom), a white noise machine is a great way to protect private conversations, assist in undistracted work, or keep your child’s room quiet while they sleep.
- Time blocking software can be a huge help for parents that struggle with self-guided project management or that are unsure how to constructively break down their tasks into small increments that can be completed throughout the day.
- Eliminate distracting apps. If you’re constantly getting pinged by social media, news, and texts, try to cut down on which apps are available on your work devices.
These recommendations are important precisely because, as a parent who’s working from home with a toddler, you need to ensure that your time spent on work is actually productive and not in frustration that you can’t hear what a co-worker is saying.
We get it, working from home with a toddler is tough. However, it doesn’t have to be impossible, and it doesn’t even have to be “knockdown, drag-out” difficult. With proper planning and some smart foresight, you can create a routine that supports your child, your spouse, and your employer while providing proper boundaries for mental health and physical well-being.