Can you work from home with kids?

newborn baby being held by toddler brother
My newborn daughter with big brother.

I wrote this post July 2019. It’s interesting to look back on after COVID forced many parents to work from home while raising kids in 2020.

When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it to be delivered the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

IMG_3419
Now there’s just me, my husband and the cat working from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle parenting with your job?

Is anyone else nervous about a return to normal?

maine coon on a sofa
Olive has given me great comfort and company during COVID-19.

After spending March 2020 through April 2021 mostly at home, quietly in solitude, reading, writing, packing and unpacking because of our move, I have been more social the past two weeks (post vaccines) than in the past year. It’s fun but tiring and stressful, too.

Tomorrow my son, his girlfriend and a sister come for a long weekend. It will be their first visit to our new home. Last weekend, we got together with friends from Palm Springs who we discovered moved less than five minutes from our new house. A few days before that, we got together with a Palm Springs couple from our old neighborhood who were visiting Arizona.My daughter also managed to drive down from the Bay Area for her first visit at our new home. So much socializing and I’ve been used to solitude. It’s a weird feeling. I enjoy the interaction, but it’s almost as though I’m afraid to get out and it’s more tiring than I remember.

My son told me that since he’s now fully vaccinated, he’s going for it. He said it’s the only way to get past the shelter in place feelings. So they are flying and coming here. Of course I can’t wait.

Then for Mother’s Day, my daughter bought me a ticket to fly to Seattle. My mom is in assisted living up there a few miles from where the first bad COVID breakout happened in a nursing home. I missed my mom’s 88 and 89 birthdays due to COVID and I did say the first thing I wanted to do when things were normal was visit her. I called the home and they said all restrictions are off for in-person visits. I cried, I was so excited.

My daughter said that our son was bragging about “winning” my birthday with the best gifts, so she had to step up her game to “win” Mother’s Day. I kind of like their competitive spirit when I’m the one benefitting from it. I’ll get to see Mom and my Aunt, too (mom’s little sister). Plus, I get to see my best girlfriend from college days.

It’s a dream come true, but I’m filled with apprehension. The idea of the airport, plane getting a rental car seems overwhelming. But I’ll do it.

Cactus Arizona sunset
Sunset in the neighborhood.

What are your thoughts about returning to normal? What did you like about sheltering in place?

The new normal: our crazy topsy turvy life

Today I’m looking back on when things got crazy. They’ve never stopped. I also am not okay with the “new normal.” Nothing is normal. Nothing.

Here’s a recap of the day before we sheltered in place. My kids who live in the Bay Area already went on shutdown.

Pretty long-haired cat next to flowers and swimming pool

Our cool as a cucumber cat is helping to keep me calm.

I was doing okay, but yesterday when my kids called me and said they were under mandatory “shelter in place,” I started to panic. I’m wondering if the world will ever get back to normal? They were working remotely in my son’s house in the Bay Area.

The mandatory shelter in place started today. Yesterday they were told to prepare to be home for at least two weeks. My daughter is working remotely and decided to get out of the city and drove home last night. It’s so nice to have her home! I wonder how long she will be here?

cute pug

Waffles the pug came home, too.

My dad agreed to let me grocery shop for him and I found everything he needed except for toilet paper, of course! While I was driving from his home, my daughter called and Waffles, her pug, ate something and was trying to throw up, but nothing was coming up. I told her to call a vet and I got really stressed out again! She called back in tears and said that the vets she called would NOT take new patients in their practice due to the Coronavirus! I was in the car and while she was talking to me and I noticed a big white pick up truck on my tail! Then he swerved in the lane next to me, and started yelling and screaming, giving me the finger. He threw a milkshake at me! It hit my windshield and the car was covered. I’m still shaking.

What in the h*ck is going on, folks? Is this really the time to become completely unhinged?

white pick up truck road rage

This is the guy in a white pick up truck with a Home Depot trailer that threw a milkshake at me.

Let’s take a moment to breathe some fresh air, calm down, take a walk and enjoy your families. And love up our dogs and cats, too!

As a follow up, Waffles the pug spent the night at the one facility that accepted new patients — the emergency pet hospital. It turned out he ate berries from a bad bush and was placed on an IV after his belly was emptied from the toxic berries. At 16 pounds, he’s a little guy and quite fragile. 

What excitement has your family experienced in this topsy turvy new normal?