Although I have liked almost every job I've ever had, I decided early on in my professional career that the most important thing to me was schedule flexibility. And so, I gravitated toward jobs that were flexible, and each new job had more flexibility than the last. I haven't had a strict schedule since 2007, and I have to say, I like it like that.
After we planned to have children, I knew that, once they arrived, I wanted a job I could do totally from home or at least have a very flexible schedule. While I didn't realize how challenging a flexible schedule could be, I like knowing that I will be home when the kids are done with school. If they need new pants at school because the button fell off (true story), I can quickly take them a spare pair of pants … instead of being one hour away at my old workplace.
Can you work from home?
If you also like flexibility, you may want to seek at-home employment. But here are the things to keep in mind. Working from home is filled with distractions (especially if you have kids), a blurring of boundaries, and competing priorities.
Kids are my main distraction. In one of my recent articles, a couple of readers commented that parents could not (or should not) work from home while they had children at home to care for. According to a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, I found that adults who lived in a household with at least one child under six spent 5.4 hours per day doing secondary childcare. That means they were caring for the child AND doing something else (but not necessarily working). Compare that to two hours per day doing primary childcare.
Anyway, I see the readers' point. But it's clear that many adults are multitasking when they have children to care for, not just me. And not just when they're working. And there is no question that it is very challenging.
Strategies for getting work done with kids at home
- Fortunately, my kids love to read. After a trip to the library today, all three of us are hanging out in the den. They are reading, and I am writing this article. Of course, I get interrupted. But quiet time gets me up to an hour of work time.
- Take advantage of sleeping kids. Our kids must stay in their bedrooms until 7 am. I am usually up at 5:30, so I get 90 minutes of work time. I also get 90 minutes of work time after they go to bed. And I still get seven hours of sleep on most evenings.
- I have mentioned it before, but my friends and I trade babysitting. Even when I am babysitting kids, especially if they're older (like 10 to 12), they and my kids play even better together. (Read: fewer interruptions.) Of course, I still need to supervise. I do get a lot of work done during my kid-free hours.
- My husband has a flexible summer schedule which is helpful when the kids are out of school for the summer. Occasionally, he can take one child to work with him, which helps me get more work accomplished. Even if he can't take them to work with him, many summer evenings, he can work or play with the kids while I continue to get work done.
- Our kids spend very little time with electronic devices, but that's also a way to keep them occupied while you work.
When I first started working from home, I didn't turn down social plans. You want me to come over for coffee? Sure! But I quickly realized that I had to create a schedule that allowed me to accomplish my working goals for the day. My schedule was flexible, but my job's demands weren't. Since I must put in 20 hours per week for my main job, I have created a schedule. While I deviate from the schedule sometimes, both from planned outings and emergencies, I have to find another hole in the schedule to replace my work time. It's not always easy.
But blurring of boundaries is more than that. Sometimes I feel pulled in too many directions. Sometimes I crave the clearly divided responsibilities I used to have when I was gone to work all day. Even though I have always also worked from home since we've had our kids, I can see how not having any extra work (other than household chores) would be freeing.
And a weekend without pulling out the laptop and working? That would be nice!
Going along with boundaries, sometimes priorities compete as well. In order to meet our family's budget requirements, I must work. There is no allowance in the budget for childcare costs. And yet, there are days when it would be lovely (and perhaps better?) to send the kids to childcare, or not have to work as much.
While I can do much of my work during any hours I choose, occasionally I have to take part in a conference call or webinar. I try to schedule these when the kids aren't around, but I did have to leave a conference call once to play referee. Professional? No. But that's the reality of working from home with children sometimes.
In conclusion, is it better to send your kids to daycare while you work from home? Your work time and your time with your kids is more defined. However, you have the expense of childcare, which, according to Child Care Aware of America, is expensive. In fact, the cost for center-based care for two children exceeds the median annual rent payments in all 50 states, and exceeds the housing costs for those with a mortgage. Or is it better to work from home with your kids? Your work time is not defined, but you are available if they need something, even if you're not always available for their wants.
It's a personal decision, of course, one that should be made by your family, by carefully weighing the pros and cons. While working from home with kids is not easy, it is possible.
Which strategies have you used to be both a worker and a parent? I am particularly interested in those of you who have worked at home with an infant or toddler as I have not done that.
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).