Working from home … with distractions

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.

Distractions

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.

Boundaries

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!

Competing priorities

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.

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Jon @ Money Smart Guides
Jon @ Money Smart Guides
5 years ago

I work from home and don’t have kids, so no major distractions. But, my wife also works from home on Fridays and this is a major distraction. She is on the phone a lot, so I find myself going into another room and closing the door for some quiet.

The hardest part though is just the interruptions. It actually goes both ways and we have to get better at limiting them.

zoranian
zoranian
5 years ago

My strategy as a worker and parent is to find jobs where I can take my kids with me, although I also work from home at times. Because my work from home hours are limited (very young children need constant supervision) I have found employment where I can bring them with me to work. I work about 5-7 hours a week at a local YMCA and get a reduced membership and can drop them off at the kid’s club for up to 2 hours while I work (or work out). I also help provide childcare at my local church during… Read more »

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

I don’t mean this as a criticism, but it seems like a trade off — you’re either working around your employer’s schedule or your kids’. Which one is “freedom” depends on the person, their job, and their goals. Some of my coworkers who have kids enjoy the 9-5 because they can come in to the office and just focus on work. They like the uninterrupted (by kids) block of time to do their work. Some of my other friends do what Lisa does — squeeze in time early in the morning, late at night, when the kids nap, when they’re… Read more »

FI Pilgrim
FI Pilgrim
5 years ago

Working from home is increasingly common with the technology we have available now, I hope to transition that way at some point. What’s funny is that my company’s leadership doesn’t understand the value of it! They are utterly amazed and disbelieving when they hear of someone willing to take a pay cut (even $5k) to be able to work from home. I don’t understand wanting to make the office a second home!

Natasha
Natasha
5 years ago

I am a single mother of one child (who is now 18), and have worked remotely a majority of the last ten years. Prior to that, I worked overnight while my son spent the night at my parents home. With the type of work I do (IT), I was very fortunate to have a niche skill, therefore negotiating more flexible hours and remote work opportunities. To this day, I get a bulk of my work done in 2-3 hours, and any subsequent reporting can be done with the distractions that I had. I am so, so happy to have been… Read more »

Jeni
Jeni
5 years ago
Reply to  Natasha

Good for you, Natasha! I did the same thing when I was a single mom. I worked at nights some, too. It was tough, but it CAN be done!!!

Tricia
Tricia
5 years ago

I used to work PT from home when the kids were little and that worked well, since my hours were minimal and I rarely had to meet up with anyone. Now that they are older and in school, I am working away from home again. I am less than 5 minutes from my home and their school and have an extremely flexible schedule. Something would have to give if I didn’t have this situation, especially during the summer when they are home a lot more. It seems like someone is always sick or needs a ride, or there is an… Read more »

Sam
Sam
5 years ago

Mr. Sam worked from home for about a year and half and I hated it. I would get home and he would still be in his pajamas and he would have made coffee and lunch and the kitchen would have been a mess, etc. I’m glad he is back to work in an office, I actually think his working from home was bad for his health, physical and mental, although he claims he loved it. As for small children, the folks I know who have worked from home with small kids have also had a nanny or other child care.… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
5 years ago

I am self-employed and work at home as well, and most people assume that my kids stay home too. But they don’t. They go to daycare from 9-5. On the rare occasion that they must stay home with me (daycare is closed, someone is sick, etc.), it is almost impossible to get anything done. I end up snapping at the kids to be quiet or forcing them to watch movies all day so that I can work. It isn’t fair to either of us.

Dave LaLonde
Dave LaLonde
5 years ago

Very interesting! Would you say that putting your children in daycare has been helpful for you in terms of cost? I’m only curious, because I see that a lot of parents tend to start off with having their children stay at home because they think it’ll be cheaper. But would you say it’s worth it to try daycare?

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago

When my children were under a year, my husband and I alternated working from home WITH a mother’s helper taking care of the baby while we worked. Now my husband works from home f/t and during the school year we use daycare (and the oldest is at school and after-care) and during the summer the toddler is in daycare while the oldest is at daycamp. Worth every single penny. When the toddler is sick, one of us has to take a day off or half a day off because even though she needs less attention when she’s sick (because she… Read more »

Dave Lalonde
Dave Lalonde
5 years ago

This gave me a really good insight! Thanks! You were very fortunate to have a family member help you as well!

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lalonde

A mother’s helper isn’t a family member– it’s a paid nanny who takes care of the child while you’re there and sometimes does light chores. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/mothers-helpers/

Unless you mean my husband, but he’s also one of the parents to our kids, so not really “helping me”.

Emily
Emily
5 years ago

I worked from home for the first 3 years of my child’s life. It was actually easier when she was younger because, while yes I had to do more for her, she was easily distracted by toys & easily contained. OH and she took more naps ;). Once she needed more interaction it started to become more difficult, but not impossible. It helps that I have a very independent child – she is great at entertaining herself with whatever we have around (within reason). Even now that she is 3, I can send her out in the back yard by… Read more »

Patty@homemakersdaily.com
5 years ago

I don’t have a job like you do but I do have a blog that I post to daily. So every day I have two or three hours of blog time. My kids are grown and gone but I have two preschool grandchildren who are here frequently. I have tried doing some work while they’re playing but it isn’t possible. Since I’m grandma, they expect my undivided attention and, that is, after all, what grandma’s do. So if possible, I try to arrange my schedule so I don’t have to blog, or at least not very much, when they’re here… Read more »

Miser Mom
Miser Mom
5 years ago

This one sentence jumped out at me: “If they need new pants at school because the button fell off (true story), I can quickly take them a spare pair of pants … ” Learning to do simple fixes ourselves saves more than money; they can also save time. Sewing back on a button takes maybe five minutes. Even if its the rivet kind, putting a patch over the hole and sewing on a new button from your handy button jar takes about 10 minutes. So you can replace a button for less than the time and cost of *driving* to… Read more »

Kristin
Kristin
5 years ago
Reply to  Miser Mom

I think she meant she could bring him another pair from home, not that she went out and bought another pair for him. I had a similar situation….I happened to be about an hour and a half away at a seminar, and my husband was 45 minutes away at school the day that my young one ripped his pants beyond repair at school. My mother was also out of town that day, and she was our backup! My husband ended up going home to bring him another pair. At the time of that incident I was working at home and… Read more »

Miser Mom
Miser Mom
5 years ago
Reply to  Kristin

Oh, yeah, that makes a lot more sense. And it brought back memories of the day kid’s teacher called me about her lunch box. She’d grabbed the one off the counter, and all it had in it were three moldy baby carrots. Some miserable mom *I* was that morning! I was glad I was close enough that I could bring her something she could actually eat (that is, the lunch box from the fridge, that had real food).

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago
Reply to  Miser Mom

My DH (while he still worked at the university instead of home) has been known to stop at a sandwich shop or convenience store between work and school in these situations rather than bringing the packed lunch from home. I’m not sure that’s the best incentive to not forget one’s lunch.

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
5 years ago

A tip for dealing with kids at home…set aside specific time during the day to be with only them. Consider it your work break. If they have some dedicated time with you, they will be less likely to bother/interrupt when you are working.

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

I have always worked at an outside office for “The Man” and not from home, but I have to say that daycare was my Godsend. My son is a wonderful person who was always high maintenance, especially as an infant, and the office was my break and escape – hard as I’ve worked at my job, it was a piece of cake compared to DS’s infancy. I needed the downtime! Moreover, daycare was great for DS – he has mild Asperger’s and has always needed socialization with others, and he got it in daycare. I worked 4 days/week so had… Read more »

KC in GA
KC in GA
5 years ago

I just want to thank all the commenters for openly discussing the difficulty in working from home with infants and toddlers. I work from home one day a week and my child goes to daycare 5 days a week. Everyone here assumes that he stays with me the day I work from home and I’m like “Really?” because there’s no way I could get work done. Of course, there was the one time he was sick and we didn’t have alternate child care and I had a very important call with auditors so I couldn’t take sick leave. They just… Read more »

karla
karla
5 years ago

Like lack of sleep, trying to do things with toddlers passes. We all set our priorities and do what works best for us.

Wait, I still don’t get any sleep and my children are 21 and 19.

But it is easier to get work done.

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

Well I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. Once kids come into your life it’s always a series of choices. Daycare vs home. Work full time vs part time. Who will be the primary breadwinner? Sharing your tricks as to where you find time write etc while uninterrupted is very helpful for those who choose to work from home. I always feels as if we are short on time and attention. I liked hearing about how you found time to really concentrate on your work without detracting from your homelife (work when the kids are… Read more »

Jeanne
Jeanne
5 years ago

I’m the single mom of a 12-year-old (adopted 2 years ago internationally). Before my daughter came in my life, I had a 2-hour (each way!) commute, and I regularly worked 10 hours a day. Now, I work from home 3-4 days a week. I have a fabulous boss (and luckily work in Washington,DC, where office space is getting pricy enough that even traditionally conservative -in terms of work style, not politics – organizations are letting more staff work remotely). I work with people based in a lot of other countries, so it’s convenient to be at home so I can… Read more »

Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
5 years ago

We don’t have children, but both me and my husband work from home. We get distracted by each other and wanting to be outside a lot. Sometimes I just need to separate myself from him and any windows! haha 🙂

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

I have worked from home for the last five years or so. I am fortunate to have the luxury of a room to call my own for my office so it has been working quite well. I work with global teams so am on the phone all hours of the day and night. Working from home allows for great flexibility and support of my far away teams. But alas, our CEO ordered everyone back into the office (the previous CEO pushed us out; selling parking structures and campuses all over the world!) The environment is not at all conducive to… Read more »

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

how do I fix errors on my email address?

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

I work from home and though we don’t have children my main distraction is the fact that my husband and I live in a 1 bedroom apartment. Any living space outside of our bedroom, bathroom and kitchen is the office. Not very relaxing when I’m not working and its sometimes hard to separate work from home life.

Jennifer B
Jennifer B
5 years ago

I have worked full time from home for 13 years now – since my daughter was born. I had a local teen come and babysit for 2 hours once a week and my husband had every other Friday off, but otherwise I had no additional help. My job is international, and nearly all done by e-mail (and back then, fax). It is actually a benefit that I work work early morning and late night while my daughter was sleeping. It wasn’t easy. I don’t recommend it. If I were to have an infant or toddler in the house again, I’d… Read more »

Kayla Dawn Thomas
Kayla Dawn Thomas
5 years ago

I started working at home when my daughter started kindergarten. I’m a writer, so my work is very flexible, and I’m in control of my deadlines. Summers are our most challenging time because I don’t have those school hours to work. I’ve found working in 30 minute increments allows me to really focus during those bursts and be super productive, and my daughter (now 8) can manage herself. I check in with her, squeeze in a household chore or two, on my breaks and then get back into my office. I also swap play dates with friends to give myself… Read more »

Sally
Sally
5 years ago

I worked from home, finishing my dissertation while breastfeeding my newborn, having relocated for his work, and with having no family around. It was the single most exhausting endeavor and a major strain on my relationships with my husband and child. I hated just about everyone I loved for about 6 months. When my child wasn’t awake, I was writing. When my child was feeding, I was writing. In between, and if you have had an infant, yoy know there was no in between, we cleaned the house, mowed the lawn and made dinner.My husband could not do enough, and… Read more »

Mrs Spock
Mrs Spock
5 years ago

I am a nurse, and I have telecommuted from home for 5 years. Most employers, including my own, that offer telecommuting positions, require that you have child care in order to work from home. There is no way I can talk to patients or physicians with my screaming 6 month old and be professional. My kids are in day care and school. That said, if my kids are home sick, and my husband is home with them, I can pop out every hour and check on them. I am able to make meals from scratch, and never am harried about… Read more »

Evangeline
Evangeline
5 years ago

When I tell people I work remotely for my employer, I tend to get the same comments: I am so lucky, they wish they could find a job just like that, it must be nice, etc. People don’t realize that flexibility with your schedule never means flexibility with your responsibilities. I’m paid to do a specific job within a specific time frame. The key to making working from home successful is being able to see the situation as a ‘real’ job, not a fuzzy slipper, pj-wearing free for all. It requires a lot more focus than most people realize.

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Evangeline

That is so true but I think sometimes the “luck” some imply is the fact we don’t have to commute, something that can take a great deal of time (and money).

Jeni
Jeni
5 years ago

I have twin boys and have worked from home since they were born. I had two REALLY good sleepers, so I was able to work while they slept. I went into the office once a week (for staff meetings), and scheduled ALL my weekly conference calls for that one day I was in the office. Once my sons learned to walk and moved in opposite directions, I ended up not working at all from 18 months to 3 years old. Now they are 7 years old and home for the summer. While it can be challenging, it is by far… Read more »

Evangeline
Evangeline
5 years ago

True, Carla, but I also get the’you’re so lucky you can work whenever you want’ and those same people seem shocked when they call wanting to go shopping, have coffee, etc. and I’m too busy. Working at home is a real blessing, but it doesn’t mean working whenever I want; it means working whenever possible to get the job accomplished. It’s awesome but it’s still work:)

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Evangeline

That is so true! I tell people over and over what my work hours is and they still go get it simply because I work from home.

Gilia
Gilia
5 years ago

I work part time and am also finishing my masters part time. My girl was just born last year, now 14 months old. Thankfully grandma pays for daycare so that we can work and finish degrees (DH is working on PhD). So we work on our research at home without the little one there. During maternity leave while working on my masters (before she went into daycare), it was IMPOSSIBLE to watch baby and do work unless I arranged for someone to come over and watch her. And then I would only get less than 2 hours of uninterrupted time… Read more »

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