Many parents find themselves in a nearly impossible situation right now — working from home while also caring for their children. From the outside, some people look like they’ve got it all together, but for most of us, it can be a struggle. And while there are no easy answers for how to balance your work and caregiving responsibilities day after day, we do have some practical, age-based solutions for working from home with little ones. Read on for some tips on managing this balancing act.
Certainly, we don’t have to tell you that very young babies need a lot from you — they eat often, require frequent diaper changes, and also love attention and being close to you. And they’ll certainly cry and let you know when they’re not feeling their happiest. But there’s a lot you can do to give your baby what they need, get in your daily quota of baby snuggles, and still get work done.
- Take advantage of nap time. When your little one is snoozing, thankfully, you’ll know that you can get in some uninterrupted work time. This is the time to check off those tasks that require deep focus or full attention. If you have a good sense of when your little one usually naps, you can plan ahead for these focused periods of work.
- Keep your baby close. This might mean wearing your child in a carrier (which many babies love because they can be close to you, get in extra snuggle time, and even feel soothed by the motion of you moving around), which can give you some hands-free time to work. This might also mean working near your little one as they play on the floor near you or in a safe playpen. They’ll be happy to have you nearby, and you’ll know when they really need you.
- Make focused time to connect. Your baby may be plenty happy just hanging out nearby, but they also really benefit from quality time when they have your full attention. So make sure to take a break here and there to fully focus on your little one. You might read them a book, play peek a boo, or cheer them on for tummy time — you’ll probably love the break from work as much as they will.
Toddlers & preschool aged kids
Slightly older kids need just as much from you, just in a different way. They might not technically need to eat as frequently or have diapers changed as often, but that third request for a string cheese or the potty accident you need to clean up might still make it feel like you can’t get a break from childcare long enough to get any work done. They also need just as much attention from you and can let you know clearly how they feel about you splitting your focus. But hearing “Why do you have to work so much?” or “You never play with me!” may not be the cheerleading you need right now. Here’s what you can do to help keep them entertained, engaged, and feeling like they’re getting the attention they need from you — and so that you can feel confident finding balance.
- Get on their level. You may not be able to do this all day, but if it’s possible for you to spend some time doing some work at your child’s level — maybe sitting on the floor with your laptop beside where they’re doing a puzzle, or alongside them at the table while they play with clay — they’ll feel happy and secure knowing that you’re so close. If you check-in occasionally — to tell them how proud you are that they’re sticking with a challenging puzzle or to ask them if they’re making something new with their clay — they’ll also feel like you’re engaged in their play and they’re getting the attention they need. They may even be less likely to beg you to join them to play approximately one million times if you’re already right there.
- Help them find fun. Children at this age still don’t have the longest attention spans, and while they may, occasionally, stay really engaged in an activity that they’re excited about, it’s very common for them to want to bop from one set of toys to another. To help them embrace this curious energy, give them the freedom to choose what to explore (most little ones love choices!). This is not only exciting for them, it means you’re not coming up with a constant stream of play time activities. Try setting up little “stations” intended for different kinds of play that they can explore on their own while you work. Not that your living room suddenly needs to become a classroom, but if you think of a typical preschool space with an area for dolls, an area for art, an area for blocks, and so on, then you might get the idea. You can keep it simple by making a few different types of toys or play materials available to your little one — on a table, the floor, in small baskets, whatever is easy for you and accessible for them. Then your child can play a little with one, explore another, and, hopefully, let you get some work done. Over time, you may want to rotate out these toys on a regular basis so that your child feels like a toy is“new” even if they just haven’t played with it in a while.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. Kids at this age may be very vocal about wanting you to play with them and not work, which can be very tough to hear. Sometimes, by giving them a little of the attention they need, you might end off a few “Why won’t you play with me?” questions. If it’s possible, take a few times throughout the day to step away from your work and really focus on engaging with them, free of other distractions. Worry less about how much time you can spend with your child and focus instead on really engaging with them when you do spend time together. Sit down where they’re playing and ask what they’re doing. Jump in and play along, but let them continue to take the lead. Find time every day to read a story together, and ask them questions about the characters, the plot, or the illustrations as you go. You could even cook a meal or take your dog for a walk together — those things you have to do anyway can be tons of fun for your child and special time you can both spend together consistently.
Certainly, everyone’s job responsibilities are different and everyone’s child has different ideas of what quality time looks like. No matter what, know that if you’re figuring out how to juggle your work and caregiving responsibilities, you’re not alone. Lots of parents are doing the same right now, and it’s hard. You don’t have to aim for perfection, just whatever it takes to get through the day. You’re doing a great job.
- Corinn Cross. “Working and Learning from Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 16 2020. Retrieved Sept 30 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Working-and-Learning-from-Home-COVID-19.aspx.
- Damon Korb. “Age-Based Tips to Help Juggle Parenting & Working at Home During COVID-19.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, June 16 2020. Retrieved Sept 30 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Tips-to-Juggle-Parenting-and-Working-at-Home-COVID-19.aspx.