Do you work at home with kids? Does that question already have you sweating?
Being a mom AND running a business is hard. SO hard, y’all. As a mom of two really young children (ages 5 and 3 at the moment), sometimes working from home seems pointless. It’s crazy. There are days where I want to throw in the towel and just be a full-time mama, and other days where mom-ing is hard and I miss my full-time job.
I'm in the thick of it with you, mama.
Over the last five years of being a mom and running a business, I’ve gotten into somewhat of a good flow and have found a balance that works for us. I get asked often how I manage both (don’t know why y’all… I’m a mess), so I’m sharing a bit about what I’ve done, and continue to do, in this season of working at home with kids.
Preface: The following are the tips that work for me. Everyone is different. I’ve gone through seasons where something just doesn’t work anymore and it needs to be changed. Don’t take this as a prescription for success, but determine the things that you anticipate working well for you, your children, and your business. Try things out.
Our house still looks like a tornado tore through it sometimes (a lot of times). I don’t always take care of myself like I should. Our laundry piles up often. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed. Sometimes I ignore my husband so I can catch up on less important chores or work. Dog hair tumbleweeds typically show up on particularly busy weeks. When I’m extra tired, I take naps.
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns over here. And I don’t expect it to be. Like ever. But I have made it less stressful and more fulfilling… this work-at-home-mom gig.
1. Lower Your Expectations
Y’all. If you don’t lower your expectations yourself, then your kids are going to do this for you. STOP DOING ALL THE THINGS! This was the number one change that gave me more mental freedom. You cannot put unrealistic expectations on yourself. Lower them and you’ll feel more successful and learn what you can realistically do. Stop thinking you can continue to do everything you once did, but now with one or multiple littles at home. Something will fall off your plate and it will likely bring something else with it, like your health, sanity, patience, self-confidence, marriage, etc.
I had my business long before kids and even had a couple 5 figure months when I was in the height of my young-married-business-mode phase. When our first daughter came along, I had to scale way back and so did that income. Kids change our capacity for our business (and everything else), but how many of us try to continue on like we were before they came along? Don’t let it feel like failure. Just realize it’s a change and a season. Stop comparing yourself, especially to the young, single, kid-free entrepreneur who has time for all the things! They don’t work at home with kids. I’ll say it again…
They DON'T work at home with kids.
Why in the world would you compare yourself to that!? Heck yes they can get more done…. and they probably even get 8 hours of sleep.
3. Designated "Work" and "Work Free" Times
I used to try to sneak in work wherever I could. Kids playing with blocks and ignoring me? Laptop comes out. Snack time? Answer emails. I thought it was productive, but it honestly wasn’t. I couldn’t plan on those moments, so I finally stopped looking for them. There are seasons for that, but I’ve found that blocking my time and setting designated times to work is what’s best for me. It allows me to turn off work-mode and fully engage with our two sweeties. The stress of constantly thinking “when will I get this done?” is no longer there. I now know that my work block is when I’ll get it done. I’ve also prepped my clients for this. They know I don’t work on weekends and I don’t typically work late.
4. They Come First
This is kind of obvious, but my girls come first. Work will never trump them. You may work in an industry where there are true work emergencies, but for me it rarely happens. If they ask to play, I play. If I reeeaaalllly need to work on client work because I’m behind, it waits. I wait until my work time. If my husband is home and something urgent comes up, then I tell him I need to sneak away for a bit. They will only be this little for a short while and I don’t want them to ever and feel like my work is more important than them.
4. Use a Calendar
I use Google calendar and a blocking system, and I’m pretty intense about it. I put EVERYTHING on my calendar. My work block, our family routine, appointments, dinner dates, church/bible study groups, fun activities that are happening around town, reminders, birthdays, etc. and my husband’s calendar is even synced up. I have a separate calendar for each of those categories, so I don’t have to look at everything at once, but trust me… they’re all on there. It just gives me a more realistic sense of what’s happening in our lives and what we have the capacity to do or not do. It also keeps me from over-scheduling things. I know that if it’s a preschool day, then I can schedule a video call and avoid a toddler waltzing in without pants on and interrupting (happened twice).
5. Set A Routine
Along the same lines as using a calendar, get yourself into a good routine. I taught elementary grades for about 8 years, so I know the importance and benefits of having routine things that happen each day. Kids, and a lot of adults, thrive on routine. It’s really hard as a new mom figuring out what that routine is because you have a cute little nugget controlling your every move, but you can still find it. I’m more able now to sort of set strict times to that routine, but when we had a newborn and a 17 month old, our routine was just a pattern to our day.
Do what works for you. Some people love strict times and others can’t stand it. It might be more of a seasonal thing for you like it was for me. I set alarms for things throughout the day (wake up, snack, lunch, nap, nap wake up, dinner, bedtime, etc.) and it’s nice to just have that reminder because otherwise I’d only realize it was lunch time when our two were hitting the hangry phase. I’m not legalistic about our routine, and often we often step out of it throughout the day, but I feel like it’s just made me a better mom and more able to fully embrace the various parts of the day instead of trying to figure out what’s next and when to do what.
5. Get Organized
Take some time to get yourself organized. Don’t worry about the time it takes to do it, just focus on the time you’ll gain after it helps you become more efficient. Declutter your home AND your workspace (physical space and computer). I have a big iMac and a MacBook Pro… both of those home screens are almost totally empty other than the current projects and client work I have. It helps me avoid distractions from other projects I might want to work on.
In terms of your home and office, give everything a home. I’m still a work in progress with this and we have the giant pile of stuff on the kitchen counter, but at the end of the day we *try* to put things in their home. The girls are in charge of putting their toys back in their homes as well. They’re only 2 and 3, but they are totally capable of helping out and being responsible for putting things back if they can get them out. An organized system will help you be able to dedicate time to your business instead of constantly trying to find things or put them away. Simplify… (and follow Emily Ley on IG).
6. Take Advantage of Time
I make a to do list each morning when I do my quiet time, so I know the various things I want to accomplish each day. Throughout the day, I can look at that list and say “This task takes 10 minutes and I can accomplish this right now.” (i.e. the girls are running through the sprinkler and the hedges need to be trimmed… those can happed at the same time). It’s like Tetris. You have certain tasks that you need to fit in, so take full advantage of the few minutes you find throughout the day.
If you take care of the little things in the margins, then you’ll be able to focus on your business when your work time rolls around… instead of angrily trying to do all the domestic things. I don’t take time away from the kids though. It’s those times where you may not need to be fully engaged in play or mom duties, so I can sneak in chores and tasks on my list. Naptime is one of my golden times to work and I utilize that time every single day. Also, it’s totally okay if some of those things roll over to the next day if you can’t get to them. Don’t let it stress you out.
7. Optimize Your Phone
This is one thing I have to consciously monitor myself on. I never realized how much time I was just wasting on my phone. I’d pick it up to just look at the time, check email really quick, see if I had any texts, check a business notification, etc. I think I had just gotten used to it when I was up in the middle of the night feeding babies and didn’t want to fall asleep in the chair (taking the pain of breastfeeding/pumping away with online shopping was a popular activity). It’s wasn’t an obscene amount of time, but it was enough that I didn’t like it. My solution was to use the scrolling screen feature on my iPhone and optimize it for what I preferred to use my phone for. Here’s what I did:
- Home Screen – Essential Apps (Google Calendar, Camera, Clock, Phone, Text, Tasks, Notes, Google Maps, Weather, Traffic, Smart Home Apps, and Email because I have personal and work addresses going to the same app)
- Second Screen – Work Essentials (Financial Apps, Work Apps, Website Shortcuts, Facebook Page Manager)
- Third Screen – Non-Essentials (Social Media, Amazon, Other Shopping Apps, Restaurant Apps, Entertainment, Reading/Audible, Podcasts)
The only time I can go to my second screen is if I am working. The third screen is reserved for when I actually have time to waste or need to order something really quick from one of the shopping apps. I find that I don’t go to my phone as much because that first page isn’t too exciting to me. The third one really makes me question if I truly have time to be going there. I also use the time limit feature on my phone. I have my social media set to 30 minutes a day (for personal + business combined), and I get a notification at 10pm each night that my screen time will be limited to just essential apps (phone, text, calendar, clock). It holds me accountable and makes me really efficient at using my screen time wisely.
8. Get Help
This one took me the longest. This may not be something you can afford, or even want to do. For me, I just wanted to spend a few hours a day building my business. It took me so long because of mom guilt (that could be a whole post itself). I felt like I had made the choice to stay at home and that’s what I should do and I was selfish for wanting to grow my business. Crazy y’all… what we tell ourselves we “have” to do as stay-at-home-mamas.
In spring of 2019, I hired a babysitter 3-4 days a week (for 3 hours in the morning) and it was a game changer. I feel like it’s not only helped me scale my business, but I’m a much better mom. Two of those days are replaced with preschool right now, so I just have a sitter once per week. [edit: now she comes 2-3 mornings for a few hours each]
Other options I’ve seen include mother’s day out programs, swap babysitting with another mom, or having a family member sneak over for couple hours for you. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help
Ladies, let this serve as a pep talk. You can be a fantastic mama AND run your own business. Working with kids at home is difficult, but also so rewarding. This season of working at home with littles is only that… a season. Just power through right now even though it’s tough and you sometimes struggle to put on real pants each day. This season might not be ideal for your business, but it’s ideal for your kids.
You’ve been blessed with the opportunity to stay at home and have a front row seat for every major “first” that your little one has. Don’t waste it by constantly thinking about when you can fit in working on your business. Do what you can right now and don’t sacrifice the important things in life for it. One day soon you’ll have more time to grow and scale your business, but right now you might have to find contentment in what you can accomplish in the margins.