In theory, working from home with a toddler sounds glorious. You’ll be able to get the laundry done during the day. Your commute is probably 12 steps (or slightly more if you have to commute down stairs). You can squeeze in a yoga session in the middle of the day. You can flip the TV on and catch up on the news (and by news, I mean FRIENDS reruns). Working from home – that sounds like a great idea!
….but there’s a catch
The challenges of working from home with a toddler
Then you introduce kids to the equation. And let’s clarify – we’re talking between the ages of newborn and 4-6 years old here. Not older kids that can, for the most part, be left to their own devices except when they need a refill of their snack stash (but let’s be honest, that’s kinda for you too). It’s HARD WORK when you have young kids. They don’t understand business calls. Or even worse, VIDEO business calls. They want food constantly. They want you to play with them constantly because, hello mom and dad, you’re home. And they nap for like 10 seconds. We KNOW it’s a struggle some days and we aren’t perfect at it. But we want to share some of the approaches that have helped us navigate life working from home with a toddler.
1. Establish self play periods throughout the day
Self play is basically a pre-requisite for your ability to get work done. Now, we’re talking working from home with toddlers and babies here, so we certainly aren’t recommending that at this age you can give them some markers and a pair of scissors and tell them to go to town. But there are age appropriate ways of encouraging self play. In fact, we wrote a whole post about independent play.
The key here is to make it consistent – part of their routine. And aim for the right toys (open ended ones). We’re partial to pipSquigz for the little guys. As for older babies and toddlers: activity tables are where it’s at. Our 1 year old will stay entertained by this wood activity table for a solid 15 minutes, which, in work from home with a toddler life – can feel like an eternity. Random household goods like laundry baskets and whisks also work wonders. And for our 3 year old, a little inspo to get her started: “can you make me a milkshake in your play kitchen?”. Who knew toddlers cook with 32 ingredients and it will take them 20 minutes to make a milkshake?
2. Always have a backup plan. Always.
Look, we use the ipad. We’re human. And we know a lot of other parents who use it too. There’s no shame in it – working from home with kids is tough. We’ve always been about moderation when it comes to screen time, and there are actually a lot of really good educational apps out there. We have designated “educational” only time when using the ipad where we pick out more hands-on apps. If you’re looking for ideas, ABCmouse has one of the best. It was recommended to us by our daycare. And they often have special deals so you can try it out to see if your kids like it. Though, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t also watch episodes of Sofia the First and Spirit Riding Free on repeat.
We should also note that only our 3 year old uses it. Our 1 year old is too young to get any kind of benefit from it – not that he would even pay attention to it. But the moral to the story here is that we don’t hand it to the kiddo in the morning and say have a nice day. We reserve it for the times we need it most. Both parents have a meeting. Or a last minute call got added to my calendar. Things come up. Your backup doesn’t have to be the ipad. For babies and younger toddlers – snacks and baby carriers have always been our go to.
3. One word: drawers
This has been one of the biggest game changers for us in our working from home with kids life. Yes – a plain ol’ drawer. Before we had a designated art drawer, my day was filled with “mom, can you get the markers for me?” “mom, I decided I want paint instead” “mom, I can’t find my paintbrush”. So we made an easily accessible drawer and packed it with art supplies. Crayola even makes these handy little craft kits that you can stock up on to make the entertainment value last longer.
The other drawer that’s been a big hit – kitchen supplies. We repurposed one of our low-to-the-ground kitchen drawers to house all the most used food supplies: plates, cups, bowls. You can even put some snacks in there for older toddlers. This way instead of hearing the “Can you get me something to drink?” question 47 times a day, our 3 year old grabs a cup and get her own water from the dispenser on the fridge.
Younger toddlers may not be quite as self sufficient but you can still pile all their favorite toys into a bin so they aren’t crying as they frantically scour the house for them.
4. Set expectations early on
This one applies to everyone. Your boss. Your co-workers. Your spouse. Your kids. Grandparents that want to Facetime at 2PM on a Tuesday. When I said earlier that it’s good to encourage self play, it’s also good to set aside dedicated time to play. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you fully commit yourself to a little playtime during your day (full attention – no responding to emails at the same time), the kids will be so much less likely to bug you 10 minutes later when you’re in the middle of giving a presentation. If you try to multi-task every interaction you have with them, they are intelligent humans and will notice. No judging, we are all about that multi-tasking life. But it backfires on us every time.
This also applies to your work. We’ve found bosses and co-workers can be very understanding. You just have to be upfront with them from the start. Make sure everyone knows you have kids and things come up. If you don’t respond to your slack messages within 30 seconds, it’s probably because your toddler just dumped milk all over his head. Parenting is fun.
5. Learn to manage your time differently
When you’re working from an office, you can be more selfish with your time. Aside from your co-worker besties, you tend to have less interruptions. Which means you can sit down and knock out a task in whatever amount of time it takes you: an hour, two? But that’s not really a thing when you’re working from home with a toddler.
The most common advice is to utilize nap times. And that’s not bad advice, but I’ve found that time goes by super fast and isn’t really enough. So in addition to planning when you work, plan how you work. This means planning your work in smaller increments of time – maybe 15 minutes. And then adjust to starting and stopping work tasks in these smaller time blocks.
Also, if you’ve never been a “write notes to yourself on a piece of paper” kind of person, now is the time to learn. I’ve always been a “store reminders in my head” kind of person. And now more than ever do I forget every single thing. So when you’re getting ready to leave your desk, jot down your stopping point so you can quickly pick back up.
Working from home with a toddler is not as simple as it looks on social media. But you can do it!
Sometimes you’ll see those pretty little pictures on Instagram where the house is perfectly organized and the kids are playing and laughing together on the floor. Like, not even a toy is out of place. If you’ve ever aspired for a similar picture, just know the rest of their house is NOT that tidy. And the kids were asking when they could go back to the toys they were actually playing with. Working from home with a toddler is never that perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself when they decide to pop in on your zoom call. Or when they get every toy in the house out. Kids will be kids. And the best part is you get to be home to watch them be kids.