If you’re wondering how to work from home with a toddler, you are most definitely not alone. Despite the fact that this is a reality for many parents today (thanks COVID!), it is still a tough concept to master. Naturally. This article will offer some practical tips for managing this challenging dynamic as a working mom or dad.
Working from home with a toddler
Multiple meals and snacks a day. Energy to burn. Tantrums to diffuse. Messes to tidy. Hugs and kisses to give. Books to read. Tea parties to attend. Potty training. ABCs and 123s to teach. You name it. Working from home with a toddler is demanding, flat out. I dare you to tell me otherwise with a straight face.
I have worked from home for a decade, but I had no idea what to expect when my tranquil home office would be invaded by my sweet mini me. And I have no idea what life will be like once my second arrives this summer.
When people hear that I work from home with a toddler, I’m often met with a cringy expression. A quick widening of the eyeballs that tells me everything I’m about to hear before I hear it, followed by…
Wow, you must not get much done.
Yikes, that must be really hard.
I don’t know how you do it.
And my favorite, Do you actually work?
Yes, I do actually work ma’am. But they aren’t totally wrong – it is really hard, especially when you want nothing more than to play the balancing act between attentive parent and productive provider.
The COVID pandemic did nothing for work from home moms and dads other than make life pretty hectic. Sure, it presented the wonderful world of work-life balance to those who’d never worked from home before, but it also introduced the seemingly impossible harmony of managing kids WHILE working.
At the start of the pandemic, I was only beginning my fertility journey, so I didn’t have to learn the balance of baby and work until later on. However, since I’ve pretty much always worked from home, it was something I’d inevitably have to figure out once we had our daughter, pandemic or not.
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How to work from home with a toddler
Can you work from home with a toddler? Is it actually possible to be a good employee and parent at the same time? Of course it is. Here are some of my favorite ways to achieve the best of both worlds, while staying sane.
1. Set a schedule: Establishing a routine that works for both you and your toddler, such as designated play and work times, will ensure that you are being attentive and productive. However, perhaps more importantly, it will keep you organized, which is honestly one of the most difficult parts of being a working parent. By the time your child is a toddler, you’ll likely have a firm grasp of their sleep schedule and habits. You know when they wake up and when they need to eat and nap. With this information at hand, create a schedule that you can work around so that you can direct your attention where it’s needed, when it’s needed.
2. Explore your childcare options: Do you have family nearby? A friend you can trust? While it can be hard to leave your child in another person’s hands, you may not have a choice… especially as they become more demanding. The truth is that if you want to work from home with a toddler, you need to find a way to get some dedicated work time. It is absolutely crucial, whether you use that time to have kid-free meetings, or to focus on tasks that need your undivided attention. If you don’t have a community to rally behind you, consider hiring a babysitter or enrolling your child in a part-time daycare program.
3. Create a play area: Designate a specific area for your toddler to play in that is separate from your work area to minimize distractions. Within earshot, of course. This way, you can direct them toward their favorite toys and play stations when you need to focus. I personally like to have a play area that is separate from my office, and a smaller one in my office for the days that I don’t have meetings and am solo parenting. This way, she can entertain herself with her toys while I get things done in a proper working environment.
4. Get creative with activities: Provide your toddler with engaging and educational activities such as puzzles, playdough, and coloring books. This way, you can feel confident that they are being exposed to tools and resources that will help them learn when you can’t be with them. The more options you have, the more engrossed they will be, especially if they put these activities on rotation so they don’t lose interest to quickly.
5. Get outside. Fresh air, sunshine, and space to run are a MUST if you are going to get your toddler to take a solid nap in the middle of your workday. As my daughter closes in on two years old, it is taking more for her to fall asleep at nap time. So, on the days that she doesn’t have scheduled pre-nap activities (like swimming lessons or gymnastics), my husband and I work together to make a pointed effort to get her outside. Sometimes this looks like a trip to the park if there is time, and others it’s a few laps around the neighborhood, letting her lead the way. A plus: this outdoor break is also generally recommended for working adults. Clear your brain while letting your babe get some energy out. Two birds, one stone.
6. Take breaks: This coincides with getting outside. Make sure to take breaks from work to play with and attend to your toddler. This will help you both stay refreshed and focused, and help minimize any guilt you may feel about working with your toddler at home (psst: totally normal!). For instance, rather than eating lunch at your desk, schedule your meals to be at the same time so you can sit and eat together. You’ve got to take a lunch break, anyway!
7. Establish open communication with your employer: Hopefully, you have an employer that is understanding. And, better yet, also a parent! If the pandemic did WFH parents any good, it’s that it created a standard, a norm. No longer is working from home with kids taboo, but rather, pretty common and unavoidable. However, that does not mean that all expectations are blown through the roof with this new-found flexibility. Employers expect employees to demonstrate a balance rather than abusing their freedoms. If you are working from home with a toddler, try to be transparent about your situation and work together to find a solution that works for both of you.
8. Be flexible: Toddlers are wildly unpredictable (and so are employers). We all have good days and bad days. There will be times when you may have to get up before your child to squeeze in 30 minutes to an hour of uninterrupted work, or you may have to work after hours. Of course, this isn’t ideal and is entirely dependent on the nature of your job. The point is, be prepared to adjust your schedule as needed and understand that some days may be more productive than others.
What’s your favorite way to maximize your time while working from home with a toddler?
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