If you’re like many work-at-home parents, you used to work a 9-5 job. When you decided to leave that job, you probably thought that it was great because it would allow you to have a better work-life balance. Then, once you started to work from home, you realized that wasn’t the case. Where there used to be a clear divide between your work life and your home life, now there is a grey zone. Answering emails from clients makes you feel like you’re always online. Meanwhile, your kids are screaming in the background of your conference calls and you’re trying to simultaneously play referee and meet your work deadlines. As a work-at-home parent, you suddenly find yourself struggling with work-life balance more than ever. So what do you do?
Give Yourself Office Hours
Part of the benefit of working from home is having the flexibility to work when it’s convenient for you. However, no one should have to be working 24/7. Set office hours that you can give to your clients, and let them know that those are the times that it’s acceptable to give you a call. If they make a call outside of those hours, it’s okay to let it go to voicemail. This is a great way to ensure that you can keep family time sacred. While you may have to work late some nights to make up for days when your kids needed you more than usual, that should be your choice, not something that’s forced upon you by clients who don’t understand personal space.
The other side of giving yourself office hours is to get yourself off the hook if you have extended family members who believe that the fact that you’re working from home means you can always answer the phone to have a chat. You can let them know that you need your phone to be open for paying clients during a certain period of the day, and that they should only call you during those hours if it’s an emergency.
Work in a Transition
One nice thing about working away from the home is that you have a built-in transition between your working hours and your family time: Namely, your commute. When you work from home, there is no commute, and you often put down work when your spouse comes home and immediately move into family time, but your mind is still processing work time.
Building a transition time into your daily routine can help you let go of your work stressors and be prepared to prioritize family. At a minimum, consider changing your clothes and washing your face. But if you really want to have a good transition, you should focus on relaxing. Free Your Spine has some great information on massage products that can help you relax.
Set Aside Special Kid Time
For many, working from home is a way to make an income while also being able to take care of your children. Unfortunately, children don’t necessarily understand the need to actually get work done during the day. To keep frustration levels low—for both of you—it’s important to schedule special kid time into every day so that they know when you’re working and when they get your full attention. During special kid time, your phone should go down and your attention should be 100% on them. This is a great time to take a walk down to the park, to read together, or to play a game together.
Depending on how old your child is, you may need to schedule multiple chunks of time for this each day. One option is to say something like, “Mommy is working for the next hour, and then I will hang out with you for half an hour before I go back to work.” You can even set a timer so that they know exactly how long they need to entertain themselves—and exactly when they can expect you to join them. Of course, you should be flexible, especially with younger children, to ensure that you’re meeting their changing needs on a daily basis, but this can help you get your kids on board with the work you do from home.
Work at Unique Times
One of the great things about working from home is the lack of official hours. This means that you can get work done whenever it works for you. If prioritizing family time matters to you, then you should work on finding times to work when your family doesn’t need you as much. Maybe this means getting up early on Saturdays, before your kids wake up, and sneaking in a couple hours of work then. Or maybe it means working at night after your kids go to bed so that you can hang out with them during the day when they’re awake.
Enlist your spouse’s help in making the most out of the time that you have. There are lots of interesting ways you can work on to ensure that you have the best work-life balance possible in your home. For example, maybe you are on kid-duty all day while they’re at work, and then they come home and do kid-duty so that you can work for a few hours, leaving you both free on the weekends to spend time with your kids together.
Working from home can be a great way to find a new work-life balance that works for your family, but it’s not going to happen all on its own. If having a good work-life balance matters to you, then you need to prioritize it and focus on new ways to make it happen every day. The flexibility of working from home means that you can test new strategies. Something that worked for you yesterday might not work for you anymore today. As your kids grow older and have different needs, you may need to find different ways to make your flexible schedule work for your family. By thinking about your changing needs and considering them, you can create a work-life balance that’s perfect for your family.