My Kids Make It Hard for Me to Work From Home

I work from home and have a hard time separating my work-life from my home-life.

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DR. RUTHERFORD: I see this issue is becoming more and more prevalent as technology advances and more and more parents are able to work from home rather than going outside the home to work.

MOLLY: This question was submitted by Jill Smokler, the founder of the highly successful and popular parenting blog, Scary Mommy (I think it’s a must-read for all of us to help keep our sanity and have some good laughs too). Jill is also a New York Times best selling author who brings humor and honesty into the reality of every day parenting with her books Confessions of a Scary Mommy  and Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies). We are thrilled to welcome Jill to our blog.
I, too, work from home can relate to this question first-hand. Last year, I hired a babysitter for when my kids would get home from school in hopes that I could try to stay in my office and continue working after 3 pm.
That turned out to be a fantasy as my kids knew I was home and would come into my workspace to climb on me and then refuse to leave my desk. They would get really upset when I tried to send them downstairs with their sitter.
As a result, I often found myself running over to my computer to check emails or complete other tasks while trying to juggle the kids and their needs. Everyone was frazzled and no one felt satisfied.

DR. RUTHERFORD: I remember when that was happening. If I recall correctly, I suggested that when they got home from school you came to greet them and spend the next 10-15 minutes listening to them talk about their day.This would give them a chance to satisfy their need to have immediate contact with you and to connect by sharing their experiences.

I thought you could prepare them a snack, sit at the table together to eat, and give them 100 percent of your attention for about 15 minutes. After that, they’d be more ready to have some time for themselves and you could say that it’s time for mommy to go back to work now and escape back to your desk.

MOLLY: I did start doing that and, in fact, noticed immediately that it helped stop the struggles. For a while they stopped complaining that I was always working and were able to settle in more comfortably for the rest of the afternoon without my physical presence.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Look at that: by devoting just 15 minutes of time to greeting your children and giving them your full attention, you freed up many more uninterrupted work hours.

MOLLY: It’s still hard, though, and our summer schedule has thrown everything off. Maybe I’m not doing this well enough these days because I still hear my kids complaining that I’m “always working.”

But it’s a brutal tightrope: it feels like I can’t give as much as my job demands and needs, yet I also can’t dedicate enough time and attention to my children as they want and demand.

DR. RUTHERFORD: I think it’s very very hard to complete tasks for a job while taking care of children at the same time, forget doing them both well.

When you work from home and have responsibilities beyond just taking care of a house and a family, it’s a different experience than going off to an office where your time is clearly delineated for work only. It’s much harder to dedicate yourself fully to and complete work tasks when you’re also accessible and responsible for young children, and often both must be attended to at the same time. Indeed I think that work-at-home parents often feel like they’re working all the time as a result.

MOLLY: I know from my experience that my 3- and 7-year olds can not grasp the concept that they might need to be quiet for a work call. In fact, they seem to be especially needy as soon as I get on a professional call if they are around.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, they have their antennae up and they know.

MOLLY: Still, I can see so many benefits to being able to work from home including all the time I save from commuting (a serious time commitment in a big city like Los Angeles, where I live) and the time and expense of dressing for a professional workplace. Not to mention that I don’t have to deal with office politics anymore – I always hated that part of corporate life.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Agreed, and in exchange you have to be very disciplined about organizing your time. If your children are in school then you can try to dedicate yourself to working during school hours rather than trying to conduct business calls during after-school hours when they are home.

I thought you were smart to hire the sitter for some extra hours last year when your youngest was only in school for half of a day.

MOLLY: It still feels like I never have enough time to get everything done.

DR. RUTHERFORD: When you don’t have clearly defined working hours, that feeling is almost impossible to avoid because there will always be something else that could be worked on at any given time.

The key to helping children accept and learn that their parent might have responsibilities or interests outside of their family is to make sure to spend some undivided time re-connecting after having separate experiences. This is true whether the parent works outside the home, from the home, or not at all; indeed, it’s a technique to use anytime the children have experiences without the parent –including going to pre-school or school.

I remember when your sister was two years old and I was teaching at the medical school. When I would come home and rush around trying to get dinner prepared, your sister would be hanging all over me and whining. I finally realized that if I stopped and spent 15 minutes of undivided attention with her when I got home, she would be able to calm down and play with her toys or color while I took care of things in the kitchen and put food on the table.

It comes back to the primal issues for children of feeling secure in your parents’ constancy in order to feel safe to go back out and experience life on her own again the next day. It just takes a few minutes of complete attention to satisfy this basic need in a child, and satisfying it will allow the child stop feeling so needy. Which will then allow the parent the space to do what she needs to get done.

This is a good reminder that sometimes simply pausing life to listen and give focused, undivided attention can be a remarkably effective technique for raising happier children.

ding 14 comments on “My Kids Make It Hard for Me to Work From Home

  1. I have tackled this problem by defining a very specific work area. If I am in my work area, then she must say “excuse me” quietly, and if she has to wait, then she has to wait. And if I am on the phone, there is no interrupting unless she’s bleeding or the toilet is overflowing. Of course, she is eight, and can be reasoned with (to some extent). This did not work well at all when she was five and nothing worked when she was a toddler. I was simply less productive when she was younger and my work suffered and I compensated in other ways (less sleep, lower income, and slower career advancement). But the undivided attention suggestion works! I don’t do it regularly or for long enough, so I bet I will get even better results moving forward. Thanks.

    • Emily – I’m so glad you have used this technique with success. I agree, using this “15 minute rule” on a regular basis is quite satisfying to both the child and the parent. Everyone’s life goes more smoothly!

      • “15-minute undivided attn” same basic concept as “giving people what they want 1st, and you can hv everything you want in life.”

        hard2do consistently, day-in & day-out, but may make it easier(?) over time = “90% rocket fuel used @ lift-off, then only 10% on cruising speed.” same idea as Maven and/or many other commission-based monetization/compensation biz models, i.e., 50% 1st yr. referral fees, then 10% commissions(residuals) annually, thereafter.

        Cheers! 😉

      • I think it’s important for moms of little ones to acknowledge that they will not be able to work from home with any efficiency until the child is older. They need to give up that goal — it’s unattainable. No person on the planet can be both 100% attentive to work AND be responsible to a child who needs a lot of supervision. That kind of super-mom does not exist. The moms who are doing it must accept a lower standard for everything: work either is of lower quality or there is less output (and with that the inevitable lower income and slower career advancement), or their toddlers are being placed in front of videos more than is likely stomachable. Once a mom can accept this reality, she will stop beating herself up for failing. She isn’t failing, she has simply set an unattainable bar.

        Hiring a nanny even for two hours a day can make a world of difference. A college student to take the toddler for a long stroller walk, and then play in the baby’s room while she folds and puts away the baby clothes can open up a significant amount of time for a working mom.

  2. I saw this article a while ago and was looking for reading it today. I can identify with sooo many issues mentioned, and plan to implement undivided attention. hope it helps 🙂

  3. The 15 minute rule is great! Now if my teen would actually spend 15 consecutive minutes with me that would be amazing!

  4. Sarah – Ah, a teen! I have found it more helpful to spend this kind of time with a teen around the dinner table, driving in the car, or doing some activity and talking at the same time. Teens can be a bit different than younger kids, as you are experiencing. You might want to try both venues and see what you get!

  5. It’s a balancing act for sure. Children tend to want our time and quite frankly we should be glad to have their time. They do not remain small ones for long, so we must move away from the computer, social networking and etc. long enough to interact with them.

    This has been extremely hard, but an eye-opener for me as a public school educator, adjunct professor, author, wife and mom. I do not have a sitter and I’m my own housekeeper, so add that to the list.

    Since I realize that time doesn’t sit still, I have to maintain a bit of discipline in my life and balance it all out. I don’t want to look back one day and wish I did more with my child.
    She’s 12 almost 13 years in a couple months, and I can vividly remember my husband telling me to carry her as long as I could because one day she’d be too heavy for me to tote around. Well, that one day has slipped upon me — sigh.

    This is a great post, Molly.

    • Cherrye, thank you so much for your comment and your feedback about our post. It really is a balancing act and it’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture that these little ones grow up so quickly and time runs out.

    • Cherrye – What a heartfelt note you’ve shared with us. I remember well when my daughters were that age and the sense of loss – as well as anticipation of the future – was very much present. A balancing act, for sure. I really liked your husband’s advice.

  6. It’s hard to see our children fall, but sometimes we have to. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether intervening is in their best interest. There are a million ways to love a child, but in our quest to make them happy, let us stay mindful that sometimes it takes short-term pain to earn long-term gain.

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