Biz Mama is a bi-weekly series where I’m sharing some glimpses into my life as a mom & entrepreneur, you can read more here.
I’ve been a work at home mom for ten years now. Pretty much the moment my son was born I knew it would be impossible for me to leave him with someone else and go back to a 9-5 job. (I also always hated working for someone else and was a horrible employee).
The thing people don’t understand about being a work at home mom (especially if you don’t send your kids to daycare); it is harder than going to the office! You are basically working full-time and being the primary caregiver to your children. (Don’t even get me started on the distraction of housework and the expectation that you will make dinner between emails). I’ve left my screaming child in the crib and made a sales pitch from inside a closet. I also wore my newborn in a sling to the most important business meeting of my life, and realized later that my breast milk had leaked right through my shirt.
As difficult as those first few years with toddlers felt, these days I wish my kids would take a nap sometimes and give me 15 minutes of uninterrupted work time. Summer break is the bane of my working life. I love having my kids home to run off on unplanned adventures and take play breaks, but getting work done is so hard. (Like now; I’m trying to write this post and Zara needs help assembling a new sticker book RIGHT NOW!)
So what’s a work at home mama to do during summer break (or if she has toddlers under foot), here are my suggestions:
1. Create a Schedule/Use a Timer
When my kids were really little (about 2), I started introducing them to the kitchen timer. So I would get about 10 minutes of uninterrupted time, as they got older I started increasing the time until my 4 year old would give me 45 minutes of work time. Just tell them to do something that doesn’t involve you until the timer goes off.
These days we put a schedule on the fridge everyday telling them what the day looks like. They know that between 10am-12pm both mom and dad are doing project work and are not to be disturbed unless it is a real emergency. (We’ve taught them that project work is about deep focus, as opposed to regular work). If I have a phone call in the afternoon I put that on the schedule too, so they know not to be too loud. I think it teaches them responsibility and a respect for our work when they have to participate in the schedule.
2. Set Them Up With a Project
At the start of the summer we set each of our kids up with a couple of projects. Everyday they read for the library book club, and then read again later for a personal book challenge we created. They also have curriculum work books that they have to practice school work in for 30 minutes twice a day, and have an art block in the afternoon. Having these designated projects takes care of about 2 hours a day. I usually do emails or social scheduling during this time and sit somewhere near them to answer questions, open glue etc.
3. Have Dedicated Time With Them Daily
When my kids are in school they know that after school they will find me at the kitchen table with a cup of tea waiting for them. After our catch-up and snack break, I go back to work for an hour and a half. Similarly in summer, they know that at 1 pm Mom is going to stop work for an hour and a half and give them her full uninterrupted attention. Just knowing that is coming makes it easier for them to hold their questions (which they write on a piece of paper on the fridge) until the afternoon.
4. Set Up a Babysitting Swap/Schedule
One thing I truly wish I did when my kids were younger was create a childcare schedule for them. My mom would help out but there was no routine to the days and times she was watching them. This summer for the first time they have a routine; on Tuesday morning they go to my parent’s house and come back Wednesday evening (I know, so lucky to get one night off each week). I use those two days to work overtime, so I can take a half day off on Friday and do something fun with them. You might not be able to get an overnight, but maybe you can trade a day each week with a girlfriend?
5. When All Else Fails Take a Break and Play
Some days there is no solution but to play. If your child feels lonely or extra cranky, put work on hold and just cuddle. You may have to burn the midnight oil later but it’s totally worth it.
I feel like this post should come with a disclosure. My kids are 10 & 6 so I expect them to be able to entertain themselves for at least 4 hours a day. Also, my husband and I both work from home so there is always a parent in the vicinity if they need something! Over the years some people have told me that it’s unfair to the kids that their primary caregiver was also working another job full time (my husband worked in an office then), but as with all parenting decisions; we have to do what is right for us and our families!