Working at Home with Kids Underfoot

When I worked full time in an office, I always felt horribly guilty about all of the school holidays my children spent in childcare. Then in the summertime it often felt worse. There was just that one short, seamless weekend between the last Friday of school and the first day in a series of patchwork summer camps, which led to another short weekend and the beginning of the next school year. Sometimes it seemed that the good mothers of the world and their perfect children spent summers endlessly splashing in blue pools and going on educational nature hikes and taking leisurely trips to the zoo.

But now that I work from a home office, I’ve discovered the horrible reality of work-at-home summers: I lack the creativity to come up with a summer schedule that rivals the fun of camp, and it creates a whole new kind of guilt I’ve never experienced before when my kids are home and I’m too busy to hang out with them. Now one stands in my doorway during a client call screaming, “Maw-ahm. He called me a jerk-face,” while the other one cackles and runs out the back door.

It’s very professional.

So in between the summer camps and the playdates, there are times when I’ve just had to learn to work happily, with my kids underfoot. I’ve found some tips for sanity from other professional moms who work from home with little ones all year long, and summer seems like a great time to share them with you, whether you’re on the phone with a client or just trying to scrub your shower.


Before we get into the list of specific tips, it might help to have a frame of reference when your kids seem their neediest and you’re at your wit’s end. The last time my husband deployed one of the best parenting books I found for “single” parenting was Dr. Charles Fay’s Love and Logic. It revolutionized the way I parented, made me feel like a competent mother again, and transformed my children into kids who learned lessons. Military Spouse reached out to Dr. Fay for some advice about how to approach the summertime working mom’s dilemma, and here’s what he had to say.

Dr. Fay explains that when children act out they are really saying, “Please love me enough to set limits.” I personally remember the chaos that ensued during our last deployment whenever I let the rules slip. Once we set the rules, how can we get our children to follow those limits instead of rebel against us for our attention? Sometimes it seems like they’re just experts at wearing me down. Dr. Fay advises, “provide limits by describing what you will do or allow rather than using threats or lectures.” In case you aren’t sure what that would sound like, here are some examples he provided:

  • Sweetie, you may be out of your room as long as you stay quiet while I’m on the phone.
  • My car is leaving when the timer goes ‘ding.’ Will you be going with your clothes on your body or your clothes in a bag?

Setting limits and creating discipline for our kids can be easier said than done. Here are some practical tips that have worked for me, which should help when kids are demanding your attention during your work time and you don’t think you have what it takes to provide limits:

  1. Try doing your work in 20 minute bursts with five minute breaks. Providing children with five minutes of complete eye contact and playful, loving attention will satisfy them enough to give you a twenty minute period on your own. The trick is to make sure your child feels noticed, respected, and listened to during that entire five minute period.
  2. Engage children in fun games and competitions that they can self-monitor. Siblings are naturally competitive. Use that instinct to your advantage to develop their desire to succeed and ability to work as a team. Just don’t pick a project that could lead to unsupervised sibling rivalry. A project where they both have to succeed, like keeping a ball or balloon in the air for a certain period of time, is a great option. And be sure to have a reward ready for their efforts!

  3. Let your kids create a sign for your door. Make one side the quiet side, and one side the “come in” side. If they are too young to write words they can make pictures. Either way they will clearly know what the sign says and what it means. Enforce the sign by letting kids know you’re happy to talk with them whenever it says “come in.”
  4. For older children who don’t need constant monitoring, set up a routine so that kids have clear expectations about your work hours. Encourage them to use the time to plan what they’d like to do when you get a break or are done for the day, and be sure to include at least one block of mandatory quiet, nap, or reading time.
  5. Designate certain games, toys or activities solely for work hours, so that the only time kids can enjoy them is during your work day. I did something similar to this when I was nursing my newborn and had a two year-old. I had a special doll she could only play with when I was nursing. It turned a demanding and jealous little girl into a grateful and happy child who left me alone just long enough to feed my baby.

Dr. Fay’s mantra is easy enough in theory: “When provided with loving kindness, these limits help children learn how to set limits with themselves.  People who learn this self-control as small children lead far happier and more successful lives.” Hopefully with some of these tips, you’ll have some practical tools to succeed in making your business and your children’s’ lives more successful.

Lori Volkman is a former deputy prosecutor who now works at home as a consultant at Trajectory Communications. She was the 2013 Naval Base San Diego MSOY and is an accomplished author and military family advocate. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. 

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