Working from home with toddlers around: how on earth do you do it?

Question:

I’m at the research stage of setting up a small business while I look after my two toddlers. I  work most evenings once they have gone to bed but I’m also trying to fit bits in in the day. I feel I’m not giving my children the time I should as I’m distracted by work and I’m not giving work sufficient attention as I’m paying attention to my children – what can I do?

I really feel for you as I’ve been there and to some extent I still am! It’s hard, no doubt about it. Here are some tips to help:

Childcare

Some work-from-home-mums websites suggest you can give your child a craft activity to be getting on with while you work. In my experience, this doesn’t work, especially with 2 kids! So I think you have two options 1) get some childcare, even if it’s just a few hours a week or 2) just work when the kids are asleep but be very strict about not beating yourself up because your progress is slower than you would like it to be.

Of course, if you simply can’t afford the childcare or if you have no friends or relatives around, this isn’t going to be possible. But some mums push themselves too hard by trying to start a business with no childcare at all, when in fact it is perfectly possible for them and would do both mum and kids some good.

Boundaries

Set yourself firm boundaries in terms of time as well as space. The usual time management strategies of blocking out time slots to work and refusing to be distracted don’t work with small children, of course! But wherever you can, do your best to carve out the hours and physical space (desk, computer, files, shelves) you need to work, otherwise you end up with a working day that starts at 6.30am and ends at midnight and you won’t feel you’ve achieved much. Not to mention feeling permanently exhausted! This is as much about stopping work at a sensible time as it is about motivation and avoiding procrastination. Also, have a clear plan, so when you do get time to work, you know exactly what to do next and can get on with it ASAP.

Grading your work activities

You may be able to grab yourself just a little work-time with your toddlers around. Perhaps they have a quiet time in the early afternoon where they’re happy to watch some Cbeebies for half an hour? If you are lucky enough to be able to do this, it’s best to not pick work that needs high levels of focus and attention. I find I can do tasks like Facebook and Twitter updates plus short email replies, but writing blog posts or books is not such a great idea! Tasks that need unbroken attention I save for when the kids aren’t around. That way I don’t resent the kids for interrupting me or get that feeling that I’m making a bad job of both my work and being a mum!

Expectations

Mums in business seem to be incredibly hard on ourselves (me included) and we expect to be able to care for our children full-time while achieving what we did when we had a full-time job. Plus keep the house clean, provide home-cooked meals and so on. Something has to give. Maybe that means accepting your business will grow more slowly for a few years until your children are at school? I’ll admit it, for me it’s the housework…

Comparing yourself to others

Resist the temptation to look at other mums with business and think about how much they’ve achieved compared to your meagre efforts. First, you have no idea what their  lives are like, e.g. if she has a partner who gives their kids a bath and puts them to bed every night when yours doesn’t, that’s an extra five hours a week she has to work compared to you. Perhaps she’s got a mum who lives close by and supplies ample free childcare when yours doesn’t? Maybe she’s working too hard and will have a breakdown next week? Second, if she’s been in business a few years longer than you, that’s a huge head-start. Third, if she’s had a previous career in business, marketing or PR (many of the really successful business mums have) that’s also a massive advantage. Fourth you’re reading her PR, she’s not telling you what her life is really like, she’s promoting her business.

Compare yourself to others? Don’t even go there! 🙂 Just do the best you can with the talents, resources, time and energy you have.

Connect

Isolation is terrible for knocking your confidence, so hook up with other mums running businesses. There are loads of us on Twitter (I’m @bizplusbaby) and you’re very welcome to stop by and say hello on the Business plus Baby Facebook page.

OK, so no easy answers…

But I guess you didn’t really expect any? Hang on in there, you’re in great company. There are many of us beavering away during nap-times and at daft hours of the night. Childhood only lasts for a few years, don’t forget to enjoy it and cut yourself some slack at the same time. None of us are superwoman!

Got any more tips? Please do drop me a comment below!

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Creative Commons License photo credit: katerha

Comments

  1. Good tips – I’ve accepted that my business is slow growing – but growth is growth and it is better than burnout!

  2. Good tips – my business is slow growing as there is only so much time in one day that I can dedicate to the business. I have found that writing a very specific list of my main business task to complete each day plus 2 additional tasks works well and keeps me focused.

    • That’s good advice – keeping your task list focused and short is the best way to stop it from becoming overwhelming. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great post. We always find ourselves looking at a snapshot of other womens lives noticing the best features and setting the bar based on that perception of perfection.

    • Thank you! For a long time now I’ve tried not to compare myself with others, but this year I’m trying even harder. It seems to be paying off even though it’s still early in the year!

  4. I have started writing a list of what’s to be done for work and I’ve found it makes such a difference when I get that half hour space with the Littleun. I don’t seem to be sitting staring at my work thinking where do I start nearly as often now. I can just look at my list, see what needs done and get on with it.

    Writing out the list while the Littleun is around is usually an easy task to do aswell and its another work task so I feel like I’m doing work then which adds in to the overall time I’ve managed to work that day. Its the little things that count lol

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