Working from home without childcare is like rock climbing without safety. You may be able to do it, but it you fall it’s gonna cost you big time. I did the working from home without childcare for 1 day a week for three years. In order to do it, I had to drastically change the way I worked on that day. Babies and toddlers can be 1000 times more demanding (not be mention impossible to resist) than whatever is going on at work.
When my son was born, I demanded that I work from home at least one day a week. Friday was the planned day. The entire staff knew that I would be working from home and so the volume of issues that I dealt with turned to Monday through Thursday. I’d make sure conference calls were strategically scheduled during during Sesame Street hour or nap time. I purposely made my workload more administrative for Fridays. Status reports on projects, submitting expense reports for reimbursement, catching up on the insane amount of email that I received the rest of the week, sending out meeting requests to my team for the following week.
The bulk of the day had to be balanced between working remotely, spending quality time with my son, and encouraging him to play on his own so that I could actually get some work done. Mind you, I only have one kiddo to contend with so the journey to “working from home bliss” was probably a million times easier than for a mom with 2 or more.
What I learned from those three years of working from home without childcare:
Don’t work full-time from home without help. Unless you plan on never sleeping and haved the patience of Mother Theresa. I worked from home one day a week with my son and that was enough. I also often worked from home another day a week, but made sure that day was when my son was at daycare.
Carve out time on your calendar for spending 1:1 time with your child. Afterall, you are working from home for a reason. And that reason probably includes getting to be around your children. So actually block out the time. Darius and I enrolled in a music class on Friday mornings. It took a hour out of my work day and it was totally worth it to do something special with my son. By marking it on my calendar, the time was less likely to get hijacked by a meeting or other work activity.
If you want dinner on the table, use a crock pot. Nothing like throwing a few ingredients into a crock pot at 8am and having dinner ready at 5. I pulled out the crockpot almost every Friday. I’d make chili, roasts, pull pork for sandwiches, curry chicken, soups, stews, you name it. It takes the pressure off of feeling like you’ve spent the whole day at home and having nothing to show for it.
Plan your work ahead. I always kept one eye focused on the horizon. A two to four week forecast to make sure that project deadlines and schedules were not going to impact my Friday with Darius. Sometimes it did, but having the unexpected crisis became rare. In addition, I think I became a better Project Manager by keeping focused both on what happening today and what was coming down the pipe. In fact, I had two promotions in those three years.
Encourage your child to play on their own. You may have to work up to this slowly, but if you are working from home it’s a must. I’ll admit that I had to let go of my own anxiety about not watching him for every single minute, so I set up shop in our playroom. Darius could play with trains, the little kitchen set, have wrestling matches with his stuffed animals. All on his own. I was there, but kept a distance. I started working in 15 minute chunks. 15 min with Darius playing on his own, 15 min with me playing with him. Every week, I extended his free play by 5 minutes. 20 minutes, then 25, then 30. I kept my 15 minutes of quality play time the same. We worked up to 45 minutes of independent play to my 15 minutes of quality time.
Don’t feel guilty for taking time. I always kept in the back of my mind that amount of unproductivity that happens in the office. The idle chit chat around a cubicle. The endless number of smoking breaks from the 2-pack a day Sales Manager. The group that always seem to take a 2-hr lunch. Instead of hanging with my co-workers, I was chillin’ with my kid. And I was still more productive than those in the office.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing it all. You cannot work, be with your kids, and do everything else. Dishes won’t get done. Laundry will stay unsorted. And that’s ok. Your priority on those days is literally be a working momma. That’s what you are balancing. Not trying to fit everything into the day’s schedule.
And finally, fake it. No one in the office needs to know that you are wearing sweats with smooshed bananas on them. Don’t make any excuses for working from home. You are just as professional and fabulous as you are when you are in the office. Even with bunny slippers.