Here’s a post on how to be a work at home mom, and how I personally balance working at home as a parent. I have to admit that once Baby #2 arrives, I know that most of what works for me now in balancing it all may end up looking comically naive and/or useless to me. But, this post is about what has been working for me so far.
I wanted to share this stuff because when I first found myself as a working at home mom, I didn’t know a ton of other women like me, and definitely struggled a little to figure out how to balance it all. I wished I’d had more examples of how other moms balanced everything — or even a list of things they did to make it work for them (even if I’d do things differently) — just to give me a sense of what I should be focusing on, or what traits I should work on honing in myself to make my experience being a work at home mom more seamless. That’s part of why I’m sharing these thoughts online, to provide my own experience with how to be a work at home mom — in case what works for me might help another work at home mom or dad (again, knowing that a great deal of my story and even my advice may not apply as well if you have more than one child).
For context, I’ll explain what I mean when I say I’m a work at home mom: I run an outreach organization called ISAASE, I’m an adviser for Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s doctoral program, and I’m currently writing a book, coming out next year from Lexington Books — and I’m also my child’s primary caregiver (and don’t hire outside childcare help), which also makes me stay at home mom. Logistically, what my life looks like varies from day-to-day (and will definitely change drastically in the very near future, since we’re expecting another baby soon).
Anyway, here, I’m sharing how I balance working and my additional role as a stay at home mom / primary caregiver to my son, and sharing what works for me (again, only what works for me for right now).
I’m also including a list of “10 Tips for How to be a Work at Home Mom (or Dad),” plus some questions to ask yourself if you want to figure out how to make being a work at home parent work for you.
Where relevant, this post has affiliate links to items you might find useful or want; if you end up finding something useful and buying it, this site earns a small commission. If you’re interested, you can read more about our affiliate policy. Anyway, I hope if anyone is reading this, you’ll remember this is based only on my own personal experience — and I hope this post is helpful to others! Read on.
How I Balance Being a Work at Home Mom, or How to be a Work at Home Mom
How I balance being my children’s primary caregiver and working (without hiring childcare):
- I make a lot of to-do lists to keep myself and priorities organized
- I’ve become much more disciplined about finishing my top-priority tasks (and learning how to “roll over” less important tasks)
- I do most of my work from home (albeit often during non-traditional hours)
- I work whenever I can: during naps, in the evening hours, on weekends, when I could be sleeping
- I schedule meetings and calls during nap times, or when I know my husband will be home
- I aim for a lot of meetings to be done by phone, and occasionally by video conference — unless something can be done over email (and a lot can)
- I focus on project-based metrics (as opposed to using time spent on a task as a measure of how much I’ve done)
- Sometimes, I’m able to have my mom watch my son if I need to leave to work on something specific (like to tackle a specific writing project, or meet with someone)
- I make it a point to be present with my son (I’m his primary caregiver because I want to be; so I focus on doing that as best as I can)
- I make it a point to remind myself what my life priorities are, especially when everything gets to feel like too much
- I drink coffee
- I only have one kid right now ?
Here are some things that I don’t do:
- I don’t expect to have 8 or 10 or whatever uninterrupted hours of work
- I don’t expect to be able to work during “traditional work hours”
- I don’t schedule calls or meetings unless I know I will have help or unless it’s nap time
- I don’t use hours as a metric for tracking how much I work
- I don’t start work on a task that requires an hour or more of uninterrupted time unless I know for a fact I’ll have help (like if someone is watching my son, and/or if my husband is home)
- I don’t really have much “free time”
- I don’t get enough sleep all of the time (although to be fair, this also just comes with the territory of being a parent)
- I don’t do a lot of “recreational activities” (unless you count maintaining this blog)
- I don’t do the majority of the cooking in our family
- I don’t do the “deep cleaning” — to be fair, I’m a freakishly neat/tidy person, and probably do the lion’s share of keeping our house extremely organized and neat, mostly out of habit, but I also hire help to clean our house every six weeks
- I don’t work while taking care of or interacting with/engaging with my son
- Even if there’s a project I may feel drawn to, if I know I realistically can’t make work with my existing work and personal commitments and responsibilities, I don’t accept or pursue it. (This was a hard habit/urge to overcome. It helps though to remember that there’s only one of me, and I don’t say yes anymore to every enticing opportunity. More on how this has actually been a good thing for my career in another post!)
- I don’t yet have another kid to complicate the equation further ?
Those are just the things that are true for me at the moment and/or work for me (most of the time). As I mentioned at the start of this post, we’re expecting another baby in the very near future (I have a post on my pregnancy essentials during this pregnancy, if you’re interested and missed it when it went up!), so a lot of what currently works for me might go flying out the window. But, being flexible — and adjusting how, and when, and how much I work — is something that will hopefully help me in the coming months (and years; going from one to two kids is supposed to be no joke).
10 Tips for How to be a Work at Home Mom (or Dad)
Everyone is different, and obviously, everyone works differently. That said, based on my own experiences of what works, and the list of things I do and don’t do (above), I’ve put together a list of 10 Tips for How to be a Work at Home Mom / Dad. After the tips, I’m also including some questions to ask yourself that might help you if you’re debating whether or not you can balance all the things that go into being a working parent and a full-time caregiver to your kids. So, without further ado, here are the tips (in a pretty, pinterest-friendly/downloadable format), and then you can scroll down for a more thorough explanation of each one…
Working at home means juggling a lot at once. Here are my (personal) top 10 tips for how to be a work at home mom or dad, along with questions to ask yourself to get yourself thinking about whether you can balance being a work at home parent with also being your children’s primary caregiver…
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #1 –
Be Disciplined, yet Flexible
Being a work at home parent means holding yourself accountable by being disciplined and organized about your time WHILE simultaneously being flexible about the unexpected (in terms of a daily routine, what to expect hour to hour, and even how things change over weeks or months).
Some questions to ask yourself to see if you can make being a work at home mom work easily:
- Are you self-motivated?
- Can you be disciplined about finishing tasks?
- Are you good about sticking to timelines?
- Can you be self-motivated and disciplined and committed to timelines if your child suddenly has a huge change in their routine?
- What about if your child skips a nap one day?
- Or isn’t feeling well?
- Can you readjust what gets done in an individual day or week or hour or month if something unexpected occurs?
- Can you keep yourself extremely organized?
- Do you have a good to-do-list system*?
*I use Google Reminders in my phone in conjunction with Inbox by Google, and Google Calendar, and also write things on our family calendar, and on our chalkboard wall (we have a painted chalk wall, but chalkboard contact paper rolls exist, as do actual large chalkboards — or alternately, huge sticky notes or whiteboards).
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #2 –
Be Open to Multi-Tasking
Work at home parenting may require doing a lot at once. When babies are little this can be easier. (Can you work while babywearing or even nursing? Probably.) But now that my son is older, I try my best not to work when I’m engaging with him. But there are, of course, times when I end up doing two things at once.
It’s not ideal.
In the words of Ron Swanson:
Never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing.Ron Swanson
…but sometimes, things happen, and I just try my best to roll with it when it does, even if I prefer not to multitask as a general rule.
So you have to ask yourself: Are you good with multi-tasking and handling multiple things at a time? (Or can you teach yourself to be?)
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #3 –
Work Whenever You Can
Being a work at home parent means not necessarily working during normal hours, and you have to become okay with that (unless you’re hiring full time childcare, in which case, you might be able to keep normal work hours). When my son was a lot younger and napped a lot more frequently, I tried to work during every single nap (I didn’t have much of a choice anyway; I was trying to wrap up my doctoral dissertation right after he was born!). And, since I was trying to practice ecological breastfeeding and didn’t want to be separated from him during naps, that often meant I’d wear him and work on my laptop, or work in bed.
(Obviously, things might not go so smoothly trying to work when Baby #2 arrives since my older son won’t nap everytime the baby naps!)
My point is, I was able to get things done because I worked in the little periods I could manage to work in. And as he got older, and started dropping extra naps, and after we weaned, I was able to rely on a more regular work session in each day.
So… are you okay with working at weird hours? Can you work during Naps? Bedtime? (And if your kids are in your room with you, can you still work when they sleep? If so, you’re probably thankful for a good white noise machine to help drown out the sound of you clacking away on your keys.) And are there any other times during your kid(s)’ schedule that might naturally lend themselves to your getting tasks done?
If you have kids who are at napping ages, naps can be a good time to get work done for a lot of work at home parents, even though they’re not always 100% reliable. If you can, use that time to tackle projects that require uninterrupted time (writing tasks, calls, etc.). So, if your work involves long stretches of writing, naps can be valuable. If your work involves calls, and you schedule calls during naps, will you be able to move those calls if your kid unexpectedly wakes up or resists naptime (or will the person/people you’re chatting with be okay with that)?
To this point, I also made it a point to get comfortable doing work while babywearing.
In fact, for the first five or so months with my older son, I used a Baby K’Tan for babywearing my older son for most of his naps.
(I loved the Baby K’Tan so much that we actually ended up buying three of them: the original K’Tan in a small; a Baby K’Tan Active — a lifesaver when we went anywhere in the summer months; and a second original K’Tan in a larger size for my husband).
I later switched to a Fidella Fly Tai in the toddler size, since wearing a stretchy (like the Baby K’Tan) isn’t advisable (or comfortable, or practical, for that matter) past a certain age/weight (for us, that limit was around five months or so).
After a ton of research on the best and most comfortable wrap that I could continue wearing until our son was older/heavier, I decided on the “Fly Tai” by Fidella (here and here are two similar but less expensive alternatives to my Fidella Fly Tai).
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #4 –
Measure Progress through Specific Metrics
If you’re a work at home parent who also handles childcare, you should probably use a metric other than time spent on a task to assess your progress and accomplishments.
You have to ask yourself if this is something you can do in your line of work — can you measure your work/progress through something other than time-on-task? For instance, if you’re in sales, can you set goals and measure achievement based on number of units sold / clients signed?
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #5 –
Be Willing to Make Sacrifices
As a work at home parent who also handles most of the childcare, you may have to be willing to give up other things. This might include your interests or hobbies, but it can also include free time. And sometimes, sleep.
Are you okay giving up free time? Are you okay giving up sleep? Are you okay giving up some of your other interests/hobbies?
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #6 –
It may be worth asking yourself: Can I outsource or share other responsibilities associated with being a parent and/or member of a household (cooking/cleaning/finances, etc) with my partner? (And if you already share a great deal of household responsibilities with your partner, can you hand more of those tasks over to him/her?)
And further, are there any household tasks/jobs/chores that you can outsource entirely/hire out help? For instance, can you get some help with childcare? I don’t hire out help, but I do occasionally have family watch my son if I have something I need to get done. Can you have a family member help for an hour or two a week? Alternatively, can you hire a nanny or babysitter to help with childcare? (And of course, you have “full-time” childcare help, you might be able to step away and actually do your work as if you were in an office.) If you’re so inclined and able, getting childcare help is probably the biggest way to make being a work at home parent work for you. But, if like me, you’re not inclined to do so, maybe you’d consider some help (an at home nanny, sitter, mother’s helper, or family) but still be your child’s primary caregiver.
Otherwise, can you outsource or share whatever other household responsibilities you can (cleaning, cooking, etc)? Can you outsource grocery shopping if that’s something you’re responsible for (you could get some foods delivered, or even try one of the meal order services)? Can you hire an occasional cleaning service?
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #7 –
Share Childcare Responsibilities when Possible
If you have a partner who works outside of the house during the day, can you hand the kid(s) off to him/her when he/she gets home, and have a chunk of time to yourself to work uninterrupted?
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #8 –
Learn to Say No to Opportunities
Be willing to turn down projects or opportunities that aren’t the right fit, whether that means they’re not the perfect fit with your life, goals, responsibilities, etc.
Can you learn to say no, and to turn down projects that aren’t a good fit (with your life, with your goals, with your responsibilities, etc.) or adjust the amount of work you actually have to do? It probably goes without saying, but if you’re able to decrease your workload, balancing working with childcare (this is assuming that you’re working from home and taking on most of the childcare responsibilities) will obviously become more manageable. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you pull back on your work itself, but might just mean you become more judicious about what projects and tasks you accept/pursue/take on.
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #9 –
Adjust your Expectations
Be reasonable about your expectations for each day (every day will be different), and frequently stop to reevaluate where you’re at in balancing it all. Some things to ask yourself:
- Knowing each day will be different, can you be flexible and adjust your expectations regarding what you can actually accomplish in a day as time goes on?
- Can you continue to prioritize being a present and loving parent while working at home? (Of course, even without work, this is something all parents, even 100% “stay at home parents” have to be intentional about)
- When you start to feel overwhelmed, are you able to pull back and look at the big picture (and then, maybe reassess what your goals are from day to day)?
How to be a Work at Home Mom Tip #10 –
Be Kind to Yourself
Perhaps the most important tip for being a work at home parent is to remember what you’re doing is hard, and then remember to give yourself some grace.
BTW – these tips for how to be a work at home mom
may only work you have only one child.
Can’t make any promises if you have two or more. 🙂
If none of my tips on how to be a work at home parent (or none of the questions to ask yourself related to those tips) were useful for you, I’m also sharing some tips from this Parenting magazine article on how to be a work at home mom or dad below. Here are some of their recommended “requirements for success” as a work at home parent…
More requirements for how to be a work at home mom
- Being self-motivated
- Having a defined plan for when you can get things done
- Having a strong support system
- Having a realistic schedule (such as working during the kids’ naptime, or, using naptime to catch up on sleep if you’re not getting any at night)
- A physical workspace (especially one that you can shut away from sight when not in use)
- Flexibility, and allowing yourself to live “in the moment”
“whY not let yor child help you at the keyyborad? It isn’t as though you coulld stop them any way.”
(the next part had me near tears):
“You are not s monsterr.
Wantng to get worrkk don’e doesn t make you a bed moim! Memember, Yuo need to work to provide for our kids and your familu so don’twaste any of your precocious work time fleeing guilty for not devote to your kid. You rent a monster!”
(I laughed so, so hard).
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