The ‘juggle’ of working motherhood has become a bit of a cliché, but when your days involve filling sippy cups while simultaneously emailing clients on your phone and trying to stop a baby chewing through your laptop cord, it certainly does feel like a circus.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I run a handmade furniture business together, so we use a combination of grandparents, crèche and flexible work hours to care for our two young sons. This works well for us at the moment, but the wheels often fall off and I regularly find myself needing to work from home while the kids are around. It can be a challenge – there’s been plenty of of nappy changes on meeting room floors and client calls while playing Lego, but I’ve managed to come up with a mish-mash of solutions that work for our family, and may work for yours too!
Get a routine By routine, I don’t mean a steadfast, inflexible schedule. Just having a regular order to your day makes things much easier for you and your kids. Having a routine helps kids feel secure, and helps you feel like the chaos is at least somewhat under control. I usually try and get any errands or kid’s activities done in the morning so I know we can be home for my youngest son’s afternoon nap. Speaking of naptime…
Naps are sacred There is no one as productive as a parent who is working during a kid’s naptime. Having a time limit on your work can make you super-efficient and forces you to concentrate. I sometimes manage to complete as much work in the two hours that my son is napping as I could in a whole day of being in the studio. You can save up any phone calls, designing or work that requires your full attention for those magic hours. Grab a cup of tea, scribble out a list, then power through it. Try to avoid any distractions (ahem, Instagram) and hammer out as much work as you can in that time.
Embrace technology This is obviously a personal decision, but popping Play School on the iPad keeps my older toddler occupied while my younger one sleeps... and I can get some work done. Watching TV or playing with an app can also save the day if you need to take your kids to a meeting, or make an important call that you can’t be interrupted for.
However, technology can be a double-edged sword. Being able to get your emails on your phone at the playground or order materials online while pushing a pram is a lifesaver for many working parents. On the flipside, it can be hard to constantly switch from building a block tower to emailing a client, and you can end up feeling like you are not really present either with work or with your kids. Setting limits is a good idea, for your own sanity and for your kids. I try not to use my phone in front of my little guys unless it’s really necessary.
Recruit apprentices Depending on what kind of work you do, you can let your kids ‘help’ you work. This is particularly great for any kind of hands-on creative work. My older son has a mini workbench set up at our furniture workshop and can happily spend hours hammering away. If you are working on a computer, give your kids some pens and paper so they can ‘work’ too. Office supplies make awesome toys! A stack of Post It notes, a highlighter and a holepunch can easily entertain a toddler for enough time for you to get some work done.
Be creative Sometimes, no matter how organised you are or how independent your kids are, you have a deadline and you really just need to work. This is when you can get creative and call in back up. Ask a friend to hang out with your kids for a couple of hours so you are free to work (and return the favour!). Take your kids to the playground and explain that you are going to make phone calls while they play. Work from the library or a café on the weekend while your partner takes over kid duties. A photographer friend of mine takes her kids to an indoor playcentre with free wifi so she can edit while they run around for a few hours. Like everything to do with parenting, no one solution will work every time, so it’s a good idea to have a few back up options.
Relax No matter what you think of Disney’s Frozen, sometime you do just have to “Let it go, let it goooooooo!” Your house will probably be messier than usual, you might not get as much done as you planned, and your kids (and you!) might still be in pyjamas at 3pm. That’s okay. Nobody is a perfect parent, and nobody is a perfect creative business owner. Working from home with kids is hard work, so embrace the chaos and remember, tomorrow is a new day.
Emma Clark is an interior designer, writer and podcaster who, alongside her husband Lee, runsGratton Design, a timber furniture and architectural joinery company. She blogs at Worst House Best Street and posts endless photos of her sons on Instagram at @emmamakesthings.