With remote work becoming more and more common, a lot of working parents have found themselves at home, with their children, and asking some form of the same question: How DOES one work remotely while kids are home?
Answers to this question have been as wide and varied as can be, and the Sprout Marketing team has been navigating the same question, with many team members spending time working from home in some capacity.
One source of inspiration we’ve found comes from the book Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff, where she asserts that including children in our work in any way we can will produce a greater connection with our children, while also allowing us to get a few things done.
"Togetherness means letting the child hang out or tag along with you, whatever you need or want to do. You welcome the child on an errand or chore, then simply let the child do their thing. If they come over and want to help or watch, they’re allowed. But if not, that’s okay, too." -Michaeleen Doucleff
We asked the community about their experiences working from home or including children in work within the home on THIS post. Here are some responses!
- @kerrynotoninstagram - I’m a SAHM mostly, and I freelance on the side. My daughter is 2. Of course it’s always easier and faster to just do it myself, but including or inviting my child to help with any safe task always makes her feel special and I can see how much it boosts her confidence. Loading/unloading various dish washer and dryer and pressing the buttons to start them, pushing the coffee maker buttons, putting away laundry, even if it’s not the way you would do it, tidying up, filling the cat’s food dish. So many things!!
- @mackenziemariem_ - I’m a SAHM with a 13 month old - I know he’s very young but when I sweep I give him a kids size dustpan and broom. When I’m wiping off the tables or toys I give him a damp rag. When doing laundry I let him help throw clothes into the washer or pull them out of the dryer. It’s not much but he initiated interest so I just encourage it!
- @lmsarlui - I work in marketing. My kids are curious about what that means. I bring home product samples, so they can see, touch, understand what I work to sell and market. Then they come up with ideas on how I should use the products. Some have made it into our company social feeds and they think it is hysterical and amazing. When I ask how their day at school was,they also ask me how my day at work was. And we share and learn.
- @hollyollyollyoh - I am practicing (practicing!) always saying “yes” when they ask if they can help. At 2 and 4, sometimes “help” isn’t very helpful, but I never want them to feel discouraged from offering!
We decided to put this into practice with our own families. Instead of going into a home office to do our work, we did our work in living rooms, kitchens, and backyards. Our kids got to be in the same room with us, see us working. While we have different ages of children in the home, ranging from 1 to 11 years in age, we found some commonalities in our experiences. Here’s what we noticed:
Infants are undoubtedly the trickiest to work with, since their comprehension and verbal skills are still developing. Keeping them nearby, maybe in a designated play space, or even in a child carrier, helps both parent and infant to feel comfortable with what’s going on, but also allows the little one to observe their surroundings. Eventually, they’ll be able to help with little tasks, and will likely be eager to do so because they’ve seen the bigger people in their lives at work.
“For our one-year-old, work looks a little different. He will sit in the carrier while I clean the house, and he will observe as I do chores. As he grows and becomes more mobile, we will accept his help and invite him to contribute. Our goal is to provide practice for helpfulness from the start and to help our children feel welcomed and valued members of our household.” - Megan, Sprout
Let’s not underestimate the beauty of taking advantage of nap time, and helpers in the home (think grandparents, older siblings, caregivers)! Working during this blessed quiet time can help a working parent get some work done without having to keep an ear and eye on small children.
When they are awake, toddlers tend to have an interest in being near their parents, and will copy their parents' actions. If you’re working at a desk, they might like to do the same. Providing interest-led materials to which toddlers have independent access helps them to choose activities while parents work. Some ideas are to have baby dolls, play dough, blocks, or even real-life materials such as a notebook and pencils for toddler-style note taking.
“Mostly, my daughter does her own thing while I work. Since she’s so used to it, she knows that it’s “work time”, and we both do our work. She takes care of her babies, colors, dances to music, looks through big stacks of her books etc. She knows that it’s temporary and that after, we’ll cook dinner together or go on a hike or something. I think it’s really good for her (and me) to have time where we’re doing our own things next to each other–working independently but together.” -Heidi, Sprout
When kids get to be 3 to 5 years of age, they’re old enough to know what it means when parents are working, and will build on the skills they’ve been learning as a toddler to play autonomously. Their play is their own form of work. Their projects may become a little more complex than before, and might require a little more forethought on the part of the parent, but they also have longer attention spans to keep them focused. Allowing them to do focused work at the same time as their parents, in the same space but in their own way, helps to create necessary and healthy boundaries in the parent-child relationship. They learn when to be quiet (during conference calls), and when it’s okay to ask questions, or for assistance with a task.
“My 4 year old will park himself near me wherever I’m working and busy himself with Duplo blocks or play dough - doing his own work. Sometimes, he’ll tell me about the things he’s pretending, and sometimes I’ll share the things on which I’m working, and it’s fun to see him acknowledge me the way I’ve tried to acknowledge him. I think allowing him to just be with me really alleviates the need for me to “entertain” my kids.”- Emma, Sprout
Older Children (6 and Up)
Older children have an even greater ability to understand what it means when their parent is working, and can also be helpful with that work. If your school-aged children are doing their education at home, having them do their work in the same space as their parents helps them to focus on their own work, and sets the tone for what they should do. When a homeschool parent asks their child to do their schoolwork, and then sits down next to them to practice what they preach, the child has the opportunity to model that behavior.
“My son likes to participate in my work and see what things I do that he can do or learn about. When I am doing things with numbers he enjoys it when I ask him to check my work. He will get his calculator, plug in all the numbers and ‘check my math’. My children and I have been navigating working from home together, finding what boundaries we need and in what ways they can directly participate.” - Danica, Sprout
Across all these ages, we found that as we have let our kids work with us, they were more likely to work autonomously. That’s not to say they never needed or wanted our attention, but on the whole they were able to model their actions and behavior after our own. Operating in the same sphere as us, rather than in separated “kid areas” and “adult areas,” showed us that we don't have to compartmentalize our lives in order to have success. If we're working from home, and our kids are young, then we are given the incredible chance to show them what healthy boundaries are, and help them settle into feeling comfortable with work/life boundaries, and where they fit within those boundaries, rather than outside of them.
Kids and togetherness are the same. Young children have, in many ways, been bred to be around people and work together with them. It’s their default mode and their way of loving us. It not only helps them build deep connections with the adults they love, but it also helps them develop cognitively and emotionally. They need to work together to be healthy. -Michaeleen Doucleff