With the cost of living steadily rising year-on-year, and childcare fees shooting up a massive 27% in the previous five years, it’s no wonder that more and more people are choosing to work from home once children appear on the scene. Many families find that once reduced working hours and whopping nursery costs are taken into account, they’re left with no additional income at the end of the month, making heading out to work a pointless exercise.
If this is the case for you, and you’ve spent the last year or so typing with one hand while feeding the baby, or simultaneously trying to rock the crib and reply to urgent emails, you’ll know that working from home with a baby is challenging but manageable. Let’s face it – babies don’t actually do an awful lot; they have long naps, a diet which consists mainly of milk and they can’t really go anywhere, so getting large chunks of work done in one go is absolutely possible. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said once you’re left in the company of a toddler.
A toddler is a different creature entirely; curious, noisy and determined, you’ll soon find yourself battling with inquisitive little hands grabbing at the laptop as you type, rescuing teetering ornaments and fending off almost constant demands for snacks. If this is currently how you find yourself working, and your level of productivity has suddenly taken a nosedive, don’t despair – working with little ones under the age of four doesn’t have to be almost impossible; with good planning and a few helpful tips, you can conquer both the world of work and your childcare situation in one go.
Realise (and Accept) the Limitations
You’re not working in an office with several fully grown adults, whose idea of being naughty is making too many personal calls or spending too much time on Facebook, you’re spending your working day with someone who a) can’t wipe their own bottom b) can’t necessarily communicate very well and c) can’t understand why biscuits aren’t a food group. A toddler has no comprehension of anything outside of their own tiny world; they neither know nor care what work is, and once you accept that, you’re on the road to success.
Make a Plan for the Day (and Include them in it)
If you were heading out to work in the morning, you’d have made a rough plan of how the day was going to pan out, and you can do the same while working from home; trying to simply ‘wing it’ with a toddler in tow is a recipe for disaster, and you’ll find you get absolutely nothing done. Remember that to a child, watching you tap away at a keyboard holds absolutely no appeal whatsoever, so dedicate some of the day to activities that they will find fun and interesting; head out to a toddler group, spend an hour or so crafting with them, or even just get down on the floor and play cars or have a pretend tea-party. It might feel like a waste of work time, but once they’ve worn themselves out and are indulging in a super-long nap, you can get back to the computer. Everyone’s a winner!
Prepare for Home-Based Activities
No matter how many toys a child has, there’s only so long that they’ll stay engaged with stacking bricks or noisy plastic – a two-year-old has an attention span of between roughly three and six minutes, so expecting them to sit down and write the next War and Peace is pretty unrealistic. If you know you’re going to be in all day, prepare the night before by getting materials together for a variety of activities; we’ve yet to meet a toddler that isn’t fascinated by cardboard boxes, and most children like to draw for a short length of time. There are dedicated websites which list great ideas, such as The Imagination Tree and Red Ted Art, which are helpfully divided into age groups so you can find something appropriate for your child. Another good tip is to keep a selection of toys in boxes, and then rotate the boxes throughout the week – every time a new box is produced, it will seem like brand new toys to your child and will keep them entertained for that bit longer.
Utilise Nap Time
Simply put, nap-time is the Holy Grail of work time when you have a toddler in tow; while the little one snoozes, you can forget about having to keep one eye on the miniature whirlwind that seems intent on destroying anything and everything within its path. Although the temptation might be to do the laundry, clean the bathroom or tidy up, these tasks don’t require as much concentration, so sit down and concentrate on your workload. Get as much done during nap-time as possible; answer e-mails, make phone calls and complete any other tasks which require you to be as professional as possible.
If everything else fails, don’t be afraid to use the age old secret weapon – the humble bribe. Offer half an hour of TV or pop a DVD on, or break out the emergency-snacks. We’ve all done it. Leave the guilt at the door.
Change your Working Hours
Finally, if you’re really struggling, consider changing your working hours; the best thing about working from home is that you’re not tied to any core times, and you can easily work outside the usual 9am-6pm window. While getting up an hour earlier to answer e-mails probably sounds horrific, armed with a cup of tea or coffee and with nobody to disturb you, you’ll find yourself surprisingly productive. Similarly, the idea of working during the evenings when all you want to do is collapse on the sofa in front of the television might fill you with dread, but the peace and quiet is the perfect environment to maximise your output.
Following the tips outlined above will help you find the ideal balance between performing important work tasks and taking care of your toddler.