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Super-VA + Super-Parent = Super-Tired. Tips For Working At Home With Young Children

Michelle Dale - Friday, August 19, 2011

As many of you know, our family lives rather an unusual lifestyle. We don’t have a base that we can call home as such, and we travel between countries. We first started this because it was an exciting way to live, but now we travel because we are looking for some sort of a base to settle in for most of the school year, but travel the rest. We would like to be able to take just suitcases when we leave rather than all our worldly possessions, whilst they fit quite easily in a car, it doesn’t bode well for flights, only driving and ferries, which is restricting. Needless to say, we don’t have the usual creature comforts such as local family and friends to help us out with the kids, English speaking babysitters we can call up from an ad in the newspaper, or traditional daycare you find in England for example. In reality, my husband an I have spent a grand total of around 6 nights out alone together since our first child was born in 2007.

This Is The Reality…

I do videos wherever possible for my blog posts – I could of done what I usually do and done my hair, put my make-up on and looked like I just stepped out of Cosmo magazine, ha ha! But seriously – work at home mums rarely look like that… If you look at the video top right, this is me on an off day – hair pulled back, no make-up on at all, and  looking a little bit tired from working late and getting up early – I do get really tired sometimes – and I look scary. But this is for real. I don’t have (and have never had) a babysitter, nanny, or any form of childcare, ever, I run a very busy multi VA company, I take care of all the household ‘stuff,’ I have 2 energetic pre-school children who I am with 24/7, but I do also have a very supportive husband who also works with me in Virtual Miss Friday.

It would be a lie if I said full time childcare as well as running a business was a doddle, it’s not, you will get tired, and you will flake out – but it’s also not bad either from my perspective, it all depends on how you approach life, whether you resent how difficult it can be now, since before you had kids, sometimes we have flashbacks to the freedom days when all we had to be responsible for was ourselves, and I often think, if only I knew then what I know now… Would it change anything, nahhhh I love my kids more that life itself, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am very happy to be around for my kids everyday, and it will be tough for me in September when we will be sending our 2 and 3 year old to nursery school (for the first time) here in Italy until we leave in around 8 months time.

But onto some more practical tips I have picked up for working at home with kids. Some of these are a little unconventional, but we have to improvise as parents in unusual circumstances!

Tip #1: Black Out

We have always been lucky, since before I can remember our kids have gone to bed around 6.30pm and woke up around 7am. I put this down to 2 things, the first is that early on I used the “bedtime technique” from SuperNanny Jo Frost, because of this, my kids tend to go down without a fuss, and the second is that our kids have always had shutters or outside blinds on the windows, so the room stays dark, I believe their body clocks respond to light, whenever there has been a hint of light in the room in the morning, they are up immediately, so making a clear day and night for them has been essential in them having a good night’s sleep, going to bed in the dark, even in summer, and waking up to the light when the shutters are open. We are up before the kids, and work when they go to bed, it’s a routine.

I should add on this one, that since our kids became toddlers, they have never wanted to nap in the day, they just seem to get enough sleep at night. We work early in the morning, and also after they have gone to bed.

Tip #2: Fresh air

I take the kids out as much as I can, and when I do, I try to be productive taking them to safe environments where I know they will be able to play securely. I wrote a post on this before, which you may find useful called “How Work At Home Mums (WAHM) Can Become Work From Anywhere Mums!”

Kids are balls of energy, they need to expend that energy somewhere, so a morning trip to the park, playground or playing field for an hour is a good start to the day, especially when you need to work from home for the rest of it with them, it will help mellow them out for some more low-key home based activities.

Tip #3: Mobility

Being stuck in one room all day like an office with your kids will drive them nuts, it gets worse as they get older, so if you can get a laptop, iPad or other mobile device that will allow you to move through the house for a change of scenery, all the better. Try to switch between the kitchen table, the lounge, a playroom or play area, the garden or their bedroom etc… set them up with different activities in each location. They could watch a movie in the lounge (Yes, I do use the electronic babysitter for some parts of the day), sit and do drawing at the kitchen table, play with a train set in the playroom or go in the Wendy house in the garden, or a paddling pool, be creative with games, toys and things to do which they can occupy themselves with while you are around to supervise. Also never give them all their toys, switch them up and alternate them so they have lots of change and variety in their daily life.

Tip #4: Alcatraz

The fact is if you are working from home, you will not be able to spend every second of the day with your eyes on the kids. So you will need to child-proof your whole house, or at least everywhere the kids go, to make it a safe environment for them. Each room needs to be like Alcatraz! No escape.

Everything breakable, sharp or heavy must be out of reach, no ornaments, no bits and pieces they can grab. Use cupboard and drawer child safety locks so they can’t open anything, remove unnecessary furniture, or things they could hurt themselves on, have plenty of cushions or bean bags. Cover plug sockets, box in wires, put up stair gates, fire guards — make everything safe. If you don’t do this you will be constantly telling them to not touch things, leave things alone, don’t pick things up they shouldn’t and there is no way you will get anything done. You have to be able to take your eyes off your kids, safe in the knowledge they won’t be playing Frisbee with your display china.

Tip #5: Snacks

Make sure they have plenty of healthy snacks like fruit available, kids need to eat little and often to stay sane, and not go crazy, (so no Coca Cola and Mars Bars!) often they can flip out because they need a snack or juice, but they can’t tell us that, because they don’t know themselves that might be the issue.

Tip #6: Batch Process

Wherever possible set time aside to bulk process. Cook in batches and stick meals in the freezer, so you can quickly prepare them and get dinner on the table. Batch process your cleaning, your laundry, your ironing, set time aside to do that while your kids are awake and get them involved in it so you are not wasting precious time when they are not around to be at your desk, have them ‘help’ you wherever they can, that way you are spending time with them and getting things done, freeing up your time when they are in bed, or elsewhere, to work.

Tip #7: Virtually There

Finally, you need to consider your timing and office set up. First thing is that you won’t be able to answer calls from clients or potential enquiries when the kids are around, get yourself a business line, and hire a “pay per call or message” company to handle the calls for you, ask them to text you or email you with anything urgent.

Then make sure you have an appointment system available so folk can book appointments in at convenient times for you, when you know someone will be around with the kids, or they will be in bed.

And finally, make sure you can divert any direct lines to you to an answering service, or use Away Find for clients so you get a text message if anyone needs you urgently.

You will have to accept that there is no easy way around working from home with children, and they will pretty much dictate when you are able to work and when you are not, kids, even with a solid routine can be unpredictable, just do the best you can, and always obtain or accept help and support wherever possible.

P.S. Thanks to Alex for asking me to post this.

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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