How I work from home with kids underfoot

mom with daughter on lap with computer
Public Domain MaxPixel

It's a chaos zone, but it is also a richly creative one.

Over the past two weeks, I've had the mixed pleasure of doing my full-time writing job from home while simultaneously entertaining three small people who are enjoying their Christmas holidays. It has not been easy, but it's not that different from what I did years ago. I've just gone back to using the old tactics.

To all of you parents trying to create beautiful things and maintain some semblance of professionalism while working amid the chaos of child-raising, do not despair. There are ways to maximize creative output while remaining somewhat accessible to your kids. Here's how I make it happen.

Keep in mind that my kids are now school-aged, so my approach is more hands-off than it was in their baby and toddler years. Also, if we're being completely honest here, I don't recommend doing this indefinitely. If at all possible, arrange for child care to allow you to focus on your work.

1. Start early.

An article that takes me two hours to write in the afternoon takes 45 minutes if I start at 5:30 in the morning. This is my best writing time. The house is silent. There are no interruptions or distant fights going on. Once I've got that first cup of tea in my hands, I am alert and on fire. Once the toughest writing is out of the way, the afternoons are free for tasks that require less mental energy, like posting on social media, editing, answering emails, and scouting for new stories.

2. Delegate chores.

My kids' presence at home during the holidays should, in theory, reduce the chore burden because they're around to help out. So when I'm working, I expect them to get their own snacks and drinks, clean up the dishes after each meal, and perform any other household tasks that need to be done because both parents are working. I also require the older one to help out with the littler one as needed. This has the added benefit of using up their time and making them less inclined to feel bored.

3. Set a schedule and have something to look forward to.

It helps for kids to know what the day is going to look like. I tell them until what time I'll be writing, and then what the plan is after that. I try to have something exciting for them to look forward to, which makes them more cooperative throughout the day. This could be a visit to the library, a short hike, public skating at the arena, baking cookies, or reading our novel aloud.

4. Send them outside.

They are expected to have a morning and afternoon 'recess.' I don't care what they do; they know their boundaries. They just have to stay outside for a predetermined amount of time, which is discussed in advance. Depending on the temperature and the weather, it could be a half hour at minimum or two hours at most.

5. Use a timer.

The humble stove timer is a wondrous tool for keeping families on track. I use it all the time for things such as "I need to write for 30 more minutes, then we'll have lunch," or "You have 15 minutes left before you can come inside," or "Your brother is going to play with it for 5 minutes, then you get a turn." It puts an instant stop to debate.

6. Be portable.

I don't even attempt to work in my office when the kids are at home because that's where they would end up, too. Instead, I sit at the dining table and let the chaos revolve around me. They play with their toys, I am able to answer questions and defuse battles instantly, and they tend to leave me alone because they know exactly where I am.

7. Enjoy some screen time.

On days like this, it truly pays off being a mostly screen-free family. Occasionally I let the rules slide to buy myself some quiet time, allowing the kids to watch some Netflix shows, play math games, or watch a movie. And because this is so rare for them, they are riveted. They are less enthusiastic about the rule that they must double the amount of screen time they've enjoyed with outdoor playtime.

Somehow, we hobble through the holidays. Next week, when they trot off to school again, the silent house will seem like an unimaginable luxury, but part of me will miss their noise and disturbance, too. I've come to realize that having a busy young family and limited writing time is, in fact, the greatest cure for writer's block, as well as a wonderful source of inspiration. Sadly these years won't last forever.

How I work from home with kids underfoot
It's a chaos zone, but it is also a richly creative one.

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