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Build Your Career Work-Life Balance

Summer Sanity: Working From Home When the Kids Are on Break

Summer Sanity: Working From Home When the Kids Are on Break
Credit: David Pereiras/Shutterstock

Entrepreneur Michelle Ellis says her usual work-from-home routine is thrown into a tailspin when her five children, ranging in age from 6 to 16, are home for summer break.

"I actually dread when summer comes. My productivity sinks at a time when our business is the busiest," said Ellis, owner of Cottage & Bungalow.

Many professionals and entrepreneurs who work from home relate to Ellis' frustration. They dread the disruption to workflow that summertime can bring, and are unsure of how to simultaneously manage both their kids and their work.

If you are a remote worker or business owner facing a similar bind, Business News Daily asked home-based entrepreneurs how to best balance kids' summertime needs with the ongoing demands of their job or business. 

Planning, delegating and scheduling are crucial components of making it work in the summer. For some families, this means lining up summertime plans, such as camps, vacations and classes, all in advance. This way, the kids know what to expect and where they will be most summer days, and parents know if there is a gap in coverage for a few days or a few weeks that they need to figure out before school is over.

Enrolling kids in flexible day camp is key for Yi-Hsian Godfrey, the parent of two children and co-founder of Apiari.

"We can go when we need it and pay when we go," explained Godfrey. "I also try to consolidate a lot of my meetings on one day, and on those days, both kids go to camp."

For other entrepreneurs, summer survival requires them to work ahead as much as possible and meet big deadlines in advance of school letting out. Ellis says she tries to get major projects out of the way before summer vacation starts.

Maintaining a family calendar is another way to keep the family on track and organized over the summer.

"We calendar out everything – meals, parties, longer work days, etc. The kids work better on a schedule," said Kim Cheers, who runs Sparkle Bowtique. "Since everyday can be different, we do a daily schedule each morning with them just so they know what to expect and when things are coming up. It's been a lifesaver."

Similarly, Nikki Barjon, managing director of The Barjon Group, says you can make maintaining and organizing calendars a family task.

"We have two big calendar chalkboards, [and] each member of our family puts their important dates on different colored Post-Its," explained Barjon. "This make the entire family feel like we are an active, busy family on the move."

If your children are not in camp full time, set up a childcare co-op with other parents, ask grandparents or other relatives for help, or hire a high-school or college sitter. There is no one-size-fits-all arrangement, but it is important to ensure that young children are supervised so you can focus on your work.

Thinking outside the box may help you land cheap or even free childcare while also helping out other families. For example, Cheers offsets the expense of childcare by sending her children to an in-home daycare where she volunteers.

On the other hand, Becky Robinson, founder and CEO of Weaving Influence, splits up the care of her three daughters with a friend who has an unconventional work schedule.

"On her [my friend's] weekdays off, she hangs out with our younger kids and keeps them busy. When she's working, I add her daughter to the mix and work from home with all four," said Robinson.

Another way to set boundaries and foster a healthy respect for your work is to establish a dedicated workspace in your home, if you haven't done so already. Once you've claimed your area, whether a little corner in the kitchen or an office in the garage, set very specific and clear guidelines for your children to follow when interacting with you in that space.

This approach has worked for Garrett Ball, father of three and owner of Secure Medicare Solutions. Ball set up an office in the basement of his home to create a separation between his work world and his family's primary living space.

"I have [also] developed the technique of putting a 'do not disturb' sign on the door to the basement signaling that I am making phone calls," said Ball.

Barjon employs a similar tactic to help her children distinguish between her work and personal time.

"I make my children honor work hours," she said. "When they want to talk and have random conversations, I say, 'Mommy is still at work, but I can't wait to hear more about this during my break or when I get off.'"

As a parent, you may find yourself feeling like you are working all the time to compensate for the many interruptions you deal with during the summer days. The secret to breaking this cycle is to accept that trying to keep 9-to-5 hours may not be realistic given your family's unique needs. Once you let go of the presumption of "normal" work hours, you become free to develop a work routine that makes the most sense to you.  

"I have had to change the times that I am actually working to fit the family schedule," said Ball. "Also, I've tried to do more via email, as opposed to the phone, because of the convenience of being able to do that on my own time ... regardless of what is going on around me." 

"I work in time chunks – early in the morning, late at night and try to carve out a chunk of time in the day where the younger kids have a supervised activity so I can get some work done," added Ellis.

Parenting and lifestyle media personality Jill Simonian recalled how she carved out time to work on her book, "The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby" (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017).

"I found myself resorting to ... putting a pot of coffee on at 7 p.m. so I could sip my way to keeping my eyes open and write until 1 a.m.," she said.

Regardless of the schedule you piece together for yourself, remember that at some point, you owe it to yourself and your family to unplug from work.

Find roles for your children in your business. If your kids are older, you can use the summer as an opportunity to help them develop a work ethic and an understanding of how parents earn money to pay for all the nice things they have. Even young children, who are often eager to help, can be given simple jobs that instill in them pride and purpose.

Ball, for example, has his young daughter help with filing.

"This has provided me with an opportunity to involve her in the business and teach her about alphabetizing and the importance of staying organized," said Ball.

Similarly, Cheers has her children assist with packing merchandise and post office trips: "It keeps it fun when we can do it together," she said.  

Ellis has her older children help with the company website.

"They are great at putting product on the website," Ellis said. "They learn some valuable technology skills while working with Photoshop, editing copy, and learning the ins and outs of the website."

There will be days that no matter what you say or do, your children will walk into your office unannounced or get into a screaming match during a conference call. In anticipation of those moments and to avoid any ensuing awkwardness, it may helpful to be upfront with clients right from the start and let them know that your kids may make an appearance.

Gabe Lumby, chief marketing officer of Cash Cow Couple, has been interrupted by his rambunctious boys more than once. Lumby's approach is to explain the situation and hope for the best.

"Most have been really understanding and think it is really neat that I'm able to work from home," said Lumby. "Occasionally someone will seem bent out of shape about it, but that is life. You can't please everyone." 

And, sometimes, your children may help you build bridges with potential customers. Ball noted that when clients overhear his children in the background, it serves as an opportunity to make me more personable."

"It opens a door to a conversation about my family and allows me to connect with a client on a personal level," he said.

The reality is that sometimes parents have to do what they have to do to get work done and get their kids' cooperation. Whether it's a simple hack or a little bribery, fill a toolkit with go-to tricks and tips that work best with your kids.

Michelle Pippin, founder of Women Who WOW, recalled that when her three children were younger, she had a work box of toys, movies and games that only came out when she had an important call or appointment.

"They loved it because it was special, and I never had to feel guilty about taking time out to work," said Pippin.

A special treat for cooperating also worked well for Simonian's children.

"When I was writing my book, I resorted to giving my daughters popsicles every hour on the hour on one particular day I was under a strict deadline to submit my latest work," said Simonian.

Ellis, on the other hand, has a surefire way of clearing the house of her children when she needs to focus on her business: When the kids are just sitting around the house, she starts to assign chores.

"They catch on and make plans with friends immediately after they are finished because they don't want more work," explained Ellis. "Either way, it allows me to be productive. The housework gets done, and I can get work done."  

The most successful – and sane – work-from-home parents accept that, at times, even their best-laid plans may fall apart. They take the challenges and distractions in stride because they recognize how lucky they are to be present for so many of the little moments in their kids' lives.

After all, it's easier to deal with the hiccups of working with kids at home when you remember that the fall will be here before you know it. Those days of watching kids splashing in the pool or eating ice cream as it dribbles down their chin will soon become a distant memory.

"If I'm not super busy, I'll usually try to go outside and play with [my kids]. I think it is a huge blessing to have this opportunity, and I don't want to take that for granted," said Lumby. "My boys will only be young for a little while, and I'll have the rest of my life to answer that email, establish a new relationship or write a new piece of content."

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.