June 27, 2012
With planning, you can work from home this summer with kids
Last Friday, I was in the hall of my kids' school on the afternoon of the last day of the year. As the final bell rang and a collective cheer rose up from 500 kids free for the whole summer, an inner scream erupted at the back of my throat:
They were free, and I was suddenly a work-at-home parent juggling job and kids.
I did this on purpose, I've been reminding myself since.
Last year, my kids went to full-time summer camps, and they probably will next year, too. But this year -- based on a few different factors including cost, my 5-year-old's desire not to be anywhere I'm not, and the fact that as someone who is self-employed I have the freedom to craft my own schedule -- I decided to mostly forego the heavily scheduled kiddie care in favor of what I've been romanticizing as an "old-fashioned summer."
You know, the kind where we pedaled around the neighborhood (helmetless) on our bikes, buying penny candy at the store and imploding ant holes?
Except these days you can't let the tots pedal around the neighborhood on their own. Details ...
Still, despite the potential challenges, keeping your kids home for all or part of the summer (and even, if you don't usually work from home, adjusting your schedule so you spend part of the summer working remotely) has some great benefits: You can reconnect with them, save money on child care and reinvigorate yourself by partaking in some daytime fun.
Preparation is key when it comes to competing work and family demands. Based on experience, research and tips I culled from friends, here are some ways to manage work while maximizing the opportunity to spend more time with your children. These recommendations are best for ages 5-12 but can be tweaked based on other ages.
Create a calendar. Kids do best when they know what to expect. Make a large custom calendar showing each day of each week you'll all be home together. Instruct your kids to make a list of all the fun thing they want to do, then plot those activities out on the calendar. Spread out similar activities like museums and park outings and crafts so there's lots of variety.
Then plot in your work time. Mine is 8 a.m. to noon daily and then evening hours. During my morning work time, the kids plot out their own activities: Reading, crafts, some targeted screen time. Everyone knows what to expect, and all the needs are meet. But be clear on your schedule about which hours are work hours and which hours are play hours.
Wake up early. Or go to bed late. Sneaking in some focused work time before my kids wake up is always a go-to option for me, one I can employ any time I feel I'm not getting enough work done. My mind is fresh and un-frazzled, the house is quiet -- all I need is some coffee.
Employ value-added screen time. If your kids don't have their own computer, now is the time to set one up. Load it with educational games and websites, and allow them to have coordinated "work time," too.
Be mobile. Make sure you have a smartphone that you can use to send and receive email, and a laptop if one is necessary. You can move around the house, the yard, even go to the park and take your work with you.
Plan ahead with your employer. If you're not self-employed and usually work in an office, planning a summer flex schedule takes preparation. Start early by drawing up a proposal for your employer. Be clear about how you will fulfill your obligations and when you will and will not be available. Inform yourself ahead of time about how your employer has dealt with such requests in the past. Be direct but don't beg or whine. Craft a positive proposal and be confident.
Swap care. Make arrangements with your partner, with neighborhood parents and, if it works, with a part-time nanny or mother's helper, so that you can rely on some child-free daytime hours to accomplish work.
Prepare meals, snacks and projects the night before. Make all the supplies accessible to your kids.
Employ Library Hour. Let them read and check out as many books as they like. Park yourself at a table and work.
Be honest with your clients/employer. Craft a go-to message that professionally communicates your altered schedule and availability yet assures people that you are still there and accountable.
Unplug. Dedicate some solid time to enjoying the season with your kids. Be present for them so you can reap the full benefits of a work-from-home summer.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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