While school-age kids look forward to summer all year long, many of us work-at-home parents have a sense of dread when the year is over. I don’t know about you, but three months of figuring out how to keep my kids busy while I get my job done is no easy task.
If you have really little kids, your coping mechanisms and strategies for balancing work and family more than likely remain much the same. After all, the littler ones don’t go to school so a summer vacation day is much like any other. As for the younger elementary schoolers? Day care programs, camps or hiring a sitter may be your best bet. But if you’ve got kids who are in the pre-teen and teen years like I do, having them home all day and keeping them occupied can be a real eye-opener and constitutes a whole new ballgame.
My boys are thirteen and ten. They don’t much care to go to camp in the summer, which is just as well because camp costs almost as much as I make. So where does that leave me? Like many parents, I become one heck of a juggler.
Thankfully, they are at an age where we can rationally discuss what mom is doing and why. I like to think that these open discussions about what it takes to make a buck are actually teaching them something―like that money just doesn’t grow on trees. Educational moments aside, I’m oftentimes wracked with guilt that my day is taken up with client phone calls, research and writing when it should be spent with them. But guilt is not a productive emotion when the reality of life is that I have to work for a living, so we do the best we can one week until the next.
Thus far this summer things have gone rather smoothly thanks to a few survival strategies I’ve learned along the way, and here they are:
• Lay it out there week to week―Each Monday we take a moment to review the week in advance. The kids see the blocks of time when mom will be working each day that she can’t be disturbed, and they see where we have other appointments and commitments. They also have a sense of when we will have free time or a free day to spend doing something we all enjoy.
• Negotiate a little each day―Some work days will require a full eight-hours or longer, while others may not need to be so intensive. On those days when the work can get done in less time, I try to throw in a little surprise―like a trip out for a quick lunch or to the pool.
• Get them involved if you can―While the nature of my job does not lend itself to having my kids help me out too much, I have friends who work from home who are able to involve their kids in a number of aspects of their business during the summer months. And why not? It’s great “real world” exposure.
• Have friends’ kids over―If your kids are a little older like mine are, then there are any number of parents who would love to lend you their kids for the day so that yours are occupied. Mine love to have friends over to run around outside, play board games or even make videos (what can I say, they’re 21st century kids) while I’m working. I make sure they’re set up for lunch, and I get hours of work done this way.
• Swap with friends―I have a number of friends who are also work-at-home moms and/or who own their own businesses where their kids are just as bored as mine. We have a couple of days a week where theirs come to me and then we switch. That’s two days a week where I have a plan, and when you have older kids who are on summer vacation and you have a plan, that’s everything.
• Be honest with your kids and your clients/customers―If I’m on a client call and the kids start screaming or the dog starts barking, I simply excuse myself to quiet things down and explain that I’m a work-at-home mom juggling my job and my kids being home for the summer. I ask the kids to get with the program and resume the task at hand. I’m amazed at just how understanding people are in this day and age where they weren’t even ten years ago. The fact is that the world is changing. Millions of us are all in the same boat. Anyone who can’t understand today’s reality when it comes to juggling work and home…well, that’s their problem.
• Monitor screen time―Any work-at-home parent has dealt with the guilt that goes along with using today’s most popular babysitter. No, it’s not just the television anymore. It’s also the gaming console. Whether it’s an Xbox, PlayStation or even just a computer game, kids could play these things all day long if we’d let them. While I’m certainly NOT an advocate of that idea, I do believe―as do most of my work-at-home peers―that some amount of screen time is okay. Just make sure to set limits. In our house, we earn screen time by reading books and doing chores, and then we set reasonable blocks of time to play, like an hour or two on a given day.
• Encourage and carve out reading time―During those hours when mom is working, we’ll agree that an hour or so will be dedicated to reading. We go to the bookstore and the library on a regular basis during the summer to make sure the boys always have a book on hand that interests them for when mandatory reading time is enforced.
• Work when you can―Finally, work-at-home parents know how to work whenever and wherever they can. During the summer months, this kind of flexibility is especially crucial. If you’re awake and have free time later in the evening or at night, take advantage of it and get ahead while you can. After all, these are kids and with them home for the summer the best laid plans may need to change at a moment's notice.