Achieving Balance as a Work-at-Home Parent

It’s never easy for parents to find balance in this hectic world, and work-at-home parents are no exception. Raising children is a rewarding but demanding job—and when there's no definitive boundary between home and work, life can get complicated fast. That goes double if you were suddenly thrust into a work-at-home (and supervise-school-at-home) situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, with little or no time to prepare.

While it might seem that working at home could create a sweet equilibrium between our home lives and professional endeavors, it can easily morph into a world where the demands of parenting and working collide relentlessly, causing stress, overwhelming expectations, and the feeling of always having too much to do while never getting enough done.

It's easier said than done, but with a little planning, organization, and effort, you can successfully sync up your work and family duties. Consider these suggestions for how work-at-home parents can reach that coveted work-life balance.


Create Boundaries

work at home parents
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You can find an effective, productive balance between parenthood and working at home. However, it does not happen without effort.

When you go out to a workplace every day, that automatically draws a line between your work and family lives. However, when you work at home, you must draw that line on your own. This can be done by creating routines and schedules to help delineate work from family time.

Working from home usually does allow more family time, but it brings its own work-life balance challenges.

Aim to make conscious choices about structuring your time and space on a day-to-day basis and then enforcing those boundaries. Additionally, keep kids in the loop about expectations.


Set Ground Rules

Ground rules

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When you work at home, you need ground rules for everyone. There should be guidelines for the children and others in the household about how to behave when parents are working. For example, what merits an interruption during your work time should be clear to all, including adults. Kids tend to forget the rules, while adults may think the rules don't apply to them.

However, don’t stop there when crafting those work-at-home ground rules. Perhaps even more important are the rules you make for yourself. It takes self-discipline to be successful at working from home. Cranky babies and conference calls can now coexist in the same sphere, but it's up to you to keep your worlds from colliding.

Telecommuters must be as productive as their office counterparts. Home business owners and freelancers depend on the time and energy they spend on their professional commitments. Learning to avoid distractions—whether they are the laundry piling up, kids who need homework help, or social media memes you’re just dying to share—is the key to success.

Your ground rules shouldn’t just cover how you spend your work time, but also how much time you spend working.

This one cuts both ways: Distractions can reduce work time, but it's easy to work too much in an age of 24/7 connectivity. Just because you can work at any time of the day or night does not mean you should. Set schedules that help you safeguard your personal and family time.


Balance Quality and Quantity Time

Working at home

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Whether parents should aim for quality time or quantity of time with their children is an age-old debate fraught with all sorts of layers and judgments about others’ life choices. So, let’s not go there!

Instead, examine quality versus quantity through the lens of your own life because this is a trade-off that everyone experiences at times. When you work at home, you may have the opportunity to balance the two better if you mindfully make choices.

As a work-at-home parent, you likely have the good fortune of being with your child for longer and/or more frequent stretches of time. Much of that time together, though, may be spoken for by your employer or the needs of your business.

Understand that actually being physically present is not the same as spending time together. However, this proximity allows you to take breaks during the workday and focus fully on your children, rather than multitasking and giving them half your attention while you are doing something else.

Work-at-home parents (and all parents) absolutely have to multitask at times, but they should do so wisely and sparingly.

Multitask when neither your job nor your child suffers from it. Make clear choices about when you are working and when you are not. Children will wait longer and more patiently for your attention if they trust that they will actually be getting your full attention eventually.


Manage the Family Schedule and Kids’ Activities

Woman traveling with baby on phone
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When kids are little, parents have more control over the amount of time they spend together. Parents can get in some quality time by carving out a few minutes to get down on the floor to play, or reading a book together. However, as children grow and enter school, the constraints on family time come from both directions: parents’ and kids’ schedules.

The burden of those busy schedules usually falls more squarely on work-at-home parents, who often become the ones responsible for maintaining their children’s schedules and delivering people to their various activities.

These parents can easily find themselves taking phone calls and checking emails between carpool stops or working late at night to catch up. Perhaps this is workable for some work-at-home parents, but it will cause a strain in other households.

Either way, all families need to be conscious of how their family schedule comes to be and what the trade-offs are. Telecommuters who are ensnared by a family schedule that demands too much of them are potentially putting their jobs, or at least telecommuting privileges, at risk. Home business owners may be cutting into their profitability.

Even those who can successfully manage both the family and professional demands on their time should make informed choices when choosing kids’ activities. That sense of control you gain by knowing what conscious choices your family has made and why helps ease the stress of a full schedule.


Find the Right Amount of Volunteering

Girl (4-6) being comforted by mother and teacher at school sports day

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When you work at home, people sometimes expect things that they don’t expect of people who go into a workplace. Maybe they figure you have an endlessly flexible schedule or nothing to do. Neighbors will call and ask for favors; coworkers will request that you work at odd hours. Telecommuters must learn to deal with these kinds of requests. 

On top of that, parents must deal with numerous requests to volunteer, fundraise, or attend daytime events. These assumptions about the flexibility of parents' schedules who work from home can compound the problem, making it even more important for parents to make more intentional choices about giving their time.

The parent who works outside the home may commute a long distance, and so it really may not be possible for them to attend a weekday event or to help out in the classroom. On the other hand, a work-at-home parent is much more likely close by and may well have the ability to set their own schedule. That does not mean, however, that they have any more time to give.

Work-at-home parents, like everyone else, need to work within the bounds of their own lives and be careful not to overextend themselves.

Still, volunteering sets a great example for children and can be an important part of why someone might choose to work from home. So if you plan to volunteer, carefully think out how much time you can realistically commit. Know what you are getting into by asking questions before you agree. And be prepared to say no.

School and sports fundraising requests pose another kind of challenge. Few parents are thrilled about participating in school fundraising, but without a network of office mates to sell to (and buy from), work-at-home parents have fewer options. Social media can help parents spread the word, but sometimes it might just be easier to donate to the organization yourself.

Just like choosing activities for your child's schedule presents a potential trade-off, so does volunteering and fundraising. Be sure you know what both the costs and the benefits are. 

A Word From Verywell

When work-at-home parents spend the time to make conscious choices about organizing their work time and family time, stick to a schedule, and set up clear rules and boundaries, they will often be rewarded with a more balanced, less stressful life. Be patient and know it won't always be easy. Hiccups will happen, but by and large, work-at-home (while parenting) bliss is within reach.

By Laureen Miles Brunelli
Laureen Miles Brunelli is an experienced online writer and editor, specializing in content for parents who work at home.