Being a work-at-home-mom can sometimes drive you crazy.
How do working mothers manage home, kids and their business goals, without getting overwhelmed and frustrated?
Many bloggers will tell you that you have to get child care, or that it gets easier when they go to school. And that’s all true!
But what if you don’t have or can’t afford childcare? And your kids are years from going to school — or you’re wanting to homeschool?
Here are some tips for how working mothers can fit it all in, around their kids, when you don’t have child care.
1. Keep to a structured routine.
While staying tied to a schedule often doesn’t work well when you have young kids, keeping to a routine does. Keeping life predictable for yourself and your children will help train them (and you) and keep interruptions to a minimum.
What does this look like? It means that you don’t miss a naptime, and that you make sure your kids are fed within 30 minutes of the same time every day. It means that if you go out afternoons and stay in mornings, you aren’t changing that up on a whim or because you don’t feel like it. You’re keeping everything so routine, it’s boring.
The benefits? When your child is used to going down for a nap every afternoon after lunch, they’ll continue their naptime long after many children outgrow it, without much fuss. Even if they don’t actually need to sleep, set them up with a quiet activity in their room, so they get that downtime, and you get that time to work on your own projects.
And that goes for every transition. If you stick to the same routine, Junior will know what to expect, and that means they’ll be happier, calmer kids. And happy kids make for a happy mom, and that makes everything easier.
2. Encourage independence.
From a young age, my children are encouraged to do things for themselves. My toddlers are allowed and taught how to get their own toys from their toybox — and taught how to put them back in (even if they need some repetition and direction!). I encourage my preschoolers to get their own drinks, and clean up their own messes.
When you teach your children to do it for themselves, you are creating opportunities for confidence building. They will get in the habit of trying new things, of being eager to learn, and not afraid to fail. Plus, as they master skills young, they’ll be more capable and trustworthy to take on bigger tasks, like cooking, for example.
The benefits? Since my kids are very independent, I don’t get the “mom, mom, mom, mom” chant often. I also don’t get the “I’m bored” whines. My kids know how to entertain themselves. And they know how to feed, dress and clean up after themselves. And that means less work and supervision for me. That also means less time wasted chasing them, so that the time we do spend together is positive, not negative. It’s a win-win for all of us.
3. Make old toys new again.
My toddler is just turned 1. She’s a bright little girl, and very curious. She’s constantly looking for new things to explore. So sometimes she doesn’t want to play with the same old toys in her toy box, and can get into my or my older children’s things.
But with a few tweaks, we make old toys new again. Sometimes, we’ll simply put them into a new container, like a bag, or a cardboard box. Sometimes, I’ll add something to one of her toys — like a sticker or tape on wings. Or maybe I’ll remove something, like taking the wheels off a car. All of a sudden, the object is interesting again.
For my older kids, I make old toys new again by rotating their toys. I put away about half their toys for a few months of the year. Then, when we deep clean their rooms and playroom, I’ll bring out the toys from storage, and put away the others. It’s like Christmas all over again, even if they’ve seen them before.
The benefits? Toys get played with more. And my kids get creative more often, because they see me modeling it. We have fewer things out, meaning less to clean. They have more fun. And.. I get more time to work on my projects, because they’re occupied by “new” things!
4. Use Busy Bags.
If you don’t know what these are, you’re missing out. Busy bags are activities (usually packed in containers, like Ziploc bags) that are designed to be done independently, with a minimal of supervision and mess. You can make them for any age!
For example, I put plastic tweezers, pom poms and a half-egg carton in a Ziploc bag. I put colored dots on the bottom of the egg carton compartments, and used the same colors in the pom poms. Now I have an activity for my toddler to use while sitting in her booster. She can use her fingers, or the tweezers to put the pom poms in the egg carton. As she grows, she can sort the pom poms.
There are tons of ideas out there for DIY Busy Bags, or you can buy pre-made ones. For older kids, I often use craft kits, that contain everything they need for one craft, like glue dots, cut out pieces, markers or watercolors, and the instructions.
The benefits? The kids are quiet, occupied and entertained. There’s minimal mess, and no one tends to yell or interrupt. They’re learning!! And mom gets to work on her projects right beside them, so we all get quality time together too.
Bonus: These are often portable, and make great “waiting” distractions. So if you’re in a situation where you have to wait and you would prefer a quiet child, keep a few rarely used or brand new bags in the car or in your diaper bag or purse.
5. Include your kids in your daily chores.
It may seem counter productive to take your baby, toddler or preschooler along while you are scrubbing toilets. But kids love to help. Give your son or daughter a wet cloth, and even the smallest will be happily occupied with it. You may even get some spots wiped off the wall or floor!
Children need to see that their working mothers’ lives don’t revolve around their every need. They need to know that adults do other things besides just cater to the kids. They’ll learn resilience and feel more secure about growing up, because they’ll see what being a grown up looks like.
They’ll also amaze you by how much they absorb. You may think your 2 year old is busy shaking that wet cloth around and just getting things wet, but they’re watching you. If you’re consistent about including them, by the time they’re 4 or 5, they’ll be a real help to you. They’ll know how to clean up, really clean up, and you might be surprised about what you can ask them to do.
The benefits? You get things done with your kids. They learn from you on how to do those things, and that being a grown up isn’t scary, but isn’t all fun either. And you both spend time together, which is probably one of the reasons you wanted to work from home anyway!
6. Set aside time for just them — first.
All our children really want is our attention. So set aside the time for them, first, before you move on to your giant to-do list. When you can give them the attention they’re craving, you’ll fill them up with love and affection. And then, when you need them to be happy independently, they’re more likely to be ok with that.
If all you’re doing is finding ways to keep them occupied and out of your way, they will probably chase after you more. When I get too busy doing my things, and forget about filling up my kids, we both get frustrated. They get frustrated because they’re feeling ignored, and I get frustrated because I’m constantly being interrupted — without understanding why.
I’m just as guilty of this as any working mother. It can be so easy to focus on my plans and projects that I forget about being a mom, and not just a worker. My kids need me, and your children need you too! Put aside the time for them. They’ll make it worth your while.
The benefits? When I spend the time with my kids first, we all benefit. I get focused downtime, away from my clients and my business. It forces me to relax and enjoy myself, because I do enjoy my children. I just forget that sometimes. My kids benefit from the time with mom, because that’s all they really want! They want to know they’re loved, and that I think they’re awesome. And when the time comes that I need to get back to my business, we’re all happier. It makes me a better worker and a better mom.
7. Be flexible.
Kids are kids. No matter how much time you give them, or how well you structure your day or your home to make it easy to work and live, there will be days where nothing goes the way you planned. Life interruptions happen. Kids get sick, the washing machine breaks, or unexpected deadlines pop up. Sometimes, you just gotta go with the flow.
When life happens, it’s not the end of the world. You didn’t make a mistake (or maybe you did.. oops!). Take a deep breath, and change your plans for the day.
Some days this may mean suspending the normal routine, and breaking out the popcorn, blankets and juice, and having a movie day. Or it might mean dealing with some cranky kids for a bit, and not getting as much done as you hoped. Sometimes, you just have to make the best of it.
The good news is, tomorrow is always a fresh start. If the routines got interrupted, or someone’s sick, you can start over tomorrow. Today, just breathe, and focus only on what you need to do right now.
The benefits? Staying flexible reduces your stress. And a less stressed mom means less stressed kids, and that makes everyone calmer. So what if your plans got derailed? It’s ok. You can change your plans, and move on.
Working mothers are the hardest working people.
I rarely state absolutes, but this is one of those things I believe strongly. Working mothers work harder than anyone else. And sometimes we make it look easy, when it isn’t. So make it easier with a few shortcuts. And stay flexible!
What’s your favorite trick for managing life as a working mother?
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