If you work from home and your kids are out of school for the summer, you probably have mixed feelings right now. You love being around your children – one of the perks of working from home is close proximity to the family – but you probably also love the office-like silence you were accustomed to throughout the school year.
Working while parenting is an issue more people will begin to encounter as the summers go by. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, about 65 million Americans will be freelancers, temps, independent contractors and solopreneurs, making up about 40 percent of the workforce, and that doesn't include salaried employees who work out of their homes.
Of course, whether this is an issue for you largely depends on the age of your children. There's a vast difference between working under the same roof with a first grader and third grader and sharing a household during the workday with kids in middle or high school.
So if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed and wondering how you're going to work efficiently this summer without being nominated for worst parent ever, here are some strategies that may help.
Talk to your kids about your expectations for the summer. Children, as much as grownups, appreciate structure, says Christine Allen, a Syracuse, N.Y.-based psychologist, executive coach and mother of two children. In other words, tell your kids what you need from them, and they just may give it to you. Allen, who has often worked from home, also suggests rewarding young kids for good behavior. You might take them to the park for a mid-day break or at the end of the day, for example.
You can go further than talking, too, says Christina Rae, president of Buzz Creators, a public relations and marketing firm in Westchester, N.Y. "I'd do 'practice drills' with my kids – teaching them to quietly open the door to see if mommy was on the phone before talking to me," Rae says. "And if I was, they knew to come back later unless it was a true emergency."
Rae, who has a five-year-old and eight-year-old and worked from home until last March, adds that she reviewed with her kids what constituted a true emergency. "They enjoyed our practice scenarios, and it helped avoid any embarrassing situations," she adds.
Talk to yourself about your own expectations. If this is your first summer working from home and your kids will be around, adopt the mindset that "you won't be able to work for seven-hour stretches," advises Katie Hellmuth Martin, a mother of a three-year-old girl and one-year-old boy and the co-founder of Tin Shingle (www.tinshingle.com), a national small business community headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y. "As a home-based single girl, I could work for hours at a time, happily engaged in what I was doing, having food delivered, leaving only to walk my dog."
But if you have kids, Martin adds, "That won't happen."
Take kid breaks. If you were in an office setting, you'd take a coffee break or hang out in a cubicle with a co-worker, ostensibly to discuss a project but really to give your angst-ridden colleague advice about his love life. So, knowing you're saving time by not working in an office, you should schedule short breaks throughout the day to play with your kids, between projects or meetings, guilt-free.
"It will re-energize you and also lets them know you haven't forgotten about them, too," Rae says.
Rae says when she worked with her children under the same roof, she would read them a short book, serve up a snack or play a quick game of hide and seek.
Get out of the house. Even well into the 21st century, with all our gadgets, it can be easy forget that we can take our office work out of the home. "I have worked at the beach, the pool and the park while my kids are off playing," says MaryAnne Hyland, a human resource management professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. Hyland, who has done extensive research on work and family balance, adds that she does keep an eye on her kids while she works and they play out in public.