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.
Fair warning, though: Working at the pool, park and beach is often a gamble. Some days, it may work out just fine. Other days, the sun might be too bright for your laptop or it may rain. It can also be near impossible to have a business phone meeting at a playground full of shouting children. And as Hyland says, you do have to watch your kids. So make sure the shouting you hear from your kids is playing and not them being swept into a riptide or ushered into a van by a stranger.
[Read: Budget-Friendly Fun for the Summer.]
An indoor playground at a fast food outlet or the YMCA might keep your children more safely occupied and the weather elements more in your favor if you can tune out the noise and hunker down over your laptop. Or perhaps taking the kids to a relative's house while you squirrel away into a spare room will buy you a couple quiet hours.
You won't be able to spend your entire summer out of the house, but you might find some place away from home where you can work and they can play, and everyone peacefully co-exists.
Send them out of the house. Many parents ship out their kids to play at a house with a stay-at-home parent, with the understanding that you'll return the favor on a weekend.
Work odd hours. "Kids need sleep, so get up two hours before they do and you'll be amazed at how much you can get done with no interruptions. Also, get the kids to bed and put in another hour of work before you head to sleep," says Karma Hope, who with her husband, Scott, runs HFI-Boise, LLC, a call center business in Boise, Idaho. Hope is also the mother of seven kids. (Four of them still live at home, and her youngest is three.)
Put your kids to work. "Jobs and tasks are life savers at our house," Hope says. "When each kid has a list of tasks to do, you will find you can get a lot of work done while they are 'working.'"
She cites an example tasks list for their eight-year-old: "Get dressed, make bed, empty dishwasher, read for 15 minutes, play with little brother for 15 minutes, weed garden for 15 minutes."
Hope says, "You can get a lot of work done while your child is learning to be responsible."
Don't feel too guilty about electronic babysitters. Most of the people interviewed for this story mentioned that TV and computer games can come in handy, and it's almost impossible to not occasionally rely on them if you're going to work ably. But it's all about balance, and you'll know you need to come up with a different parenting-work plan immediately if you ever overhear your child insist to friends and family that they've been spending their summer living underwater with a talking sponge and a dim-witted starfish.