While school children are celebrating the end of term and weeks of holiday ahead, many working parents are facing weeks of constant juggling. If you work from home, the school holidays can be tough. Your office suddenly has one (or maybe many more) extra coworkers and they may not be the most respectful of your time and needs. If you are working from home in school holidays, here is our Homeworker survival guide to help you get through (relatively) unscathed.
One of the first things many work from home parents will look at are the options for childcare.
It is inevitably easier to get on and focus if your children are being cared for and are not your responsibility for a short time.
Childcare such as childminders and full-time nursery (for much younger children) can be prohibitively expensive. But if you are able to use it for a day or two a week, it can be an ideal solution. In the UK there are tax-free childcare options as well as up to 30 hours free childcare a week for children aged 3-4 years old. Some families find hiring an au pair or nanny a more cost-effective option. You may even be able to share the cost with another family and have a small childcare group.
Sports camps and holiday clubs are also a great way to keep your children entertained and cared for while leaving you free to work. However, again, these can prove expensive and not all children will be happy to go.
Teaming up with fellow work at home parents can work really well if you have a good relationship. It allows you to share the childcare responsibility. Your children can play together, which often make your job easier and you can take it in turns to work. Whether you split the day or the week, this is an ideal option for part-time or shift workers or if you have great flexibility.
If you are lucky enough to live near family who can help out, then don’t be afraid to ask for their support. Even a couple of days a week can make a huge difference.
Start with honesty
Be as transparent as possible with the people who are likely to be affected by your work schedule and change in circumstances.
Let your boss or colleagues know or, if you’re self-employed, make other team members and clients aware that you have children at home.
Since covid-19 and lockdowns, most people are much more understanding and amenable to parents having children around. It makes working from home during school holidays a slightly easier challenge. A child appearing in your background is more acceptable or having to switch off your video because of a young child in the room is generally not a problem.
Let clients know that you may need to adjust your hours or time frames. The more open you are, the more your customers will understand, especially if you give them plenty of notice.
If you want to read extra tips on how to set boundaries with coworkers and your boss, including ways to say ‘no’, make sure you read our Relationships issue, available as part of a subscription now.
Be honest with your children as well. If you let them know what the situation is and that you won’t be available all hours every day, it will mange their expectations.
Involve your partner or other household members by letting them know what you are finding difficult. Often, opening up to these people will encourage them to offer help where they can. It also means they are more likely to understand and cut you some slack if emotions run high.
Communicating and setting boundaries with children
Whether your children are four or fourteen, you can help ease the chaos and high emotions of simultaneously working and parenting with clear communication and boundaries.
“Young children hear the word ‘no’ about 400 times a day,” notes parenting expert, author and educator Joy Marchese. She advises changing the language you use to make it more positive and less dismissive.
As they can tune out from hearing ‘no’ so often, she suggests using phrases such as : “Yes, we can play a game after dinner. What game do you want to play now independently?”
Set regular intervals to take a break and do something fun with your children. Give certainty by letting them know when you will take that break, maybe use a Pomodoro style timer. Let them choose some music to dance to or a quick activity where you reconnect and they get your undivided attention.
You can also set boundaries with older children by involving them in the process. Setting some ground rules at the start of the holidays helps everyone know what each person needs. Ask children to think about what you might need to be able to concentrate so they develop a better understanding of your situation.
If older children need to be left to entertain and fend for them selves for a few hours each day, try to make it easy for them. Setting out snacks and drinks and suggesting activities means they have less need to disturb you.
You can also have clear signals such as, when the door is shut, they must not interrupt (unless in an emergency). Or, if your headphones are on, you need to focus. If your door is open, it means they are able to come in.
Get clear on what constitutes an ’emergency’. Is it medical emergencies only or is it also not being able to find the remote control?
Create your sanctuaries
The hardest thing about working from home during school holidays is when you have to work in a shared space. Kitchen table working is a prime example of when your work could encroach on family living and vice versa.
If you do not have a dedicated office, look at temporary alternatives for the holiday period. Making use of a dressing table in a bedroom or a console table tucked away in a less high traffic area could suffice.
There are also a huge range of garden pod options that can give you extra space and can be permanent structures or more temporary and seasonal.
Equally, create appealing spaces for your children. If they have a special space to play or hangout, they will be happier to play independently there. For young children, setting out activities and helping them decorate their own space with pictures and drawings is a great way to give them a sanctuary to feel safe and cosy. It could be a small den area or a nook in the living room.
Skew, Prepare Automate (SPA)
Remember to spa… Not quite in the relaxation sense! For business owners and freelancers, it can be hard to take leave or any time off. Try to set aside time to prep some content and schedule some automations (such as blog posts, emails, social media content). This allows you to have a break while still serving and staying visible.
In the same way, you might find skewing your work hours or preparing some work later one evening for the following day, allows you to take a bit more time off during the day.
Getting organised in advance means you can afford to take time off to be with your children. There is much less guilt involved too!
Drip feed your breaks
We often work solidly, saving ourselves up for one longer holiday or a few days off. Once we finally stop, it takes us a few days to decompress and wind down. Before you know it, you’re having to ramp up back for work again.
A decent holiday is wonderful but don’t forget to have proper rests and breaks during your normal working day and week. It means you are not saving yourself up for one big break. That itself can pressurise you into having to relax and fit in all the holiday activities. It also means you pace yourself better and manage your stress levels in a healthier way.
Taking just ten minutes every hour to have a break and be away from the screen has health benefits. Try to get outside and have a walk each day so you feel rested and recharged. Take this time with your children so you can all do something together. They get quality time with you when you are not distracted.
Break time is play time
When you do take your breaks, try to make these dedicated to your children. Encourage them to come off any devices and have regular periods of screen-free time together. It helps everybody to reconnect. For children, this helps to fill their cup with the attention they need from you. It means they are less likely to keep pestering once you are back at the desk.
For yourself, it is an incentive to fully switch off and immerse yourself in something fun. Being playful with children is a brilliant way to recharge and get your own creative juices flowing. It is often a wonderful antidote to a stressful meeting, a complex spreadsheet, or lengthy proposal.
Your children will appreciate it, you will feel less guilty, and you may find it gives you an energy boost!