How I've managed to work from home since my son stopped napping

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I had to go all the way back to May 2011 to even find a photo of my kid napping. LE SIGH.

I've been working from home since my son was born over three years ago. While this is NOTHING compared to the length of many careers of my fellow work-from-home parents, I have learned many a trick and time-saver from my experiences thus far. I spent much of my son's infancy dreading the inevitable day that he would stop napping — nap time was always my time as well. Did you notice that I'm speaking about naps in past tense? They still happen from time to time, but I've become adept at coming up with fun things to do to fill the void the lack of napping leaves so I can get work done before 9pm (instead of beginning my work day then). Here's what I've learned so far:

Quiet Time is good time

It took me a few months to accept that regular naps were a thing of the past, but once I did I started pushing the concept of "Quiet Time" on my son. Basically this means that for an hour each day he plays quietly while I work. I'm usually in the same room he's in (and we live in a one bedroom apartment, so we're always close), and he doesn't have to be totally quiet — he just has to respect that I need time to get things sorted, check emails, and write a bit. This totally means that I've heard myself say, "Hold on a sec, I need to reply to this email" to him more times than I'd like, but it also means that he's getting really good at entertaining himself for a reasonable period of time. We usually have small talk back and forth, and if he's doing something really cool/cute or he wants to share his play time with me, he knows he's always welcome to crash my work parade and ask me to play with him — and I always say yes.

PAINTING! Your new best friend

We've had kid-friendly paint around our place since he started expressing an interest in painting, and we even lived with an artist for awhile, and the two of them devoted quite a bit of time to creating their respective masterpieces (I'm using that loosely when talking about the three-year-old). I discovered that painting is an activity that my son a) loves to do, and b) occupies him for a solid thirty minutes before wanting to move on, change what he's doing, or get up from his art table. It's a win-win: he's engaged in his activity but not so much that he doesn't respond to me when I talk to him, and I can sit ten feet away and fix a post or edit part of a wedding while he's happily creating. I've also had to relax about a few things (it's ok if washable paint gets on the wall/chair/floor/child's face), which has been good for me.

Sometimes it's ok to watch TV… even too much of it

Full disclosure: my kid watches television shows, and as much as I'd love to say he only watches 30 minutes of Sid the Science Kid a week, it's more like he watches 30-90 minutes of Sid the Science Kid a week… and then maybe an episode of Thomas… or perhaps a Curious George episode (or two). I try my best to avoid letting the shows "baby-sit" my kid — usually if he's watching something my husband or I is watching it with him, but from time to time (especially on comment-heavy days or during the peak wedding season), I have definitely let my kid sit on the couch while a show is on and I'm working. It happens. I don't (usually) mind.

How do you ensure you get a little time for work or personal interests during the day?

  1. I think we vilify mothers who let their children watch TV way too often. Yes, the television should NEVER substitute for parent/child interactions. But having your child watch TV once in a while is not going to harm them! I'm sure your son does not feel any less love.

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  2. Thanks for this post! My partner and I are planning on having a kid *someday soon* and we will almost definitely both be working from home then. We're already talking about how this is going to work, and this advice is definitely helpful!

    Re: TV: When I was a kid I was allowed to have the TV on as often as I wanted…but I had to be doing something else too, whether it was reading a book, drawing, playing with toys, whatever. The TV was primarily supposed to be background noise. I'm not sure if it's a great thing to do with your kid(s), of course, but I do know that as a result, even as an adult I have a really hard time just staring at the TV and zoning out. Passive entertainment is just something I don't really grok.

    • Lynae, I'm 5 months pregnant and my husband and I both work from home! I don't speak from experience, but – we can do it!!!!!

  3. Parentally vetted and age appropriate TV is a damn good thing! Not only does it allow outlet-desperate parents to work/clean up/shower/whatever for half an hour or so, it leads to many and varied bonding experiences with the child's peer group later on in life.

    I'm in my early 40s and get stun-gunned daily by how many of my peers have conversations / create Facebook groups etc., based around our childhood TV programmes.

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    • My kid was two years old and could say paleontologist because of Dinosaur Train. I still can't spell paleontologist without looking it up.

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      • My 3 year old daughter loves Dinosaur train too! Sid the Science Kid is my fav. We got her a magnifying glass & journal so now we take "observation trips" (walks, backyard, wherever she needs to be occupied) and draw what we see in her journal. She asked her sitter the other day if she knows about decay & elasticity and then explained them.

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  4. We too love painting and sometimes the TV. But lately, building with Legos or Constructs has been even better. He gets so involved that he's uninterested in me and I get to sneak away and work for a half-hour or sometimes more before he even notices I'm at the computer.

    I'd love to hear if anyone has suggestions for getting some phone time, though. Sometimes he'll hear me on the phone and come in yelling at me to hang up (if he's been watching TV, the yelling starts when his show ends). When I'm talking to clients, it can get a little awkward, to say the least . . .

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    • OHHH the phone! First and foremost, I try to not take client calls (I'm also a wedding photographer) during the day — if someone calls me from a number I don't recognize, I let it go to voice mail. If it's a client I email them back at night (if it wasn't urgent) or I give them a call if it's before 9pm. When my son first started reacting to me being on the phone (yelling, etc.), I ended the call I was on, and sat my son down gently and told him — gently but quite sternly — that sometimes I have to take a phone call, and it's an important part of my work, and it's something that I have to do. I also explained to him that I always try to not prioritize phone calls over him, but sometimes I have to take them. I stressed that as he got older (he was probably between 2 and 2.5) I would be able to explain it better, but that for the time being every so often, unless it's an emergency, he'll need to wait for me to finish. It took a few times of more or less repeating that before he realized that phone calls don't mean I'm ignoring or forgetting him, and now at 3 he's totally fine with them.

      Again: I'm not sure what you do exactly, and your phone demands may be higher than mine. Most of my client contact can take place via email, so that's my preferred method.

      • My phone demands can unfortunately be rather high. I have at least one conference call a week, always during standard business hours, and the calls are usually between a half-hour and an hour. I try to schedule them for when he's at day care, but as that's only two days a week, it often doesn't work.

        No matter how many times I've tried to explain the calls to him (he's also 3), he still seems to resent them. But I just keep trying. It's encouraging to hear that it worked with your son, even though it took a little while. Maybe/hopefully we're just having a rough patch as far as the phone goes!

        • For me it also took quite a bit of self-control: initially I just wanted to be like "I have to do this, so this is how it is" about it — but I kind of pulled it together and verrrry patiently went a way more gentle route. I'm happy that I did, because it's in line with how my husband and I are raising our son, but it was definitely challenging. Sometimes the phone calls are Very Important, or they at least seem like they are, and it would take a lot for me to pause, let the phone ring, and explain to him what was going on. I also realized that most of my clients don't need a super fast answer — which seems like it might not be the case for you.

          Good luck!! I really wish you well with this — it was definitely a challenging aspect of my relationship with my son for a while. Patience, patience, patience. 🙂

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        • Maybe have a special treat box that only comes out when you have to make a phone call?
          With enough positive reinforcement (i.e. bribery) he might even enjoy you making phonecalls.
          You might need to spend some time teaching and practising this, by making nonimportant phonecalls and explaining that when you are on the phone he can have this special box so long as he plays reasonably quietly.

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  5. I *never* napped as a toddler. But my Mom would put me in my crib of an hour a day anyways, so she could get stuff done. I was the type of kid who required constant vigilance. Mom turned her back for a minute, and I was halfway up a ladder, before I could walk. (No shock that I've since been diagnosed ADHD.)

    Anyways, apparently I'd sit in my crib and talk and sing to myself for the hour.

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    • I stopped napping at a very young age. I always told my mom that I "slept with my eyes open." Mostly that meant that I played with a small toy or told myself stories or something. It was nice quiet time for me and a much needed break for her.

  6. I've found that taking my daughter for a stroll in the stroller is great for when I have business calls during the day. I bring a toy or board book, some snacks, her sippy cup and pick flowers for her while I'm talking with board members or work colleagues. My work also involves a lot of writing and creative brainstorming so when my daughter is in her stroller I'll take audio notes for essays I'm writing or my day or week action list. I have voice recorder on my phone that comes in super handy. This is also a great time for texts and short emails that I can answer on my phone.

  7. This trick only works if you're nursing a baby but if you have a kid that only takes 30 minute naps it can help: set up Boppy or other pillow on your lap, arrange baby, bend your knees and prop up feet on coffee table/couch. Put your laptop on your knees and work away! It sounds ridiculous but I've gotten some solid hours of writing in that way.

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    • I've held down my job since my daughter was 2 weeks old thanks to this!! It's so much easier to keep her napping when she's on me than off!

      • I got the most work done while nursing my young infant too! I just got good at typing one-handed…

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  8. I too work from home. We have three little ones (4,2, and 1) and my husband travels frequently because of his job (1-4 weeks away at a time). I feel as though I can never consistently get anything done. At this point, I'm trying to find money in our budget to send our kids to daycare one day per week. I am just unsure of how to juggle it all. Any moms out there with more than one kiddo who have found ways to distract/entertain their kids for long periods of time? 30 minutes just doesn't cut it for me. That's too much stop & go. I can occasionally find more time when our baby naps, but that still leaves 2 little ones who need care & attention. I have even considered trying to find a mommy's helper to come to our house one day per week. Just really hoping that someone else out there has found success as a work-from-home parent with many kiddos.

    • This may not be a suggestion you like, but have you considered gameboys? My SO's boys are six and 4 currently, but have been playing gameboys since they were much younger. Unlike television, video games aren't just zone out material as they also focus on problem solving, pattern recognition, and hand/eye coordination. Plus I've seen those kids "play Megaman" or "play Metroid" later as just make believe games, so they're definitely stimulating their imaginations as well. Give it a shot. Kids are capable of mastering video game systems at much younger ages than we adults think (though when two or three the youngest was usually playing through a saved game that was just a video of what his dad had done previously – but he THOUGHT he was playing and it kept him just as occupied as if he were).

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    • Maybe put some feelers out to your friends; someone else may be in a similar situation, and they can take your kids for a day a week and then you reciprocate? My mom used to do this with her friends when I was little. Don't do it myself, as I don't have a lot of friends with kids…

  9. Like painting, there are certain activities that my stepson is only allowed to do at the dining room table (because of small parts or messiness) and those hold his 3 year old attention well. Play-do, Big Legos, Colorforms, etc. Since I have to set him up to play with those, and he doesn't do it every day, it's special, and he'll sit for 30-60 min just focused on playing with one of those

  10. i usually try to reward my stepdaughter with something active while i'm working and she's off of school. like, "if you play quietly for a little while, we will go to the playground." i've found indoor playgrounds to be wonderful…ours has wifi so i can get work done while she plays and uses up that energy…as long as you can tune out the other screaming kids or don't have to take phone calls 🙂

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