Working full-time at home isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires focus, discipline, motivation, and an ability to fight through the day-to-day isolation. It takes a certain personality to love it and thrive at it. But of the work-at-home warriors out there, there is a select group of which I am constantly in awe. Work-at-home moms who are also caring for young children full time. These are the parents who are genuinely trying to “have it all,” all at once, difficulties or not.
When I wrote my post on 5 Steps to Create a Successful Work-at-Home Lifestyle recently, I heard from a few of these moms. They agreed wholeheartedly with the tips but noted that the list had a missing component for parents who were trying to juggle their work-at-home job without full-time childcare. So, to fill the gaps, I interviewed eight of these moms to get the skinny on what it is really like to work at home with babies and toddlers. The best, the worst, how not to lose your head, and more!
Who are the work-at-home moms?
For this article, I interviewed eight work-at-home moms who have worked full-time at home with kids ranging from newborn age to six. One mom has kids ranging from one to fourteen, but we focused on handling the younger years. In addition to working at home full-time, these ladies were also the primary caregivers to their kids. Some used part-time daycare or a babysitter a few hours a week to stay sane, but the majority of the time they are juggling their children and their jobs simultaneously. Hats off to them!
The careers of these women vary widely. Some work for local outside companies, one works for a local non-profit, some are in telecommuting specific roles, and some are self-employed bloggers. A few of the bloggers are managing a part-time or full-time second job, in addition to their blogs, and their kids! Whew!
Collectively, the eight women interviewed have years of work-at-home, stay-at-home mom advice to share. If you’re considering this lifestyle, there is a treasure trove of information below. While working at home is becoming more prevalent as technology rapidly develops, it can still be hard to find other parents to give you insight into what it is really like before you take the plunge. Today that changes!
Q: What is your favorite part about working from home with your kids?
One of my good friends, who is featured in this article, is a work-at-home, stay-at-home mom so I’m well aware how difficult the lifestyle is. But I also know there is a reason she chose it! So, before we dive into dealing with the nitty gritty, I wanted to ask the moms what they love about working from home with their kids. Spoiler alert: Flexibility and not missing those adorable milestones are big selling points!
Having the flexibility to do whatever I want with the through the day. If we want to go do something fun we can; if my husband is traveling for his job (we are a military family) we can up and go and I can work from wherever my laptop is… They are only little for a little while so I’m lucky that I get to soak it up! – Kara | Foxtrot & Pennies
The military family point is a great one. I know many military wives that feel like they can’t keep their career because of constant moves. A work-at-home job or business can give you that career satisfaction while maintaining the flexibility your family needs!
This arrangement allows me to stay right in the heart of my field while saving on the cost of childcare. My career is important to me and I never really pictured myself being happy staying at home without working. I get the self-worth I feel from continuing my career while also having precious time with my son while he is young. It’s the best of both worlds. – Meaghan
One of the primary reasons women are way, way behind men in retirement savings is because of the years we take out of the workforce for childcare and family care. Care is expensive, and many families can’t afford full time outside help. Those lost years of employment not only mean less direct savings, but also a slowing of our income growth trajectory that impacts our long-term earnings ability. Sacrifices we make willingly, but working at home can, as Meaghan says, give some moms the “best of both worlds.”
Obviously the flexibility! I get to work whenever I want, be home with my kids, and make some extra income. It isn’t a ton, but it helps a lot with bills and takes some pressure off my husband. – Bethany | Crowns & Knowledge
As the sole breadwinner for my family, I love Bethany’s comment on taking some of the pressure off her husband! My husband and I made the decision for him to stay home together, and I adore the special bond he has with our son and the parental attention our son gets on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean being a single wage earner isn’t its own kind of pressure. If living on a single income makes money tight for your family, working at home even part-time may help ease the burden.
I love that I don’t have that inner battle of whether or not my working is a disadvantage to my family. I love that I have not missed out on any of his “firsts”. If my son needs some Mommy time, I can usually stop working for a few minutes and cuddle him. I get to ensure the food he eats is balanced (as much as a toddler will allow). I can throw a load of laundry in the washer between tasks. – Ashleigh
Oh, the endless mom guilt. No matter what path mothers choose, it seems we are all second guessing every step we take. Choosing to do it all, as hard as it might be, may just assuage some of that guilt.
When they are younger and not in school it is the best because you get that time to bond with them and see all of the things you might miss while they are at daycare. I don’t have to worry about getting a break at work to pump for the baby. I have a lot more flexibility than when I worked in a corporate job. – Summer Price
Corporations have been really slow on the uptake with flex schedules and remote work. Not to mention the U.S.’s abysmal maternity leave and nursing accommodation rules! It’s unfortunate that more offices aren’t taking advantage of the technology available to them, but for those who can work from home, it is one step closer to taking full control of your own priorities!
I love being able to be with my kids all the time and not miss out on the milestones as they grow. I get the best of both worlds, being home with my kids full time and also having a career. – Bethany | Mama Finds Her Way
So, working from home while also being a full-time mom has all the benefits we expected. The flexibility, the ability to see all the incredible milestones, and a 21st-century view of “having it all.” But what do you have to give up for all these amazing benefits?
Q: What are the hardest parts about working from home with your kids?
With any major lifestyle change, it is best to go into things with eyes wide open. It is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but you can’t know the truth until you’ve been there. I asked the moms to break down what they struggle with the most in their work-at-home, stay-at-home mom lives.
I would say the hardest part about being a mother who works from home is that you are expected and feel the pressure to fulfill two roles to the fullest: a full-time employee and a mother (thinking of a SAHM). Finding the balance is hard. [And] one thing that surprised me about working from home is how isolating it can feel at times. – Ashleigh
This didn’t surprise me at all. A full-time job is just that, full-time. Being a stay-at-home mom is also a full-time, around the clock job. Just because you have the option to do both things from the same place doesn’t magically help you create more hours in the day. I don’t know if I could handle always feeling like I’m failing on one side of things or the other.
The hardest part is when I’m trying to blog during my crazy morning hours and my little ones decide to chase their imaginary friend down the hallway while shouting the Star Spangled Banner (usually after I get into the really great part of writing a blog post). It’s difficult to balance motherhood and a business, but truthfully, both are worth every sacrifice you can make. – Micah | Home Faith Family
Ah, kids. Hilarious, crazy, and unpredictable. It is why we love them. But as a working mom who works outside the home, it is also why I appreciate that I can head to the office, close my door, and get uninterrupted work hours when I really need them. Without outside help, it is hard to do that as a work-at-home, stay-at-home mom.
The hardest part for me is remembering that I am not a stay-at-home mom. It is easy to fall into the thought process of “I should be taking him that class every week,” or “I should bring him to that play date” because the other parents you know that are home with their kids are able to do those things. It’s hard not to feel the mom guilt over not doing it all, especially while being at home with a “flexible schedule.” The reality is if I decide to do those things I then have to work more in the evening or on weekends which eats into our family time
It can also be a challenge when weeknights (after bedtime) are no longer spent on my own hobbies or as quality time with my husband because I have to finish that project I just couldn’t get done during the day. Sometimes I have to spend some time on weekends when my husband can care for our son, so it can feel like I never get away from work. Setting boundaries between work and home life is certainly a challenge. – Meaghan
Just like Ashleigh said, you can’t always do it all. Being a full-time, work-at-home mom gives you flexibility, but it isn’t at all the same as being a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to hug Meaghan when she sent me this response. We moms have to learn to give ourselves a little grace and celebrate all the amazing things we are getting done!
There are a lot of hard parts. When you work from home people assume you have all of the time in the world and that you have nothing to do. So you should be able to help with all of the things they need or can’t do because they have to go to work. Which is farthest from the truth… I got way more accomplished when I had a job away from home. The kids are also home all day so the house is always a mess, they aren’t making a mess at the daycare that somebody else cleans. I went from what I thought was a tough corporate job to a pretty simple/easy work from home job. I was surprised at how way more difficult it was to be a work/stay at home mom. – Summer Price
Choosing a lifestyle out of the norm means many people won’t understand your choices or schedule restraints. I wasn’t surprised to see Summer’s comments here about people expecting her to help out at the drop of a hat. As I mentioned, my husband is a stay-at-home dad. Reaction from friends and family has been more open than we thought it would be, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t faced things such as, “Oh, like, permanently?” and “But you’ll go back to work when they start school, right?” Major eye roll.
The hardest is when I need to get work done and sometimes naptime doesn’t happen or someone is sick and my schedule is thrown off. Sometimes I have to remind myself to shut work mode off when I’m with my kids because I’m guilty of being with them but thinking about all this work I have to do. – Christina | Raising Biracial Babies
You know when you’re trying to get something done at the office but someone feels the need to just stop by “real quick” to discuss something pointless? How annoying and derailing that is? Well, what if that person was your sick kid and you couldn’t just shuffle them out the door? Not easy, but at least you get to be home to give your child the mommy cuddles they need!
The hardest part is finding the balance between house work, work work, and mom work. There are many nights that my dishes don’t get done, laundry is way behind, and the counters don’t get wiped down. I’m lucky my husband helps a lot but I didn’t think it would be so hard to find time to get everything done. – Kara | Foxtrot & Pennies
One of the things you often hear from people who work-at-home full-time is the difficulty in finding balance. When your home becomes your office, you no longer have a clear line of separation so you never feel like you can truly shut your work down. From talking to these work-at-home, stay-at-home moms, I can only gather that this situation gets even harder when you add childcare, a third type of work, to your balancing act.
Q: How do you handle entertaining your young kids when you have to get work done?
So, this was the question I just had to ask. Every time I try to work on Mama Fish Saves while my son is awake it ends in a fiery disaster. He’s pounding the keys on my laptop, bringing me books and trying to climb into my lap, or just standing cutely and saying “hi” until I pay attention to him. Maybe this is because I work out of the house 50+ hours a week, but regardless, I was so curious how these moms were keeping their kids occupied so they could get their work done!
My big take away from everyone’s input is that your view of a “normal” workday has to change for this lifestyle. You wake up early to get a few hours in before your husband leaves for work, you work during naps, and you work in 20-45 minute increments when you can entertain your kids. Sometimes, you run your errands in the afternoon to free up your evening time after the kids go to bed for a few solid hours of work. Working from home won’t mean your kids can suddenly entertain themselves for hours, and mostly you won’t want that anyway. Part of being home is the benefit of seeing them, right?
I have a play area in the basement where my office is at. I can have them safely play in the play area while I work at the computer. This way I don’t have to heavily supervise them, but I’m still there to monitor things. Sometimes I let my oldest play educational games on an iPad or I will let them watch cartoons. Sometimes I sit amongst them while they play and I work at the same time. – Christina | Raising Biracial Babies
A safe, secure play area is critical no matter your work lifestyle! I love the idea of being able to see your kids and monitor them, but not always have them crawling all over you. However, I imagine Christina still has days where her children are calling, “Mom, Mom, Mom!” into her office until she comes and sits with them.
Activity bins are a huge lifesaver for my toddler. He has 5 bins filled with toys, he picks one out per day and he must help pick it up before he goes to bed. Not seeing ALL his toys ALL the time helps him be more entertained for longer periods of time and having him pick them up makes cleaning the house a bit easier. I also save the tablet or phone for times when I have meetings or something he needs to be quiet for. – Kara | Foxtrot & Pennies
Activity bins are something we discovered on Pinterest (where else), and I can see them being a huge resource for the work-at-home parent! There is a lot of evidence that too many toys overwhelms kids and leads to shorter independent play periods, as well as increasing your likelihood of stepping on Thomas the Train.
The game changer for me has been waking up earlier. I wake up at least 2 hours before my kids get up every day and get some work done then. I will also sometimes work after the kids have gone to bed (only if I have to, usually by this point of the day I am completely burned out and just want to relax)… I can also squeeze some work in by sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop while my kids are eating breakfast, lunch or snacks because I know they will be sitting still for a few minutes. I try not to use screen time, but it can be really helpful in a pinch! – Bethany | Mama Finds Her Way
Bethany’s schedule may sound horrifying to any parent already not getting enough sleep, but her response shows the flexibility and self-awareness you need to balance this lifestyle. Recognizing that she won’t be productive at night and using it to motivate herself to get up early is a tremendous achievement. Plus, it must feel good to start the day with some items checked off her to-do list!
I have babysitters come to my home to watch our son and entertain him for roughly 10 hours each week. While I have a babysitter, I normally take advantage of that time to work on my most important and/or most complicated tasks for the week. Also during that time, I normally leave to work at a coffee house. My son interacts better with the babysitter that way, and I can focus better on my job. – Ashleigh
Being a work-at-home, stay-at-home mom doesn’t mean you have to (or can) do it all yourself. A babysitter for a few hours a week will likely be a whole lot cheaper than daycare and can help you get those high productivity hours you need! Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially in those infant and young toddler years.
I often set up stations around the house to help keep them occupied and I rotate through them so they don’t get bored of them. So things like legos, play dough, kinetic sand, paint, coloring, reading, board games, card games, water balls (not sure if that is their technical name but they are little tiny balls that swell as they get wet and reduce down as they dehydrate). We usually have a mess to clean up somewhere after I am done working but the kids know the routine enough that there isn’t a big deal for them to help clean up. – Summer Price
Maybe I’m naive, but Summer’s commentary says to me that balancing this lifestyle does get easier as your kids get older. There are more activities you can offer your kids, their attention spans are longer, and they can help clean up!
I can sit my son down at the table to color or play with Play-Doh and know that gives me a half hour of his attention span for me to get a work task done. I am also not afraid to throw on a movie or sesame street and get an hour or two of time if I need it, (screen time warnings be damned)!
It may be easier to get the housework done or run to the grocery store during the day when my son is awake so he can “help” me and save my work that requires a lot of focus for naps or after bedtime. This way I feel like I am spending time with my son when I am with him and still accomplishing something that needs to be done at some point in the day anyway. – Meaghan
Your work hours don’t have to be 9-5 when you work from home, that is the flexibility benefit all the moms talked about early on! Choosing to shift your work schedule can mean more time with your child, more check marks on your to-do list, and more quiet work hours during nap time or after bedtime.
Q: What advice would you give other mothers considering working at home with young kids?
To wrap up, I asked these mamas what advice they would give to other parents considering this tightrope act of a lifestyle. They had some incredible advice, and I tried to pick out what I found the most helpful here. The biggest takeaway? This lifestyle won’t work for everyone. You have to be aware of your personality and limitations, your parenting style, and the help you’ll have from your spouse or part-time outside sources. It isn’t easy, but it can be worth it!
For this section, I’m stepping back from the keys with my commentary. I love all this advice and found it all incredibly insightful, but as you read through it, try to consider what it means to you. Do these women sound like you? Do you think you could manage the complications for the beautiful payout of more time with your kids? Give yourself a moment for some self-reflection.
Think it through carefully. No matter where you’re standing, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes it sounds like a fantasy to me to work in an office outside of my home and to be able to take lunch breaks that are for me, have a few minutes to myself in the car each day, etc. Sometimes I wonder if my son wouldn’t do better in a daycare setting for the social and developmental aspects. It is easy to get distracted working from home. If you are not a highly organized and self-motivated person, working from home, especially with young children, may not be for you. If it is right for you and your family, set your priorities early on and reflect on them frequently. – Ashleigh
[Working from home is] a good fit for moms who are already fairly organized. I would recommend trying to get most of your work done in the morning so you can have time for the kids and your other responsibilities later. Oh, and if your kids are really needy right now, start encouraging independent play! – Bethany | Crowns & Knowledge
Set aside some time to plan out your whole week in advance. Having a plan will help you be more productive and will keep everyone sane. Some things I plan out are my work hours, my non-negotiable family hours, my meals, my housekeeping schedule, my morning routine, and self-care. I also strongly urge you not to neglect your self-care and do not think of it as being selfish. If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to give your best to your job or your kids. – Bethany | Mama Finds Her Way
Do not just go with the flow. If you intend on working from home you will need to create time to work and stick to your schedule. You may have to make sacrifices to fit in time to work or time with your kids. – Christina | Raising Biracial Babies
Find a routine that works for you and your kids. Don’t rely on screens or tablets all the time (it makes it old news when you have something important like a meeting to do) and be patient. There will be times that getting work done just isn’t going to happen but try to make that time up somehow whether it be staying up a little later or waking up a little earlier. There will be stages when it’s going to be harder and stages where it’s much easier… Overall, it IS possible to have the best of both worlds; being home with your baby AND making an income- just have faith, put in the work, and know that those rough patches don’t last forever. – Kara | Foxtrot & Pennies
Figure out if you can organize your work in a way that works with your child’s nap schedule and attention span for entertaining themselves. Also be prepared to work in the evenings and on weekends when you have help from a partner. Realize that if you are a Type-A personality and want to be able to give 100% to your work and to motherhood, working from home while caring for a child will be a huge challenge. You can’t do it all. Accepting that and letting some things go is necessary for your own sanity (I am still working on this one). Take it day by day and try not to be too hard on yourself. Most importantly, try to remember to factor into your schedule some time for activities that are not work or childcare, since it is very easy to feel like you lost yourself between work and motherhood (though I know that is likely the plight of moms everywhere regardless of their circumstances) but I think it is particularly important for parents whose work space is the same as their home space. – Meaghan
I would tell a mother who is starting to work from home with small children to not give up and to be patient with herself, her business [or career], and her children. Your children aren’t going to be small forever, so enjoy them while you can. Don’t let their young years slip by… And if possible, find another mom who is going on this crazy and exciting work from home adventure so you two can set weekly goals for your business and hold each other accountable. Life and running an at home business is more refreshing and possible when you know that you’re not alone. – Micah | Home Faith Family
My advice would to try and have their day as structured as possible. Kids thrive on routine. They want to know/need to know what is expected of them and when. Make sure you take the time to spend with them also … that is the whole point, after all, right? I would also recommend making sure you know what your priorities are and focusing on them. Personally, my house is low on my priority list so it gets the least amount of attention. If I have a break from work I don’t want to spend it cleaning I want to spend it playing a game with the kids or getting them and me outside for some fresh air. –Summer Price
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Is working at home with your young kids a career path for you?
Every working parent dreams of being able to spend more time with their children, whether or not they love their careers. But is choosing to work from home the right choice for you? Could you manage to balance all the demands on your time? Would you lose too much of yourself? These are important questions to ask before jumping in with both feet. It isn’t easy, even if it can be enormously worth it!
What do you think about the work-at-home, stay-at-home parent lifestyle? Is it the best of both worlds or a recipe for stress? Let me know in the comments!