A survival guide to working from home as a single parent | London Evening Standard


orking from home as a single parent might seem like the ideal set-up. More flexibility around school runs, more time with your children and more reasons than ever to wear leggings every day. But it doesn’t come without challenges.

As more of us than ever attempt to make working from home work, single mother Rebecca Cox, blogger at The Mother Edit, gives her tips on making it work (with kids).

I have worked largely from home since my son was born, with varying degrees of success. Trying to do it full-time without any childcare at all was a mistake, but I did learn a few things.

If you’re new to working from home and used to having clear boundaries around your ‘work’ and ‘home’ lives, things are about to get messy. Whether your kids’ schools and nurseries are still open, or you’re trying to quite literally work around your kids, these tips might help…

The first thing to do is be clear with your bosses. If you are usually in the office 9-5 but you’ll now have to do a school run at 3pm and make dinner for your kids at 6pm and catch up on emails after they’ve gone to bed, let them know what to expect. You don’t want to find yourself on a conference call with the microphone on mute while your three-year-old begs you for a snack at increasing volume while you try to listen to a client and compose relevant answers. Far better to offer to email thoughts and ideas in advance, reschedule for nap time or catch up afterward.

Speaking of snacks, if you’ll be working while the kids are at home, having a help-yourself snack bowl or cupboard will cut down on roughly 75 per cent of urgent parental requests. Stock it with breadsticks, rice cakes, nut bars, fresh fruit and veggie sticks and tell them once it’s gone, it’s gone.

As well as telling your bosses what to expect with your set-up, make sure your child is informed about the situation, too, if they’re old enough to understand. Tell them that while they’re used to having your attention when you’re at home together, you’ll have to spend some time working now, too. If they’re home with you while you’re working, carve your days up into chunks and work together to come up with some solo learning and play activities they can enjoy on their own in the time slots you’ll need to work.

Structure, Structure, Structure

Routines make kids feel safe. Plan your daily working from home routine and stick to it so that your kids (and you) know what to expect. If your children are still able to go to school, set key priorities to get done in the hours you’ll have between drop off and pick up and then save jobs like admin and emails for after bedtime. If the kids are off school, set up a routine that works for you, whether it’s an hour of play all together to start the day, then an hour of work for you and an hour of study / solo play / a movie for the kids followed by snack time all together etc.

This is harder with little ones who want more attention, but if they know they’ll have some mummy time after a few games of dinosaur vs gorilla figure wars (no, just a favourite in my house?) they’re more likely to feel content.

Having your kids around while you’re working can throw you off if you’re used to having a clear separation between your worlds. Try to keep boundaries in place and don’t let life merge into one big work-family mash up. Don’t treat your kids like your colleagues and start negotiating with them or asking them to ‘touch base’, ‘circle back’ or ‘put that in writing’. Make sure you have enough regular contact with your actual colleagues via conference call, Skype or Slack to get this out of your system.

You should also try to have clear work start and finish times, so that you don’t get used to using every living minute your kids are entertained to catch up with work. Keeping your work in one room and not sitting on the sofa in the evening with your laptop is a good start. (Full transparency: I’m writing this at 10.28pm on the sofa on my laptop. My boundaries are blurred.)

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the ‘digital nanny’ (shout out Mother Pukka) will take care of the kids while you work. Screen time is all very well but after an hour or so they will get seriously grouchy, and if they are losing at their favourite game it could be considerably less. Don’t start the day with screen time, they have plenty of energy so if you have a garden and it’s not raining, get them outside to let off some steam, or have them playing with their actual toys (wild, I know).

While you might need to occasionally work evenings to catch up on hours lost to childcare in the day, it’s important to ensure you have regular evenings off to unwind and destress. It can get really lonely being stuck in as a single parent, so call friends and family for a chat, tap into your online communities and find connections with people who don’t just want to talk about snacks and Pokémon.

Take your self-care as seriously as your career. You have two full-time jobs and only one set of hours to do them in, you are, without doubt, over-stretched, even without taking into account these extraordinary and stressful times. Your work is important, but your main job is even more important (and probably has a more demanding boss). You can’t perform at either of them if you’re not fighting fit so looking after yourself should be your number one priority. Take time out if you need to. Ask for help (and accept it when it’s offered).

And most importantly, be kind to yourself.

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