How to Work From Home With a Baby
We might finally be seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, but the way forward probably still looks pretty different from life as we knew it in February 2019. Especially when it comes to work life and childcare.
When the pandemic started, I found myself in the same position as so many other parents – needing to work, but not having childcare. My son was just a few weeks shy of six months old, and the timing coincided with freeway end of my maternity leave (as a freelancer-turned-small business owner, I had the flexibility to take a longer – but completely unpaid – maternity leave). With no other conceivable option at the time, I dove into the world of working while being the primary caregiver to my baby.
There were a lot of ups and downs. On one hand, I loved not technically missing out on any of those first milestones. They happen so frequently at this age! But I did say “technically” – I was exhausted and not always 100% present, if I’m being completely honest. Some of those days went by in a blur that I barely remember. By the time December rolled around, I felt BURNT OUT with a capital B. In my attempt to do it all, I actually didn’t do it all. What fell off my plate? Sleep, things for my mental/spiritual/emotional health (daily meditation, prayer, devotional time, journaling), exercise, and often basic self-care. Like regular showers and taking my vitamins. Just being honest here. It wasn’t glamorous.
Things were clearly out of whack, so I needed to re-evaluate my life and figure out a better way forward. Fast forward to today – a half a year later – and I’ve learned a thing or two about a healthier approach to managing the juggle. As I write this, I have a happy, healthy, extremely energetic toddler who is spending his very first day ever with a part-time nanny. Full disclosure: I’m panicking slightly. But we made it an extra six months past the point of burn out, and pretty darn close to his second birthday, before I hired said part-time-nanny. And things significantly improved since that dark December 2020 – my personal rock bottom.
So today I’m sharing what’s worked for me in hopes that it might help some of you. Many jobs are continuing with a hybrid or completely remote model, making juggling parenthood and work a tempting (or perhaps, only) option. And there could be a variety of motivations behind that – maybe it’s the financial savings, maybe you’re not yet comfortable with opening up your home or circle, maybe you want that extra snuggle time, or something else entirely. All reasons are completely valid, and only you and your partner can know what’s truly best for your family.
I will be straightforward here – working from home with children of any age is definitely doable. Working from home with children and without childcare is likely manageable for a season. But working from home with children and without childcare probably isn’t doable forever, for everyone. For me, the ages of three months through the time they’re really getting mobile and significantly cutting back on their sleep (around nine months, in my son’s case) was the sweet spot for WFH with no childcare. We continued on until one year and nine months before bringing in a part time nanny, but knowing when to make the transition will really depend on your job, your little, and you!
So if you’re ready to tackle the impossible (just kidding, it’s demanding, but it is possible), here are a few things that may help:
I also considered titling this “Lower Your Expectations”. First and foremost, you need to really come to terms with the fact that you won’t be as productive as you would be without a baby present, and that you likely won’t accomplish as much in the day. Realize you’re going to be working in spurts of time here and there rather than having blocked, extended periods of focus. Your mind is going to be in a million places, so you’ll need a handy planner to write down EVERYTHING (and I do mean everything). Use the alarms and calendar features on your phone religiously. You’ll probably need to use one of these tools to remind yourself to change a diaper, to brush your teeth, and to submit that invoice. Coming to peace with that reality is essential.
Next, talk with your partner, if applicable. If your partner is back at the office with a 9-5 job, coming home to a prepared dinner and an immaculate home when you’re working while taking care of the baby is probably not going to happen. Have an open and honest conversation about what responsibilities you can handle and what responsibilities they need to own or that needs to be outsourced or let go of for a time. If you’re both working from home, come up with a strategy where you each get focused periods of time on work while the other one primarily cares for your child, and swap back and forth.
Finally, talk with your employer (or your clients or your team if you’re a freelancer or self-employed). Let them know your intended schedule and availability. Or that you might need to be on mute during a Zoom call while the baby is crying. Or that you may need to scale back on some projects for a while. More often than not, I’ve learned that many of us have been in these chapters and seasons, and people are compassionate and willing to work with you when you communicate openly, honestly, and proactively.
Sleep training might be your absolute lifesaver here. If your little one takes a consistent nap or two every day around the same time(s), you know when to plan client calls or team meetings. If you can reliably put the baby in their crib around the same time every night and have a good idea about what time they’ll wake up in the morning, you’ll know how many additional hours (or minutes) you can fit in before you head to bed or what time to set your alarm clock for in the AM to squeeze in a bit of uninterrupted work. And best of all, if your baby is sleeping through the night, getting a quality six to eight hour stretch of sleep for yourself without having to wake up for feedings will be a game changer. You’ll be mentally clearer, more productive, more present, happier, the list goes on and on.
I didn’t make a concerted effort to do this, and it bit me in the tush later on. If I could go back and do things differently, this is where I’d start. There are many methods and resources out there on sleep training, and there’s no one right or wrong way to go about it. Within my own circle of friends and family, I have heard many great reviews and success stories from those who utilized the Taking Cara Babies program, so that might be a good place to begin your research!
One tool that will help you no matter what method you use is a great sleep sack or swaddle to keep the baby safe and maintain a comfortable temperature. My son loved sleep bags over traditional swaddles – he was one of those baby ninjas that could break free from even the tightest swaddle – and this one was a particular favorite.
I know, I know – research says don’t do it. But that research isn’t for work from home parents. Learning how to work while simultaneously safely caring for your baby is crucial at this stage. Here are a few options: Watch a video training or continuing education module while you feed your baby. Alternatively, take a Google Hangout meeting with the video off during a meal time or tune into a Zoom meeting on mute if you won’t have to do much talking. No one will mind your baby as the cute surprise guest. Seriously. Use your Airpods to pace around and bounce baby or change a diaper while you’re on a client call.
To keep my little man happy and less noisy during those multi-tasking meeting moments, we turned to the iconic Wubbanub pacifiers. Not only did he find them entertaining, they were also easy for him to get back into his mouth without much help from me. And never underestimate the beauty that is baby wearing! Whether you prefer a soft sling or a more structured option really doesn’t matter – freeing up your hands while keeping your little one safely nearby and comforted will change your life.
I also experimented with using voice notes and having Siri read me work-related articles and emails on my Mac using Speak Selection and Speak Screen when my hands were busy and my eyeballs needed to be looking elsewhere. Plus, smart phones absolutely need a shout out from this multi-tasking mom. I downloaded all my important work apps – Gmail, Slack, Drive, Asana, Adobe Lightroom, and Canva, to name a few – so I could respond to emails and get small tasks done while rocking my son or supervising tummy time.
Create Safe Spaces
Make sure you have several options to keep your baby safe while you work. The crib is the obvious starting place, but you’ll want several other options if they’re having a hard time sleeping one day and for when they’re awake. This is when your swing, baby bouncer, and specially designed baby chairs come into the picture as well as pack and plays and your MVP baby carrier. Your kiddo will probably have preferences (my son hated all swings, still does actually, even at the playground), and they might get tired of being in one after a short period of time, so it’s nice to have a few options.
There are going to be days where you’re exhausted, when your babe has a poop-plosion, when he’s teething and cranky, when she has a stuffy nose and just can’t sleep. These are inevitable, so expect them. Try to work ahead as much as you can so when they come up unexpectedly, you’re not behind on deadlines, and you can give your baby the undivided attention they need and deserve. Consider creating an out of office email message in anticipation of these days so you can turn it on in 30 seconds or less as well as an email template you can use to quickly reschedule meetings, if those are a big part of your day-to-day.
For those extra fussy days, we always kept a cool mist humidifier on hand as well as a sound machine and a selection of teethers. We’re big fans of the veggie and fruit shaped options from Oli & Carol, made from natural Hevea-tree rubber. Try your best to free your mind from work when these days happen and just be present. Your number one most important job – your baby – needs you, and you need them in this moment, too.
That’s a weird tip, I know. But sometimes, you just can’t do it all. And you certainly can’t do it all, and do it all well. Sometimes this means setting up that out of office message I mentioned above. Other days, it might mean outsourcing other responsibilities. Try getting your groceries delivered, hiring a lawn maintenance service, or bringing in a housekeeper for a deep clean once a month. Drop those clothes off to a full service laundry mat or subscribe to a weekly meal delivery service. Give a family member or friend a call, if you have someone nearby that you trust, when you need an hour of sleep or alone time. You don’t have to do this all by yourself all the time.
If you’re thinking some of these things are luxuries – sure, they absolutely can be! But it’s not forever, and they might just save your mental and physical health. If utilizing one of these tools will free up one hour of your time and it costs less than what you’d make by spending that hour working, it’s more than worth the expenditure, in my book.
You are a rock star parent. How do I know this? Just by landing on this article and reading this far, it says something about your character. You love your little one, and you are trying to make an informed decision about how to best provide for and care for your family. And that is a beautiful thing. This is a short season of your life a tired phrase, but it’s a true one none-the-less) and it’s going to go by quickly (oversaid, but also true). Take a deep breath, take it one day and one moment at a time, be as present as possible, give yourself a ton of grace, and know you can do this. We’re cheering you on every step of the way.