10 Things you learn as a Work-at-Home-Parent

The realities of being a work-at-home parent, and how to make it work

Photo: Canva
By Cindy Marie Jenkins

Every Sunday this September, join Cindy Marie Jenkins' Work-at-Home-Parent series, where she shares tips on how to maximise and balance parenting and work as a work-at-home parent.

I worked from home for ten years before I was a parent, and I loved it. My productivity level rose when I didn’t have distractions from co-workers and could make my own schedule. I found new solutions to challenges because I was in control of my time, and still got the collaboration around projects necessary for my line of consulting work. The flexibility to take meetings during the day without justifying my hours to a supervisor allowed my work to grow in ways I never imagined in 9-5 position. It meant that I worked at all hours, but that was my choice. When I did take a vacation, no one had to approve it; I just told clients I wasn’t available and turned on the auto reply to my emails.

Then I got pregnant. With full time childcare costs equalling my yearly income, and no maternity leave for a freelancer, the most logical choice was to continue working from home with a baby. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea how hard, or the toll it would take on my career goals. Eventually, I learned that my goals didn’t need to change, just the timeline.

WechatIMG1
Australian senator Larissa Waters breastfeeding while addressing the Australian Parliament/Photo: Larissa Waters/Facebook

I cringe when people call me Wonder Woman for even trying to be a work-at-home-parent. They don’t see the mistakes I’ve made, or the times I’ve cried along with my babies, or the nights I miss the bedtime rituals to make a deadline. I’m here to tell you that it’s all part of the process, and you can make it work.


Over the next month, I'll offer helpful hacks that you can implement immediately, with objects you probably already have in your home. But first, here are some hard and true facts about working from home while being the primary caretaker of young children. These are the realities that you need to face before taking the steps to make it better.
It changes quickly.

It changes quickly.

'The only thing life requires of us is change,' poet and playwright Luis Alfaro says. That’s triply true when you have a child – of any age. The minute you finally find your working groove with your four-month-old, their sleep pattern or ability to entertain themselves will change. So even if you strategically scheduled your weekly meeting to start fifteen minutes after your baby starts her nap and end thirty minutes before she usually wakes up, that very day is the day they’ll go on a sleep strike. Strap them into a Moby wrap, mute when you aren't talking, and carry on.

You will always feel the tug.

You will always feel the tug.

You will always feel guilty. You will never feel enough. You aren’t giving your kids what they need. You aren’t putting your all into your job.You missed an important call because of a diaper blowout. Your kid's lunch was Goldfish because you had a deadline. There are more days like this than balanced days, and I learned to acknowledge the guilt, then move on.

You will learn to work on your phone.

You will learn to work on your phone.

Since I work almost entirely remotely, and with teams of people in different time zones, my life is run by apps. Notes apps to draft communications, multiple messaging apps to stay in touch, collaboration apps with very specific times that my notifications pop up and when they're silent…..find how to best serve your workflow and arrange your phone accordingly. I use a graphics app so often that it took months to realize I hadn't even installed it on my laptop.

You will learn to work with fewer office supplies.

You will learn to work with fewer office supplies.

I was the Queen of post-it notes, the sole reason that office megastores stayed in business before I became a parent. You need to make small adjustments for safety, like wireless headphones, and also more major changes to your workflow. I replaced my pen holder with a zippered pencil case, removing the temptation for my child to knock it over. A case that can close also makes it more portable, which is useful when you need to move your workspace to the bathroom sink while they take a bath.

You will learn to love indoor playgrounds.

You will learn to love indoor playgrounds.

Photo: Cindy Marie Jenkins

I once took my baby and three screenplays to an indoor playground so I could edit them for a client. It’s good for children to play and explore independently, and my youngest got a lot of practice. I’ll detail activities that occupy my kids while I work in later posts, but if you can find that inexpensive place where they can just climb and play and stay in your eyesight, you may just meet that deadline. Become a regular and the staff will learn how to best accommodate you. My favorite indoor playground in Orlando created a corner office space just for me, where I could see my child from every angle and plug in my laptop.

You will need 2-4 options for a babysitter to accommodate different days and needs.

You will need 2-4 options for a babysitter to accommodate different days and needs.

It’s best for your peace of mind if you have at least one day that someone else is watching your child, with either them or you out of the house. When I started to work again after my second child was born, however, we didn’t have extra funds for a sitter until my freelance checks were deposited. You may be very familiar with that cycle. Work begets work, as they say, and we found the funds for an afternoon sitter once a week, slowly stretched her time to include the morning, and soon I had enough work that my oldest could be out of the house having fun two days. I still balanced the baby on one knee and typed with the other until one anchor client turned into two. We used some of that consistent money for both children to be with our sitter twice a week. It felt luxurious! But it took nine months of late nights and working through the family dinner to do it.

You will learn to value your time.

You will learn to value your time.

You will also learn just how long your work tasks really take. I learned how to break goals down into the most minute of tasks, how long each task should take, and schedule my day down to the half hour. This is not a to-do list. This is an 'I realistically only have time to get these two things done in the time that I have, so when can I schedule the other tasks?' I will show you step by step how to do that in two weeks, so start breaking down your projects into increments of time. We will walk through your schedule so your mind isn't foggy with all the work you have to finish, but you clearly see the tasks and time they need.

 You will schedule time to shower.

You will schedule time to shower.

It’s okay to take the first fifteen minutes of your babysitting time to shower. Really. Use it as a way to distinguish between parenting time and work time, or to show your children that once you're dressed, it's your work time. You'll feel better and do better work if you dress business casual.

You will learn to set boundaries with your time

You will learn to set boundaries with your time

I was never big on boundaries when it came to work. With social media marketing, it’s hard to turn ‘off’ and I rarely did. I learned very quickly as a WAHP that if I didn’t set time restraints, no one would. If I answered a text or email immediately every single time, my clients would expect that. Same goes for my kids when I work in my office but their father is supervising. They can come say hello and show me something, and then they need to leave. It took some time for my five-year-old, but he got it and now only needs a quick touch base before heading back off to his Dad.

You will never wear white.

You will never wear white.

Last year, a series of photos were circulating of work-at-home-Moms wearing glorious white clothes, laughing with their babies while they typed on a glass living room table (that had a glass vase of flowers within knocking distance of the baby, even). Yeah, I can't remember the last time I wore white. Between coffee, avocado and fruit pouches, you'll be lucky to keep black clothes clean. Save the white blouse for your monthly in-person meeting.

Sometimes it doesn’t work.

Sometimes it doesn’t work.

Things happen. Households get sick. You’ll overbook. Teething will occur right when you had the time to finish a big project. As long as you are honest with yourself and your partner and employer or client about expectations, it isn’t the end of the world. You can do it.


Next week I’ll give you tips to turn your home office into a 'Yes' space for your young child, mostly with objects you should have around your home already. Whether you have a lot of space or limited areas, I can help you make it work.

Have more questions? Just find me on WeChat or on Facebook!

Cindy Marie Jenkins is currently a Write-at-Home-Mom in Beijing for cool reasons that require multiple NDAs to explain. She’s been published at The Mary Sue, Theatre Communications Guild, The Clyde Fitch Report, The Mom Forum, No Proscenium, Dwarf+Giant ( a blog of The Last Bookstore) and more. You can find her on WeChat (ID: CindytheScribe) and request to join the WeChat group Make it Work as a Work-at-Home-Parent for more help.


You may also like

  • 4 out of 5 stars
submit