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Help! Mary Poppins Please Apply!
by JoAnna Gilford

Often the idea of working at home appeals to us because we don't want to leave our children with strangers for the better part of a day. Child care expenses can take a huge chunk from a paycheck. Still, working at home with small children can be difficult, exhausting and presents a unique challenge. Boundaries overlap and blur. Formerly "work time" and "home time" was clearly defined, now time runs in a continual line forming an everlasting day. Integrating your work schedule with your child's can be done with a little effort and patience on your part.

First, take a look at your child's present schedule, are they in a child care center? What do they do there? Are they used to you being home with them all day? How does that compare to your new schedule? Do you have to be "on the clock" during specific parts of the day? How can you combine the two with the least frustration for you and your child?

Next, remember children have short attention spans. Plan your children's day with lots of small age appropriate activities instead of a few big ones. Include simple arts and crafts that can be done without direct supervision. Break these down into segments: coloring time, TV time, reading time, lunch time, craft time, etc. Let your child choose times and activities. Keep your children involved with planning the day.

If possible, use a timer. Depending on your child's age, start with short time increments like 15 or 20 minutes. When the timer rings, spend 5 minutes with your child. Gradually increase your work time until you reach your desired level. Although more effort is needed from you in the beginning this can be highly effective in the long run. It's almost like planning interruptions! Only do this if you are reasonably sure you can be consistent. When children see you respect the schedule they are far less likely to disregard it themselves.

Go to work. Ready yourselves in the morning, pack lunches, get in the car and drive around the block. No car? Walk a short distance. When you return, you are arriving at "work". Make a game out of it, children think this is fun! When work's over, do the same to come "home". This helps define the day for you and your child.

Have lunch with your children. Outside picnics are fun and break up the monotony of being inside all day. This will benefit yourself as well!

Barter child care with other work at home parents in your area. We need a certain amount of social interaction, adults as well as children. Making friends with other work at home parents and cutting out the cost of child care can be a winning solution for all.

Hire a nanny or a relative for a few hours each day. The expense may be worth it if your job demands your complete attention for long periods of time.

Be gentle. You are bound to be interrupted with questions and small problems at the least convenient time. It's ok. Keep your focus. The reason you are working at home is to spend more time with your family and/or to make extra money without paying child care. Gentle reminders are less stressful on all. It takes time to acclimate ourselves and our children to changes in the household. Give yourself and your family some breathing room. It won't happen overnight, still, you can successfully work at home with small children and get your work done!

© 2001 JoAnna Gilford

About the Author
As manager of Real Jobs Online, JoAnna Gilford is committed to real telecommuting employment and education. She is the author of "Work at Home Workshop: The Truth About Telecommuting" and editor of RJO's daily newsletter. See a sample issue or subscribe at


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