If you have a baby or toddler and maternity is long over, you may have adjusted to working from home for one reason or another. But what happens when childcare disasters occur and you still need to deliver on your job?
Perhaps your child is a little poorly so not at nursery, or your childcare provider has let you down. Yet you have a full day of work ahead of you and the anxiety is setting in. How will you get anything done with a baby on your hip or a toddler at your heels?
If you have to work from home with a baby or toddler around (unexpectedly!), here are the key emergency tips and tricks you’ll need.
There is no denying that getting anything done with a toddler or baby around is challenging. If you have an older school-age child, you can leave them to rest, watch TV or read but babies and toddlers are another matter and need specific strategies.
So if you’re working from home with no childcare support at the moment, read on.
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1. Know your rights as a parent
OK, so firstly it’s good to know your rights in this area so do check your employer policy on the matter. In the UK, you have a right to reasonable time off to take care of family and dependents. However, you need to check your specific company policy on the details. Talk to HR or your manager to find out.
It may be a case of using your own leave or unpaid leave. Or some organisations offer a limited amount of days for dependent leave or emergencies. You may be pleasantly surprised as sometimes this special leave is not well communicated yet in line with Government advice and flexible.
Anyway, even with special leave, it may not be enough considering the frequency of toddler bugs at nursery! You may need to use a combination of your own sick leave (well, you will likely catch those bugs too!), paid holiday leave and unpaid leave.
Perhaps you can manage a half day and make up the hours later if you can’t afford to use unpaid or holiday leave. This may be a good strategy when you need to work from home with a baby or toddler around in future.
2. Consider your options
- Can you call in sick yourself or use special leave?
- Could family or a friend help out for all or part of the day?
- Can your partner take the day off so you can take your laptop elsewhere to work?
- Or if your partner also works from home, can you split the day between you?
If none of these options are available and it’s only you that will be home to take care of your little one, then read ahead for the best strategies to tackle this day (or week!) ahead. You can survive the day when you work from home with a baby or toddler!
3. Grab any precious time as and when you can
If you have a baby or toddler, they can’t entertain themselves much, so you’ll need to grab snippets of time to work when any of the following occur:
- While they nap
- While they are feeding. If you breast-feed, you could check emails on your phone while they nurse
- While walking your baby in the pram sleeping, or in the sling, you could take calls
- If they are older toddlers, break the rules and let them watch TV or use a toddler-friendly tablet
4. Wake up earlier or work later
If you know your child will be off a day in advance, wake up extra early while they are still sleeping to get a good chunk of work done in the morning. This could be the quietest time you get all day.
But an extra early start only works if your baby/toddler wakes at a normal time. If I woke any earlier than my daughter, it would still qualify as the night-time! But even a few minutes earlier could buy you some time to look at your calendar and plan your day.
Or (and it’s not my favourite) you could work a little later into the evening in preparation. I’m not recommending an all-nighter, as we need as much sleep as we can get with these little ones.
If you already have problems as a sleep-deprived mum read the post on getting through the day even without childcare issues!
5. Prioritise your schedule and tasks
Let your manager and immediate team members know the situation to manage their expectations of you during this time. It’s even better if you can let them know beforehand, so they don’t bombard you the next day, otherwise it will have to be first thing in the morning.
Anything non-urgent will have to wait. Can you postpone meetings? Or if it’s a team meeting, explain you will listen in but have the camera and mic off.
You can’t contribute easily with a little one on your lap or interrupting constantly. You need to modify how you work from home with a baby or toddler around.
It may be a good time to feed your baby or toddler when you are listening in on a call (again, camera and mic must be off!) if you don’t have to fully engage.
At my work we have so many meetings where there are plenty of others to contribute so I can get away with this (or message in the chat if the mic isn’t an option).
6. Dial up the entertainment
As well as screen time, make sure you have plenty of other things to keep the little one entertained, depending on their age. Lots of lovely children’s books will be essential, as well as colouring books, sticker books, and interactive learning toys to keep them busy and entertained.
If your little one is still a young baby, you’ll want to have them sat in a bouncer or lying on their playmat using their baby gym when possible. Or you may be able to plonk them in a playpen with lots of fun toys to distract them for a bit.
Older toddlers may be able to handle some independent play with stimulating toys or like to play imaginary games with their favourite cuddly toys and dolls. This is the day to relax about an untidy home and let them have fun with a good selection of toys and games like these from Etsy.
I don’t allow messy play myself, that’s extra stress I don’t need on top, and what I pay childcare for! But I’ve found some great solutions such as mess-free kits with pens that only work on the paper provided or washable pens although I limit the areas for their use too.
If your older toddler understands quite a bit, you can explain you have to work but they can join you at the table with their ‘work’. This might be drawing or working on a task.
My daughter actually has this toy laptop which she likes to use next to me. Make the most of the fact they love to copy what we’re doing.
7. Be realistic and take care of yourself too
With all these conflicting priorities, it’s easy to forget about your needs too. Take care of yourself:
- Make sure you get dressed and find time to eat
- Head outside for some air. That could be taking a call while walking the baby, or having a break while you take your toddler out if they aren’t unwell
- Be kind to yourself and drop the guilt, you can’t work miracles under these conditions
You need to be realistic about what you can achieve and celebrate the small wins such as answering some emails, or managing a call with your little one around.
You knew this would never be a super productive day so don’t let guilt creep in. You’re a parent and you have other priorities now.
8. Be prepared for next time
You will learn a lot from this experience and feel more prepared for next time. But consider what else you could do to alleviate the stress.
Talk to other parents about how they manage, maybe they know of a local crèche you could check out.
See if any friend or family member might be willing to be on standby if they have flexible or part-time working arrangements themselves. Many will understand your challenge of trying to work from home with a baby or toddler and want to help.
You could also research recommended local child-minders and babysitters. Some won’t want to look after a very unwell child but won’t mind if they have a runny nose or cough. Many will be open to last minute help, if it’s a case of your normal childcare letting you down, or you need to do some extra work unexpectedly.
It’s always good to have emergency childcare options and work on your support network. See if your local nursery has contacts for short notice help.
Final thoughts on how to work from home with a baby or toddler…
It’s fair to say this is not an ideal way to work and we’d all prefer to just take time off work and concentrate on our little ones when needed. But sadly, we don’t all have that luxury.
So don’t feel guilty and instead find a way to get through your day, or week, and know you will have lots of time for fun things at the weekend.
This is really the time to ask for help, even if you usually find it hard. You may find someone in a more flexible situation can pop over and watch your little one for a short while so you can concentrate. You can return the favour when the time comes.
Do find out your organisation’s policy on supporting parents through emergencies and also have a plan in place for next time. All us mums are learning on the job so you’ll be better prepared next time you find you have to work from home with a baby or toddler.
I hope the above helps you find ways to work from home with a baby or toddler when you have no childcare or choice in the matter. What are your top tips on how to work from home with a baby or toddler (unexpectedly!)?
Save this post for next time!