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How to Stay Sane When You’re Working at Home With the Kids This Summer

Expect some chaos, embrace the fun and give yourself a break this summmer


Published on: June 20, 2024

mom working from home with her daughter sitting in her lap

Summer is here. And with it, I find myself breathing a heavy sigh of relief, followed quickly by a hesitant intake of breath. Relief because school is over. Hesitancy because, well, summer is challenging as a parent. And I have a special challenge, faced by many these days: I work from home.

This is not my first summer in this position, and I've fond that even though I work full-time from home (without childcare or constant camps) our summer can be structured and fun. While it’s not always easy, I know that my family and my work will survive (dare I say “thrive”?) this summer.

Manage expectations

The first step to a successful summer break — and by successful, we mean where I don’t spend the whole time screaming at my kids — is to manage expectations. Talk about what you need to accomplish, talk about what you’d like to do. Ask them what they’d like to do. Then explain budgetary concerns and constraints, travel plans and how much time you are going to allow them to watch YouTube.

It is also be helpful to manage expectations with your partner or anyone else involved in the day-to-day lives of your kids. If you’re setting a two-hour tech limit at your house, and your kids are supervised by another parent on Tuesdays, you may be able to coordinate to share limits. Because you are now toting kids with you everywhere you go, your partner may be able to take on a little more parenting or household responsibilities. But unless you talk these things through, they are never going to know you are struggling.

Fewer fights occur when everyone has all the information. 

Hunt for free stuff

There are tons of free or cheap summer activities for kids, of almost all ages. Those ages 2 and younger often get left out of things like summer camps and free programs and activities; but sometimes places like co-op preschools offer activities for little ones. If you are part of a preschool program, don't forget to connect with other parents. You might be surprised to find that many other families are struggling to find summer time solutions. Coordinating a day or two a week when you take turns watching each other’s kids for a few hours might just save everyone’s sanity.  

School-aged kids can probably find something organized to do every week of break. There are lots of free and educational library programs, where you can supervise from a comfortable couch reading your own book. Or swim team practices when you could conceivably bring your laptop and write (maybe even send) some emails. 

Allow distractions

If you’re a work-from-home parent, summers can be so stressful. But if you can learn to work through distractions you will come out on top. And yell less. If your kids are old enough to get through life generally on their own and you can take your work with you, then get out of the house! Sign up for the Kids Bowl Free program and work while they bowl. Treat them to two hours at the trampoline park or indoor play gym and work there. You may even be able to work in the lobby of the movie theater while they watch a summer movie special for as little as a dollar on a random Tuesday morning. 

Invest in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones or earplugs. (sometimes I just grab my son’s noise cancelling ear muffs). I am always amazed at how much easier I breathe when the noise level drops a few decibels. 

Ask for help

There is never, ever any shame in asking for help when raising kids. Sometimes help looks like driving six hours to take the kids to grandma’s for three days. And sometimes it means grocery delivery. If you’re a parent who struggles to find the balance between housekeeping and kids’ activities, there are several shortcuts that may be worth the money or learning curve to implement. Common things to outsource include house cleaning, grocery shopping and child care. Perhaps you don’t need child care full-time, but you may want a few hours without your kids, just like the mom next door does. So consider a kid swap, or hire the tween down the street as your parent-helper for a few mornings during the week. 

"Dad working from home in the summer with daughter drawing at the table next to him"
Photo: iStock

When all is said and done, you have about 10 weeks with your kids during the summer. It may be cliché, but it is true that you only have 18 summers with your child, and you know you don’t want to waste time yelling or fighting over the remote. Organize some fun activities, plan some downtime and don’t stress too much about the schedule.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and updated most recently in June 2024 by associate editor Kari Hanson (who is getting ready for another summer working at home with her kids). 

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