A question for work at home parents

The whole ‘work at home’ concept is a godsend for many parents.

Take today for instance.

I went to wake Belle up at about 7.45am, and was greeted by a less than enthusiastic response. “I feel sick,” she groaned, in her usual dramatic style.

“Well, you do say that every single morning, so I think you’re probably alright,” I replied.

“But this is different from just-woken-up feeling sick. Honestly!” she added, sensing my scepticism.

She did look a bit peaky to be fair, and Bee wasn’t feeling well yesterday, so I decided to keep her at home. She did go back to sleep for quite a long time, which isn’t like her, but after a couple of hours of enforced bed rest was recovered enough for me to drop her in late morning. If I hadn’t been working at home today I wouldn’t have had the option to do any of that.

You know all that though. Here’s my question…

When you’re a work at home parent, how much work is it ok to do when your children are actually at home?

I’ve been upstairs in my attic study for two hours since Belle got home from school, popping down briefly just to pop some sausages in the oven, and I’m beginning to feel guilty. I’m getting lots done, I’m enjoying quietly working whilst listening to Radio 4 and looking out over the rooftops of Bristol, but is this ok?

Is it alright for me to leave the girls downstairs playing Mario Kart while I work, or does it completely negate the whole point of flexible working, which is meant to enable me to have more ‘quality time’ with my children?

To be honest, I’ve always been dubious about the term ‘quality time’, implying as it does the presence of craft materials or cookery books. Whose idea of a quality way to spend time is that?

So am I being a bad mummy, tucked away in my cosy study, or is it just an inevitable part of single parenting, and of trying to provide a standard of living slightly above super noodles for every meal and electricity just on special occasions?



  1. 19 July, 2011 / 4:41 pm

    Err, well didn’t you just define rather brilliantly being a work at home mum? It’s simply neglecting your children but appearing to be putting them first?! Shh, don’t tell the working mums ;-)

    • 19 July, 2011 / 4:43 pm

      Hahaha! I love it – what a brilliant summary!

      Our secret is safe with me :-)

  2. 19 July, 2011 / 4:47 pm

    Interesting one… I do work from home around 80% of my time, but both my children are still in childcare as though I were in the office – there’s no way I would get anything done if they were around! I am guessing that this may change as they get older and more independent, howhome, and it does still allow me that small bit of extra flexibility if I need it.
    There also is a big difference between someone like myself who is “normally employed”, for want of a better term, and someone who is freelance or running their own business from home, where they are the only boss they need to answer to, I guess.

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:14 pm

      That’s a really good point Julie about the kind of work you are doing. When I’m doing ‘my own’ work at home, it’s a different kind of feeling to doing ‘someone else’s work’. That said, I think I probably get more done often at home than in an office, as you don’t have the distractions of chatting to colleagues and stuff. At home, if I get in the zone, I can get masses done in a relatively short space of time.

  3. 19 July, 2011 / 5:02 pm

    I work from home (and I’m a single mum). It isn’t easy. If my daughter is off sick then often I have no choice but to sit in my office and work for a couple of hours while she is resting in front of the television. Usually though, I work when she is at school and in the holidays I work when she’s out of the house at a paid-for activity day. So I try not to work when she is at home. Having said that, right now she is shouting at me to get her some dessert while I sit typing this. I think when it comes to blogging and commenting on blogs, everything I have just said goes out of the window!

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:15 pm

      Haha! It’s interesting isn’t it what ‘work activities’ we justify to ourselves! I’m sure blogging counts as work though. Definitely.

  4. Vicky
    19 July, 2011 / 5:08 pm

    I work from home too. It doesn’t so much give me “quality time” with them, more just enables me to do things such as cover their sick days as you mentioned. And to just be a constant presence and just be there when the eldest gets in from school. And save on childcare costs which is a total godsend. If i need to knuckle down and work then the grandparents are handy. And I do try to do the whole “quality time” thing after work. It’s a balancing act though and often finds me working in the evening to make the days easier!

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:16 pm

      It is a balancing act, you’re right. I agree too about being a ‘presence’ – even if they can’t actually see me, they know I’m THERE, which I’m sure is the important thing…

  5. 19 July, 2011 / 5:13 pm

    Oh definitely OK. The thing is you’re still working, just able to do it at home so the kids can be there, and not at an after school scheme or group. If you were working for an employer you’d be in an office somewhere paying for them to watch TV at a childminders, or play Mario Karts at an after school play scheme.

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:17 pm

      Very true Lynley! In my mind though childcare is all about wholesome activities, I’m sure you’re right though that it’s probably just playing Mario Kart in someone else’s house. I paid £33 a day for a summer playscheme last half term and when I picked Belle up she’d spent the last hour watching TV!

  6. 19 July, 2011 / 5:31 pm

    I work from home too but as my ‘office’ is sitting at the kitchen table I tend to get distracted by cooking & washing, I’m not very good managing my time at the moment. I find that I seem to work most of the day and the evening when the kids are around but if they are at school/pre-school I can get more done in less time and switch off in the evening.

    I like how Mel put it…….how very true!

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:18 pm

      We’re women though, so we can multi-task :-)

      I’m sat at the kitchen table right now, and in a minute I need to make a white sauce for my lasagne….

  7. hilly
    19 July, 2011 / 5:58 pm

    Being around, in case your kids need you, is far more important than booking in a slot of “quality time” with them as part of a to do list. I think that being accessible to your children is much more important. They know you are there if they need you, but you all have the space to do your own thing. It sounds perfect to me.

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:18 pm

      Thanks! I will see it that way – the perfect set up :-)

  8. 19 July, 2011 / 6:36 pm

    As Lynley says, working while the kids are at home is no worse than being in an employer’s office and paying for them to be with a childminder. Better, because they’re in their own home, with their own toys to play with and their own mother in the background (albeit trying to work). It may be a diferent kind of quality to the rosy-cheeked, apron-clad earth mother baking fairy cakes with “the little ones” that we all think we ought to be, but it’s no less valid. Working from home at least means our children spend sick days and holidays in their own home, not with near-strangers and relatives. If your chidlren are happy, crack on and get some work done!

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:20 pm

      That’s the difficult bit Mandy – reconciling that image in my head of the rosy-cheeked wholesome earth mother I sometimes feel I should be, with the working-single-parent reality. Still, I guess you can’t be all things to everyone, and we do need to eat!

  9. 19 July, 2011 / 9:46 pm

    I think the other commenters have got it right – the important thing is that you’re there, you’re accessible, you’re a constant presence in their lives, not that you’re always baking cakes and making scrapbooks with them.

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:20 pm

      I did give Bee money to BUY a scrapbook today for her summer homework. I’m sure that counts…

  10. 20 July, 2011 / 9:35 am

    If you don’t have a cosy study, so your children can be downstairs, luxuriating in the feeling of freedom, with the knowledge that you are there if they need or want you, you can still work at home and be with your child, while they watch the ‘squeakuell’ of Alvin and the Chitmunks! Now that’s what I call quality time!

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:21 pm

      We saw that film at the cinema! Now that was two hours of my life I don’t think I could class as quality time…

  11. 20 July, 2011 / 9:49 am

    I work from home 1 day a week and find that I end up working longer hours because I don’t want people to think I’m slacking off because I’m at home. The hardest thing is not having a seperate study so it’s hard to leave work alone and take a break.
    BTW nice view you have in Bristol, one of the things I loved about living there was the hills which gave great views. I also have LOTS of photo’s of the fabulous coloured houses

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:22 pm

      Ooh, do you know what, I lied with my photo! It is a view over Bristol, but the one I’d LIKE to have from my window, rather than the one I do have, which is rather less colourful. I feel bad now, like I cheated…

  12. 20 July, 2011 / 4:43 pm

    I just let my kids know that I am working and for how long. They normally find something to amuse themselves…like knives…or electricity.

    It does work out, but I find that I am very, very time poor at the moment.

    • 20 July, 2011 / 5:23 pm

      Self-taught science skills. Very important.

  13. 21 July, 2011 / 6:19 am

    I read this a couple of days an didn’t know how to answer it. It is exactly the kind of thing I would do, and exactly the kind of thing i’d worry about. My version is going straight on the computer once i’ve picked the boys from the childminder having not seen them all day.
    I suppose you need to ask yourself – would your kids rather have you fussing around them, or be playing computer games? Nuff said.


  14. 25 July, 2011 / 9:30 pm

    Hi there. I love this post, as it totally sums up my feelings about being a work at home mum. To be honest, I think the kids would rather you (we) were there no matter what you’re dpoing, whether its working, washing, cleaning, ironing, or whatever else it is that stay at home, or work at home mums have to do during the day. As long as you are there, when something does go wrong; perhaps one of looses really badly at Mario Card (!?!?), and you can comfort them, does it matter that you buy a bit of time with them in front of the telly or computer? Probably not, as long as you love them with it really, really matters.

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