For the past two years my teenager has been too young to work and not interested in going to camp. That has made the summer months (not to mention school vacations) a major challenge.
I work from home. That at least means my teenager, Joshua, has an adult in the house while he’s not in school. It does not, however, mean that I’m free to entertain him all summer.
Luckily, I have a fair amount of work flexibility. I get paid for what I produce — so not working isn’t really a viable option but my various bosses genuinely don’t care if I dial in for a meeting from Universal Studios (that has happened a few times) or am writing articles at the recently-closed Starbucks at Walt Disney’s Epcot theme park.
They generally also have little concern about when I work aside from a handful of meetings each week. Articles have deadlines and some projects must be finished by a certain date, but I can work at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., which allows me to be a somewhat engaged parent during times when schools are closed.
Communicate and don’t be a hero
Just because I can work in the middle of the night or on weekends when my wife (who has a traditional job) is off does not mean I want to. Generally, I compromise in order to do something with my son each day but not disrupt my own day.
Generally, I start a little earlier than normal (maybe 6:30 a.m. instead of 7 of 7:30 a.m.). When my son gets up (almost always by 8:30, often earlier) I’ll communicate a plan for the day. Maybe he’ll tag along while I get coffee (he usually wants a bagel) or perhaps I’ll tell him the plan and he’ll disappear for a while.
This is where I’m not a hero. Letting him play Xbox or watch YouTube on his phone isn’t exactly making him study a foreign language or learn to play the guitar, but, honestly, we have a hard enough time getting through the school year that I’m simply not fighting those battles during vacations, summers, or unexpected breaks.
If I have to work and letting him waste his time buys me that time, well, at least we’ve won financially. At some point in nearly every day — at a time I communicated to him earlier — we will do something. That could mean playing cards, going somewhere unexciting like Target, or it could mean a theme park trip, time at the pool, a beach trip, or something even more adventurous.
Put yourself in position to win
Since I have locational flexibility, Joshua and I have taken what we have jokingly called “dadventures’ since he was a little kid. In this case, in the six years I have worked from home, these have included making our “home” where I work from everything from our modest vacation place near the Central Florida theme parks, to a hotel room in Key West, my family home in New Hampshire, five or six different cruise ships, and at least a few other places.
Even in non-home, home locations, I generally keep the work routine described above. That’s often why I’m the guy on the cruise ship with his laptop at the cafe in the early morning. I’ve also been known to be working late nights in hotel bars — which can be challenging.
By making sure I have what I need (a laptop and a good WiFi connection) I can work when whatever I’m planning to do with my son allows. That has often meant casting a broader definition of home, but making sure I have the tools needed to be productive in random bursts, at weird hours, or (sometimes) in places where other people aren’t working.
It’s harder with younger kids
As my son gets older, he needs me less. Obviously, he can feed himself and (with prodding) will take care of most of his own basic hygiene. He tends, however, to not do anything that involves moving unless I make him.
That means that even on days when I’m swamped with work and stuck in the house, I’ll make an effort to make him take a walk with me. I’m also willing to offer small bribes (maybe a soda or candy bar) if he’ll throw a football around with me in the pool. That’s perhaps not great parenting, but sometimes you’re in survival mode.
When Joshua was younger, I had less flexibility but used television or access to video games (maybe ones my wife would not approve of) to get the time I needed to work. It’s okay to maybe cheat a little as a parent so you can pay the bills. Yes, many people can work during naps or after bedtime, but if you need to work and putting in “Cars” or some other kid-friendly movie gets you the time you need, do that.
Do what you have to
Most parents make every effort to put their kid (or kids) first. Sometimes, however, work makes that a challenge. You can explain that to your child. He or she may not understand the relationship between work and money (which is pretty explicit for many hourly or by-the-piece work-from-home people).
Know that by working and making money you’re not being selfish. You’re doing what you can for your child, which sometimes can’t be everything.
Find a balance. Realize some days you will be able to do little more than work, feed your child, and make sure he or she does not get hurt. It’s okay. Cut yourself some slack. Some days you may find yourself at a museum or waterpark or maybe spending the day at home devoted to your child (we’ve had some epic card game days). Both are okay as long as you’re doing the best you can to manage both your child and your work life.