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Coping With Playdates When You Work from Home

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 29 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Playdate Work Home Child Entertaining

Entertaining an extra child can be frustrating at the best of times. It can be even more frustrating, however, when you work from home and have professional commitments that need to be met.

Children can be boisterous and noisy and demand both attention and supervision, which can be trying when you are attempting to work. But while nobody in their right mind would ever consider dumping their child on you when you work in an office, somehow it seems a normal thing to do when your office is located inside your home.

So what do you do when it's your turn to schedule a playmate at your house – apart from pulling your hair out, panicking and vowing never, ever to do it again?

Advance Planning

The first key to a successful home playdate is advance planning. Never schedule a playdate when you have a deadline to meet, or when you know you'll be on an important international conference call for three hours. If you cannot be disturbed for any reason, don't allow playdates.

Some mums who work from home only schedule playdates on the weekends, or when they know their partners will be around. Other mums often appreciate having a Saturday afternoon to themselves, so inviting their child over on the weekend may actually put you in demand.

The key is: think ahead. If you know you have an easy week ahead of you with no major work on, this might be the ideal time to schedule two or three playdates in a row. Keep in mind, however, that if something comes up you may need to call in a nanny or baby-sitter at the last minute – or cancel the playdate before it even gets off the ground.

Of course, you can always swap playdates with another mum, so that in effect you are trading childcare with each other. Invite little Ollie over three Mondays in a row after a big project has finished, on the understanding that Ollie's mum will take your Benny when your new project starts.

This reciprocal form of childcare is a win-win situation for many mums who work from home, as long as a little flexibility can be taken for granted.

Busy Hands Mean Quite Mouths

If you have to work, the last thing you want is to have bored children on your hands, endlessly needling you to keep them entertained. Having a playdate can mean twice as many moans, so plan fun activities – and snacks - in advance to keep the kids busy.

For slightly older children who don't need constant supervision, it's best to plan two or three activities the children can do independently, broken up with something fun they can do with you. Start them on an arts and crafts project, for example, then take them for a run in the garden. When they're all tired out they'll be happy to eat a snack and watch a video for a while, leaving you to get some work done in peace.

Don't forget that young children may need not only full-time supervision from you, but might also need their parents along as well. Invite little Sabrina over for an hour on her own, followed by another hour with her mum nearby, drinking coffee with you in the kitchen. While that means you'll have less time to work, you'll also spend less time consoling an unhappy little girl crying for Mum.

Older Children

If you have older kids who don't really need to be supervised, then the onus on a good playdate may fall on them. Set the ground rules from the start. Adolescent children need to understand that a closed door means “Do Not Disturb” - and this means for any reason at all, apart from Joey getting his thumb trapped in the door or the cat getting run over.

Older kids can entertain themselves on their own quite easily, leaving you periods of time to work undisturbed. This doesn't mean leaving them completely unattended while their friends are over, but it means coming to an understanding where you will have the freedom to make a phone call or set up a phone interview without them barging in.

Keep in mind, however, that sometimes it might be best to just say “no”. Explain to your children that you have a lot of work on at the moment, and that having their friends over just isn't a good idea. Explain that you'll make it up to them later when your work responsibilities thin out a bit. It might be hard for them to understand, but eventually they will.

Playdates are supposed to be fun, not a source of stress for the parents. But when you work from home, having extra children over can be a minefield. But with a just a little forethought and advance planning, you can take the stress out of playdates for everyone. Good luck!

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