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11 helpful tips on how to balance working from home + #momlife

You're living the dream—you've asked your boss if you can work from home, or you landed that flexible position, or maybe you decided to strike out on your own as a consultant. Now comes a new challenge: How do you make your home into a workplace when it's already home to your (sometimes rather loud) family?

Through clever scheduling, a few ground rules and some hard core #momhacks, mamas have figured out how to share their workspace with little ones.

If you dream of being a working mom and a stay-at-home mom, take some tips from these mothers who've made the most of flexible work options (and a whole lot of inner drive).

1. Be honest with your clients

If you're working from home, be transparent about that from the get go. That way, if a child does bust into your office or the dog starts barking while you're taking a call, you can just keep going without having to explain away the background noise.

Sarah Hamaker is a mother of four between the ages of 10 and 15, and she also works as a certified parenting coach. She says she always starts phone conversations by telling her clients that she works from home—and they may hear a child in the background. "Most people were very understanding," Hamaker explains.

The mute button on her headset helped, too. Whenever she wasn't speaking, she'd hit the mute button so the conversation appeared to be a little quieter.

2. Get a gym membership

Sometimes, a work call is just too important to risk an interruption. If you don't require everyday child care, but do need a quiet call every once in awhile a gym membership can be a lifesaver.

A gym with on-site childcare is essentially an on-call babysitter, says Traci Kantowski, communications director with Trust Transparency Center. "I regularly take advantage of gym childcare when I need to be able to focus, or have an important call because I know my kids are cared for," Kantowski says.

Bonus: You can also actually just hit the gym.

3. Designate an area of your home for work

Kantowski's children know they need to knock before entering her office, but not every family can devote an entire room to mom's workspace. If all your bedrooms are full, you can still carve out a designated area just for your work, even in small spaces. Closets can make great compact work spaces, thanks to DIY ideas and products like this closet-to-office conversion kit from the Container Store.

If your office or desk is in a high traffic part of your home, a pair of noise-cancelling earphones can help you focus while your kids play with their other parent, grandma, the babysitter or each other.

4. Get a hotspot plan

For many, the point of working from home is to spend more time at, well, home. But for many mamas, working from home is appealing because it also allows us to be away from our desks. Ballet practice, carpool duty, library time—these are all things you can make time for when you're not commuting, but you might have to squeeze in some work while chauffeuring the kids around.

Make sure your cell phone plan includes hotspot access, so you'll be able to sneak in work time from the carpool line, the pool and the indoor playspace, Kantowski says.

5. Use electronics in case of emergency

Screen time guidelines suggest parents keep video time to a minimum, but, one work-at-home mom, Julianne Robicheau says sometimes a little screen time goes a long way to helping mama get her work done. Robicheau started her skin care company, Robi Luxury Skin Care, when her child was a year old, and says that, in a pinch, Ryder and his team of pups have come to save the day.

"Of course, I don't feel like mother of the year when I do this, but sometimes, work needs to get done and I have to rely on babysitter Paw Patrol," she says

​6. Let them help

Robicheau often lets her 4-year-old help her when it comes to photoshoots and putting together shipments. "I'm raising them to just roll with it," she says, explaining that she even brings her kids to most business meetings. "I shot a marketing video with a videographer from home with both kids around," Robicheau says.

Bonus: this method teaches kids about work ethic, and there are plenty of long-term benefits for kids who see mom working.

7. Reserve special toys for key work moments

When her children outgrew napping, Stephanie Woodson, who writes sewing and craft tutorials for her web site, Swoodson Says, transitioned them to quiet time with audio books and puzzles in their room so she still had a chunk of the day to herself. "Reserving special toys or crafts for busy days is key: A sensory bin or magazine collage activity can keep them happy for a long time," she says.

8. Share childcare with other work-from-home parents

If you know of other work-at-home-parents, you can swap children with them, giving each parent a day to work while the other parent watches everyone's kids, says Swoodson, who did this many times.

9. Wake up early

Allison Carter, creator of Confetti Party Plans, wakes up an hour earlier than her children to set her daily goals, check her email and plan her social media so that when her children wake up, she gets to focus on breakfast knowing that she already accomplished something before she actually started her day.

10. It doesn't matter *where* you're working from

Sonja Thompkins is a homeschooling mother of a 5 1/2 -year-old and an online business coach for brick and mortar boutique owners. She says she uses her gym, the library, fast food restaurants or even the car to work—as long as her child is entertained, and even takes video calls. "Clients truly don't care about your perfectly curated office backdrop," she says. "I used to think they did."

11. Batch work when you can

Thompkins' husband is an army reservist and a firefighter who works in 48-hour shifts. But when he's home, he takes over so she can crank out as much work as possible. "I use a project management app to keep me focused on the tasks I need to accomplish, which is great for my productivity," she explains.

If you're just starting out as a work-at-home parent, you'll soon figure out that you'll need to adjust your expectations, your technique and your methods as your family grows.

What works for a toddler (race to the computer to get two hours of solid work time while he naps!) will change drastically when he's a preschooler (schedule a playdate and practice some hands-off parenting so you can snag a few sneaky hours).

In the end, it's all about flexibility. And isn't that what working from home is all about?

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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