Full House: How to Work at Home With Kids During the Holidays

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There’s no place like home for the holidays!

Unless you’re a parent and you work from home, that is. They really need to rewrite the song to reflect that situation. It might go a little something like this:

(Clears throat)

There’s no way to work at home during the holidays

‘Cause no matter how far away you roam

Someone in your family will interrupt you, oh yes,

Making work a hell on earth at home sweet home.

(With deepest apologies to Perry Como.)

OK, so I’m a little pessimistic about the prospect of getting much work done at home over the winter holidays. Normally, my two boys attend a nearby elementary school, which gives me a good solid window of time each weekday where I can get some work done.

Then, when they arrive home, I can pull myself away from the computer to oversee homework assignments, drive them to piano lessons and choir rehearsal, or even take them to the park.

But when the third week of December rolls around, everything screeches to a halt.

My kids are home from school, and there’s all that pressure to have LOTS! OF! HOLIDAY! FUN! which you can then post on Instagram with a casual virtual shrug: “Oh, we’re just whipping up a few thousand Christmas cookies in our perfectly clean kitchen.” Or perhaps with a little cheerleadery “Hey, look how much awesome holiday fun we’re having!”

Every time I log onto Facebook, I see another picture of an acquaintance who’s dressed her kids in adorable holiday attire and whisked them off to decorate gingerbread houses or something equally precious.

And then I think, “Aw, man. We should have gone and decorated gingerbread houses instead of staying home so I could examine those hospital employment statistics while the boys watch ‘The Amazing World of Gumball’ again.”

Yes, the pressure comes from me. No one’s saying I have to round everyone up and insist on having all that holiday fun. I get that. I shouldn’t let myself feel guilty. But I can’t totally squelch it, either.

It’s daunting, to say the least.

But there are a few ways you can get something done during the holidays. I’ve got a few strategies up my sleeve, based on my eight years of freelancing from home. Consider them my holiday gift to you.

1. Work ahead

That last week before school gleefully sends your kids home for two or three weeks should be major crunch time. Crank out as much work as possible. And start…three, two, one…now!

2. Set office hours

Regular offices sometimes set special, shortened holiday hours. You can, too — after all, you’re the boss. Figure out when you’re most likely to get work done, and make those your office hours. Be as realistic as possible.

3. Sign your kids up for holiday day camps

Even one full day or two half days of kid-free time can help you make a big dent in your workload or word count. Check with your local parks and recreation department, dance studio, climbing gym or community center for possibilities. In my town, several private schools even offer Lego camps during the holidays.

Alternate strategy: if your kids attend day care and it’s open, send them!

4. Talk to your clients in advance about your holiday schedule

Maybe a client can move back a deadline to give you some wiggle room, or get some necessary files to you earlier than usual so you have more time to work on a project. Start this conversation at least a few weeks in advance of your schedule change.

5. Carve out time for holiday fun

Take time to have fun, and don’t feel guilty about it. Plan to attend that gingerbread house-decorating workshop in the morning. Then you’ll be free to work the rest of the day.

Honestly, your children can use the downtime while you’re working, too. So what if they just play Minecraft for a few hours? It’s their vacation!

6. Cue up beloved Christmas-themed movies

You can’t tell me that you didn’t look forward to watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or one of the countless reruns of A Christmas Story when you were a kid. Go ahead, let the kids enjoy a holiday classic while you work for an hour or two.

7. Share childcare with a friend

Do you have a buddy in the same boat? Trade off some childcare with her. You take Monday and let all the kids hang at your place, and then send them all over to her house on Tuesday.

8. Prioritize

Pick a holiday activity you truly love and can’t imagine missing. Then scrap the other ones you feel like you should do but don’t really care that much about.

Maybe you adore the Charles Dickens holiday festival but don’t really like the local Christmas parade, where you have to scramble for parking. When you’re working at home instead of shivering on the parade route, remind yourself you made a good decision.

9. Hire a sitter

I know, it will cut into your profits, but sometimes you just have to do it. Look for a sitter who can take the kids out of the house for a little while, even if it’s just to the playground a mile away.

Send them to the dollar theater for a few hours, or provide enough cash for lunch and video games at a pizza place.

10. Don’t take on projects you just can’t get done

This is easier said than done, I know. But if you know you are going to be knee-deep in kids, holiday activities and family obligations for the last half of December and the first part of January, it might be worth declaring a moratorium on all but the most essential work.

Doing this will also give you some breathing room in case a unexpected holiday-related disaster strikes.

Writers with kids, chime in: How do you handle a packed house during the holidays?

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Jennifer Larson is a freelance writer and parent of two young boys. She lives, writes and tries to avoid stepping on Lego bricks in her home office in Nashville, TN.... .

Jennifer Larson | @JenniferLarson

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  1. I’ve worked from home for the past 8 years, since my youngest was five. It’s definitely challenging – although it does get easier as they get older and more able to entertain themselves and organise their own social lives. You still have to provide taxi service, money, and copious amounts of food though (especially if you have teenage boys; I have two – but they often bring home ‘mates’). There’s less ironing during the holidays… I only iron uniforms, not shorts and tees. The most important thing to remember is not to sound too unprofessional about your ‘changed working circumstances’ during these periods. Clients you have known for a long time or writers you work closely with will no doubt be sympathetic to your situation, but new business clients might be unimpressed if you tell them you need to put a project on hold because your kids are at home, so check your responses to requests and make sure they sound professional.

  2. Great post!

    I couldn’t agree more about the steps to be taken in order to survive the holiday crush and still be able to work. One of the things that works for me is talking over the situation with my partner and getting their support, rather than just going ahead and implementing a plan. That way, you can both agree on what time can be set aside for work and what are realistic expectations.

  3. Jennifer,

    Great tips. My twins will be 3 in January so no school vacation yet (or daycare for that matter).

    I find the holidays a little slow for business so that gives me time to focus on my freelance writing business and carve out that time to do all the little house chores I neglected (because you know, I have to write an all) like adjusting their car seat straps because they’ve “suddenly” grew.

    Ah, what joy eh?

    • Ack, that reminds me! I need to adjust the car seat straps on the seat for my younger son….after I power through this project that’s due Friday, that is.

  4. Great post! My husband usually has vacation days left at the end of the year and he takes time off close to the holidays. I take advantage of this and go to the coffee shop for a couple of hours for undisturbed worktime.

  5. Great strategies for working from home parents like me. Every year, I go through the same rigamarole about what to do with my school-aged son from the third week of school in December. Unfortunately, many families go away (we do staycations) so combining child-care is not an option and neither are winter camps (they’re usually quite pricey) but I do take advantage of the time I have before he’s off. Luckily, the two year old still has daycare.

  6. Okay, I get it, sometimes the kids get in the way of getting work done. I’ve got an almost four year old and another baby on the way. I’m also struggling with getting work done at home, and I will be struggling more when the baby arrives.

    However, as I read this article, one thought kept recurring to me. Isn’t the whole point of being freelance and working from home the ability to be your own boss and set your own hours? If so, why are we working through the holiday when we should be spending the time with our families?

    Most of this article basically gives ideas for how to “get rid of the kids” for a few hours so you can get some work done. Again, I get it, there’s work to be done, money to be made, customers waiting, etc., but doesn’t anyone ever think “Gee, I’d like to take a week or two off work over Christmas.”? This is, after all, prime family time, and if you don’t spend this time with your kids now you won’t get it back.

    I for one am not going to park my daughter in front of the TV (or set her playing video games) for a few hours so I can get some work done. I’m going to take the advice “Don’t take on more projects than you can handle.” and enjoy my holidays like other people do!

    • If you have the luxury of being able to take off the last two (or even three) weeks of the year, that’s marvelous!

      Unfortunately, not everyone can do that. Freelancing is a famously unpredictable line of work for many folks, and sometimes people feel that they have to take work whenever they can get it. Also, when you have more than one child, your expenses pile up, and suddenly the prospect of that lucrative end-of-year project seems even more seductive than ever.

      That being said, I’m looking at two weeks that are essentially going to be work-free for me this holiday season, and I won’t lie: I’m really looking forward to them. They way that I have achieved this, however, was mostly by embracing Steps 1, 4, and 10. I let my clients know that I needed info and files earlier than usual, I worked ahead, and I prioritized.

  7. I tried so hard this year to get things done early, but house guests and young kids (8mo and 4yo) with bad colds (which I also caught) totally set me back. I’m a novelist, so I don’t have client deadlines to meet, but how do you manage work and life, especially during the holidays, when you keep getting thrown curveballs? What’s worked, and what hasn’t?

  8. Thanks! Super helpful. First day of vacation with my four home and it was intense!

  9. Sherree Geyer says:

    Cleaver, entertaining and insightful. I don’t even have kids and I still enjoyed reading your post!

  10. I saw the link to this from a child – less colleague’s twitter feed and had to check it out. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  11. Love this! I’m currently getting my freelance business off the ground while on maternity leave from my day job with my second child and this totally hit home. The funny thing is that I do better working on projects when our older, rambunctious 3-year-old heads to a sitter. I can strap the baby on my chest with a carrier and hammer out a blog post or article far easier. The holidays have definitely thrown a wrench into the works, though!


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