The chicken at the top of the stairs – defining boundaries for work-at-home parents

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Defining boundaries for work-at-home parents

There is a special sort of challenge juggling day-to-day life when you work at home, and both my husband and I work out of the house. Which means not five minutes can go by without someone wanting to ask us a question, which does not work well with productivity.

We started out by telling the kids that if we are at our desks, it is “emergencies only” but if we come upstairs, then they are free to ask us whatever is on their mind. But it felt rather strange because if we happen to be at our desks for a 2 hour stretch and one of them wants to go play outside or needs help reaching something, they shouldn’t have to wait if we aren’t doing something that requires our 100% concentration.

We struggled to find the balance between “emergencies only” and “reasonable requests” for a very long time.

It took a chicken to help us solve the problem.

The other day I had been thinking maybe, like the old bachelor with the tie on the doorknob, that we need a signal. A signal that clearly defines whether we are available for “emergencies only” or “reasonable requests”. And I happened to have a foam chicken sitting on my desk.

So we explained to them that they could interrupt us at our desks for “reasonable requests” unless the chicken was sitting at the top of the stairs. If the chicken was there, then we are available for “emergencies only” while we are working. More often than not, we don’t actually use the chicken, because we don’t want to over-use it and have it lose its value.


It’s a weird little system but it actually seems to be working.

If you work from home, have you developed a system or signal to help your kids understand when you need some dedicated work time?


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  1. says

    I love the chicken! With the exception of summer, I try to keep my business hours to school hours so that I am available when the girls are home. If I happen to need to attend to a work detail (call or conference) during my mommy time, I usually use the hand straight up as “wait” but I like the idea of a visual aid that lie your chicken since my office does not have a door…

  2. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says

    I do work from home – not just blogging, a “real’ job, and I get interrupted constantly.

    • says

      Yeah that’s how it was here and we struggled! I could close the door, but we didn’t like that option either because my 6 year old is notoriously sneaky. We need to keep one ear on her shenanegans LOL

    • says

      We still haven’t conquered the issue when I am doing a recipe or taking pictures. They think I am fair game then too, but I do need concentration. Maybe I need a hat with a chicken on it LOL

  3. says

    That is really a neat idea! I never thought about using something to signal when I can be interrupted and when I can’t! Thanks for the idea!

  4. says

    I have to hide to get anything done! Most of the time I get up really early or stay up late to be able to work from home. Not the best strategy.

    • says

      We really want them to understand that the alternative is us leaving from 8-6 give or take to go to a job and them having to be sent somewhere else while we are working. We also told them it means we can’t just take time off to do fun things when we want that it would be limited to weekends. They are both at an age where they are starting to understand and they really do like our lifestyle. So do we!

    • says

      It’s so cute when they are talking to each other and start down the stairs and then switch into a whisper…”shhh the chicken is on the stairs” and then they creep back up!

  5. Angela S says

    This is such a fun approach to setting some work/home boundaries with the kids. My son is older now, but this would have worked really well when he was younger. We would probably have used a turtle in place of the chicken though.

  6. Tiff @ Babes and Kids says

    This is awesome! I do most of my blogging and working from home while the kids are asleep. I’m connected all day long via my phone but this would come in handy if I was working during the day. Hubby needs this though. If the kids see that he’s home, they automatically think he can play when he’s working.

    • says

      We have tried to establish a normal schedule for most days because it works well during the school year. I try to work 8-2:30 or so. So this really has helped us all stick with it.

  7. says

    I love this idea. It’s seriously brilliant. My 4 year old would probably ignore it though. We don’t have much of a system in place. I just try to fit in as much work as possible before the kids get up and during the 7 month old’s nap. I usually set my older son up with a movie or toys that will occupy him while I work though.

    • says

      We are trying to develop a balance, which is why there are times I let them interrupt and tend to them and times where they need to wait. I think it is helping them develop a healthy respect for people’s time. i hope LOL

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