How Real Work-From-Home Parents Deal With the “4:30 p.m. Slump”
The end of the day is a uniquely challenging time for many work-from-home parents with kids in school. Even if someone else can handle school pickup, often little ones get home around 3:30 or 4:30 p.m., and a parent’s workday may not end until 5 to 6 p.m. or later. That makes the final hour or two of the workday a true circus act, with the WFH parent trying to juggle kids who need attention and snacks with their job responsibilities. The kids are wired, the parents are tired, and clashes are inevitable. We call it the 4:30 p.m. slump, and whenever we use the term with a WFH parent, they immediately know what we mean.
The 4:30 p.m. slump can make you feel like you’re failing as a parent and an employee. But know that you’re not alone. No matter how much support you have or how many after-school programs you’ve enrolled your kids in, some overlap is almost inevitable, whether it happens every day or occasionally – and there are ways to manage it to make the time less disruptive. We asked 10 work-from-home parents how they navigate the daily end-of-day slump. Here are their best tips.
Time-Block Your Calendar
“If you know that you may be pulled in a few different directions while finishing up your workday, block off your calendar to make sure no one can schedule meetings with you during that time,” suggests Shiela Mie Legaspi, a working mom of two and the president of Cyberbacker. “You can still work during this time, but this avoids any potential scheduling overlap and should make parents feel more in control of their schedule.”
This was a popular suggestion among WFH parents. Nicole Pounds, the director of content and community at DotCom Therapy, uses the method to manage the hour between her two kids getting home and the end of her workweek. “I try to not schedule any on-camera meetings during this last hour if possible so that I can concentrate on off-camera tasks without having to worry about how loud [my kids] are in the other room,” Pounds says.
Parent Elina Furman, the founder and CEO of Kahlmi, also finds that blocking that time off in her work calendar gives her the necessary flexibility. “I make sure not to schedule any calls during that time since you never know when kids will interrupt,” Furman shares.
Save Tasks For the Afternoon
The 4:30 p.m. slump gets even trickier when you’re ferrying kids from school to after-school activities. When Tara Henning, a cofounder of Superkin, is in charge of overseeing her two kids’ afternoon routines, she winds up having to take her work to go – literally. If she’s toting her kids to gymnastics or tennis, for instance, she’ll take her laptop and use the downtime (while they’re actively practicing) “to do more of the quick admin work from my to-do list or schedule more casual calls, one-on-ones that don’t involve presentations or Zooms,” she says. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity to cut down on the little things that need to get done on my to-do list.”
Even if your kids are coming straight home, being smart about your workflow can help mitigate the 4:30 p.m. slump. “I try to make sure that all of my essential work tasks are completed before 4:30 p.m., so that I can focus on the less significant things, which don’t require so much thinking and planning,” says father of two Denis Ristic, the general manager at AskGamblers. “This helps to reduce stress and allows me to be more present with my kids because if I’m needed, I can take a quick break and come back to work easier than if I were to abandon an important project midway.”
Set Up a Quick Check-In
Andrew Jernigan, the CEO of Insured Nomads, also tries to set up his calendar to accommodate the end-of-day slump. “I manage my calendar so that I don’t have intense work video calls at that time so there is not a ‘volume-controlled’ atmosphere when the kids’ energy level is high and they are ready to talk,” he says. But when they get home, Jernigan also makes sure to step away from work for a few minutes “to see them, give hugs, and hear about their day/life.” Even a very short check-in can help kids feel seen and heard, which may be enough to tide older kids over while you spend the next hour finishing up what you need to at work.
Create a Consistent Routine
Another tip from Legaspi is to make a routine for these hours and ensure your kids know what it is and why you have it. “Talk to your kids about the importance of your work, and give them some tasks to do while you are finishing up your workday,” she suggests. “Your kids should know boundaries when it comes to interrupting your workday.” (Although, manage your expectations. Who among us hasn’t called their parents during the workday with questions that felt so urgent, but looking back, were definitely not?)
One idea is to set up the end-of-the-workday hours as designated “work time” for you and your little ones, Furman says. When her kids get home, they start on their homework and she lets them know she’s finishing up work too and that she’ll be back to spend time with them in an hour. The regular routine helps keep everyone’s expectations in line, and knowing everyone is working can make the hours feel like a bonding experience rather than a clash. If they’re not getting homework quite yet, give them quiet brain-building tasks to “work” on, like a puzzle, coloring book, or sensory activity, so they can feel like they’re working alongside you.
Have “Quiet Play” Activities Ready
Similarly, mom Jessica Turner, a marketing and communications manager at Delt Shared Services, says: “I try to prepare for this time by having something set out for my son on his return from school. I ensure he has a snack plate and drink laid out, along with an easy-to-manage activity. And, yes – sometimes I just opt for screen time!”
Turner’s top activities include water painting, counting activities, and slime. “It doesn’t always occupy him for long, but it can help when I don’t want to turn to screens,” she says.
Get Creative With Your Office Space
“As a working mom who’s 100 percent remote, I had to get creative with my home office spaces,” says Jessica Jalowiec, a senior director of consumer brand and partnerships at BrainPop. For her, that means setting up several spaces in her home, including her dining room, that function as a playroom and an office. This lets her keep an eye on her young child while she’s finishing up her workday and the little one quietly entertains themself. For parents of older kids who don’t need constant supervision, the best solution might look different, like setting up shop within hearing range of your kids’ favorite hangout spot but not necessarily in the thick of things.
Try a “Mother’s Helper”
“If you know you’re going to have late meetings or will need some extra help for a couple of hours once your children get home from school, hiring a mother’s helper may be a good – and affordable – option,” suggests Olivia DeLong, the senior health editor at BabyCenter. “Mother’s helpers are usually 12- or 13-year-olds who charge significantly less than a typical babysitter and can offer an extra set of hands to play with your child while you remain at home and can get your work done.” Since you’ll be physically nearby in case of emergencies, you can get away with a younger babysitter than you might normally want; but having the extra eyes takes some of the mental load of parenting off your shoulders for a little longer.
Call On Fellow Parents
To help manage the logistical side of the 4:30 p.m. slump – picking kids up from school, dropping them off at activities – Furman turns to fellow parents. “I try to set up carpools for them if they are going to after-school activities and do the return trips so I have more time to finish work,” she says. But even if most of the parents in your circle are also WFH or working parents, setting up a carpool system where you each take the tough driving times once a week can be a huge help and minimize the disruption to your workday.
Adjust Your Work Hours
The truth is, sometimes even simpler tasks just aren’t happening – you can’t be present with your kid and clear your inbox of spam. So if you’re having trouble completing anything work-related when your kids get home, ask yourself if it’s possible to adjust your work hours slightly by working an extra hour after your kids are in bed or earlier in the morning.
“Some days my boys allow me to work through the end of a traditional workday, and other days I’ve accepted that they need more from me,” says Megan Redzia, a mom of two and an executive vice president at 3E Public Relations. “If I’m focused on my kids from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., then I make up the time when they go to bed or I get an extra-early start the next morning. I think it’s unrealistic to expect children, especially younger ones, to smoothly get through the 4:30 p.m. slump every day.”
The key here is communication. If you tend to get pings during that last hour or two of the day, talk to your manager about whether they’d be on board with you occasionally (or regularly), putting on your do-not-disturb during that time, with the understanding that you’ll be making up the time. Jobs that offer remote flexibility tend to understand scheduling issues, and it’s better to have your plan out in the open so you don’t have to worry about whether anyone’s waiting on your response.