Working from home sounds perfect. You will be able to work on your own schedule, uninterrupted by a long commute, longer meetings and water cooler gossip, and be home with your precious little one to witness all her firsts—sitting, crawling, walking—and be able to take her to the park every morning and read to her every afternoon after a visit to the library. It’s the best of both worlds, right?
Hold on! As a work-at-home mom, I’ll admit that working at my own pace is wonderful. Being with my kids all day is a luxury I’m honored to have and I’ve never regretted my decision to leave the 9 to 5 world behind. But, it’s not quite the perfect world imagined by moms who haven’t yet experienced it. Just try to figure out how to hold a professional conference call when your baby is colicky, or how to get any work done when feeding, changing, cleaning (repeat) a little one all day. No, imagine instead putting your baby to bed at 8 p.m., crashing on the couch in exhaustion, and then beginning that project that is due the next day. While there are perks to working at home, there are many challenges, too. Here’s how to balance motherhood with a home office.
To work from home, you have to have a dedicated workspace. Skip the makeshift laptop-at-the-dining-room-table look for a real home office. Whether you have a room you can convert into your office, or you have to carve a space out of another room, set up your workspace in the same way you would an outside-the-home office.
Begin with the basics like a desk and a chair, add the equipment you’ll need like a computer and fax machine, and stock up on paper, pens and file folders. You should keep a stash at home of everything you’d have available in a “real” office.
If you are still working full-time for a company that allows you to telecommute, they may purchase this equipment for you. If you are working part time, contract, or as a consultant, you will be able to expense these items come tax season. Note: If you are planning to declare your home office in your taxes, the government requires a dedicated office space in your home. (It can’t be a shared space, such as a desk set up in the living room.) Talk to an accountant before you begin setting up to ensure you do so properly and avoid surprises at tax time.
If you are working for your company in a home office setting, or if you plan to work full-time between 9 and 5, you’ll need help, just like any other working mom. While daycare is probably not the option of choice—the goal is to be with your baby, after all—finding a drop-in daycare center that can accommodate you on an as-needed basis, like when you have to meet with colleagues or make a looming deadline, is a WAHM’s lifesaver. Instead of enrolling your child full-time, you simply visit these centers offering trained daycare personnel and drop off your child for structured, loving care, much like a babysitting service.
Another great option is to hire a part-time nanny or mother’s helper. Former freelancer Donna Siegfried of Johns Creek, GA, needed help with her three children while she worked, so she hired a woman from her neighborhood to spend mornings with the kids. Donna was available if her kids needed her, but was able to accomplish her work goals and schedule conference calls in the mornings when her kids were cared for by their nanny. Donna could then join her kids for lunch and spend her afternoons as just Mom. If finances are tight, swapping hours with another WAHM mom is a great way to get some work done and provides kids a built-in playgroup network.
Right on schedule
Your workday can be easily thrown out of whack if you don’t adhere to a schedule. It took me a few months, but eventually I figured out the best schedule for my family. Mornings were mommy time, reserved for music or Gymboree classes, story hours and playgroups. We’d have lunch together, followed by naptime. My kids were great nappers, so I scheduled my interviews, conference calls and meetings between 2 and 4 p.m. Because I dedicated so much time to my kids, I organized my schedule so that I did the majority of my work the two mornings a week they were in preschool and in the evenings when daddy “took the night shift,” as we put it.
Allot yourself work hours where you have specific times scheduled for returning phone calls, answering emails, and working on projects. If you don’t, you may find yourself working randomly throughout the day (taking “a minute” to check email can quickly become an hour-long endeavor) and instead of working efficiently, you’ll find yourself working all day and ignoring your child in the process. If you have an office with a door, teach your child that a closed door means you are working, and an open door means you are available for play. You could literally hang an “Open/Closed” sign on your door and teach him what the words mean.
Working at home can be a lonely endeavor. While you get to spend your day interacting with your child, adult conversation can be lacking. Make time for adults in your life, especially those in the working world, so they understand you are not just sitting around watching soap operas and eating bonbons. Attend networking events and meet up with old colleagues for coffee to remind people you’re still in the game. It’ll help you build your consulting business or give you the contacts you’ll need should you decide to return to a full-time job once your baby is old enough to go to school. Working at home can be a challenge, but being home with your child will make it very rewarding. You will find that it actually is the best of both worlds!