I’m behind on my posting schedule because I don’t have enough time to take photos for some of my posts. In the meantime, I wanted to write a post on a slightly different topic which doesn’t require photos. There are many parents who work full time in an office but would like to spend more time with their children. On the other hand, there are some who have quit their office jobs in order to stay at home with their child(ren) and given the change would like to contribute to the society and the family budget. If you are one of the many parents who wish you could continue to work and still be at home with your child(ren) or planning to take the plunge to work at home, this article is for you.
We were into the 3rd year of our marriage when my department in the company I was working for started to slowly dissolve. I quit my job before the summer and went on a long vacation. We found out that we were pregnant at the beginning of the Fall. I assumed I would stay at home and take care of my baby for a while and didn’t even think about checking the job market.
Coincidentally, a headhunter reached out to me thanks to my resume which was still floating around on the recruiting sites. The company which was looking for a resource exactly with my credentials and experience was established as a virtual company. The founder decided to recruit expert consultants from all around the country, let them work from their home offices and travel to clients instead of investing in setting up an office and relocating employees. I fit the job description, employment conditions fit my requirements so I accepted the offer as one of the first employees of the company. Later, when company grew bigger, they established a headquarter in another state and I continued to work with them from my home office for 10 years.
This job I found while pregnant was, in many ways, the answer I wasn’t even looking for and the opportunity I didn’t think it existed. That said, working from home office is neither an easy task nor the answer to everything.
Before moving pros and cons of working from home and my tips to preserve the balance between parenting and work, I should point out that my job requires me to be in front of the computer during the regular “8 am – 5 pm” working hours, complete my project tasks, stay in constant communication with my coworkers and clients – mostly virtually – and be reachable when needed. Also due to the nature of consulting, once in a while, I have to put in overtime and travel to wherever the client is located (usually out of state).
Benefits of working from home office as a parent:
- It was very convenient to be within an arm’s reach especially when my son was very young.
- I managed to breastfeed my son until he was 18 months-old, thanks to the fact that I worked from home.
- When my son was an infant and was settling into his rhythm, being able to monitor his progress, made life much easier for both of us.
- Being at home, providing guidance for our nanny and finding mutual solutions to issues on the spot was a great comfort.
- When my children are sick, I am there to keep an eye on them and comfort them even for shorter periods during the day.
- When kids started school, I didn’t have to scramble for ad hoc child care on non-school or snow days.
- There is no time wasted on commuting, which is very critical when you are juggling kids, home, marriage and work.
- This goes for everyone who telecommutes, parent or not. There is major savings on gas, mileage and lunch expenses when working from home.
Delicate Balance of Parenting and Working from home:
- No matter what, your priority is always your child, which is a good thing, of course. It’s only natural.
- It is up to you where to draw the line that separates parenting, home and work. Sometimes this line becomes blurry, in other words, when your work is at home and your home is at work, everything gets intertwined. It’s not like you can leave work behind in the office. Yes, you are responsible for making up for business hours you lost during the day because of parental responsibilities, during after hours of the day. However, you might be inclined to check your e-mail box one more time before going to bed even if you don’t need to or do one more thing while your spouse/partner is taking care of the children or the house and this flexibility is not always good.
- I found it was easier to strike a balance when my children were just babies. It became harder as they grew up and became aware that “mommy was at home but in another room instead of paying attention to them or playing with them”. I usually went into my room and let our nanny take charge until lunch break when I could stay out long enough otherwise he would get upset when I kept appearing and disappearing. When he got older to understand that I was working, he wanted to “work with me”.
- Some days it felt like I am neither fulfilling my responsibilities as a mother, nor as an employee to satisfaction. The guilt never goes away, only you can manage it not to overwhelm you.
Tip for maintaining the balance and avoid burning out:
Mark your territory
Have a separate office or work area preferably behind closed doors. I had a separate office area in the guest bedroom even when we were living in a tiny two-bedroom condo. Train your children early on that office is not a play room. Having your own territory increases your performance and efficiency, both mentally and physically.
Set clear expectations
If you have a spouse or partner who works in an office, agree that your working from home doesn’t mean it’s only your duty to take care of the children and housework. Agree to a fair share of responsibilities and duties. Also communicate with your employer that your working from home doesn’t mean living for work. If you need flexibility speak to your managers or inform them in advance and not assume that you can bend the rules to your needs without letting them know.
Hire a nanny
The fastest way to burn out is to try to take care of a baby and work at the same time. If you have younger than school-age children, hire a full-time nanny or enlist a family member to help out. Even if my kids are older now, I hire a sitter to help with before and after camp hours in the summer. Once you establish the trust, give them their space and don’t hover over them all the time. When our nanny first started working with us, I felt I needed to be there as well which defeated the purpose of hiring a nanny. Finally, when I let go and let our nanny take charge, I reclaimed my time and space to work.
Set up systems
You need to set up systems to be efficient. The foundation of this system is to having a room where you can shut your door and work, which is the first item in this list. The second most important thing is systems to effectively manage schedules, deadlines and to-do lists. You need to always have a plan of attack as well as back-up plans, because with kids you can never have enough back up plans. Morning routines, weekly meal planning, allotting time for doing actual work instead of meetings, task prioritization are few of your best weapons to work and parent effectively and efficiently. You systems should also help you avoid getting interrupted or distracted.
Batch and bulk everything
Do not sacrifice your sleep. Sacrifice other non-essential tasks or pleasures. Let the house stay mess for few days or skip the TV show which you think you can’t miss. Working efficiently during your work hours instead of giving into distractions also helps protecting your sleep time.
Find or create opportunities to socialize
Even though you might not realize this at first but working from home and parenting can be very isolating. Even though I am used to working by myself in my quiet space and think I am more efficient in this type of environment, having the social environment at the office has its benefits. There are no lunches with coworkers or office parties. Without this personal interaction, you may feel depressed and eventually end up throwing yourself into the world of online socializing, forums, blogs, etc., as was the case with me. Still, find or create work or non-work related socialization opportunities to save your space in the adult world.
Let go of the guilt
I am guessing this mostly applies to working mothers because of how we were raised to believe that we have to do it all. Based on my observations with the men I’ve worked with, I can comfortably say that most don’t do it all and they don’t feel as guilty. We should note of this and put the guilt of “not being enough” and “not having it all” away.
Make time for your relationships
It is really easy to get stuck in that hamster wheel, running to parent, work and take care of chores and not getting anywhere. One of the important aspects that one loses sight on in that hamster wheel is your loved one, your spouse or partner. In order not to become roommates with kids, make time for each other within the hectic schedule.
Practice self-care no matter how busy it gets
Since I’ve done both, I can confidently say that neither full-time parenting nor working parenting is easy. Sometimes you get through days to find yourself thinking “what have I really accomplished today?” as you rest your head on your pillow. Remember that you need to take care of yourself first to be a decent parent, spouse or partner to others. Give yourself the permission to relax and enjoy me time once in a while to recharge and to be honest avoid depression. Because there is always a list of to-do items and tasks which will suck your energy like a black hole and only you have the power to say “not now”.
Even though it might feel difficult and isolated at first and with these tips I’ve shared, you can fine tune your settings and make the best of this opportunity. The fact of the matter is that some jobs can be done anywhere in the world on your laptop as long as you are connected the internet. There are many jobs which don’t have to be to be performed in 8 consecutive hours, with an hour break for lunch, as long as they are completed by a deadline. If there are more opportunities for people who have certain expertise and experience, then there would be more family time and less cars in rush hour traffic and pollution.
Do you work from home? Feel free to share your struggles and solutions to these issues in the comment section below.