You know those dreaded working-at-home moments? The afternoon your most important client calls and really needs your attention, and in a you-couldn’t-plan-this if-you-had-to moment, your daughter has to use the bathroom and it is an emergency (!) AND your son starts screaming at the dog because she is sitting on his toy, all while you are trying your best to get them to understand your particular form of sign language that means ‘please, please, be quiet – puleeze use your inside voice for Mommy PLEASE…and then someone cries, and your client is annoyed and you fall into a puddle wondering how you got here and what the heck you were thinking. Oh, how I hated those moments!
I was a single Mom that was determined to keep my career in place, support my kids and myself as best as I could, and be the ‘I just made you brownies!’ Mommy.
My children are now grown but those days are tattooed in my mind and aren’t going anywhere. Working from home while parenting my little ones was fabulous, tough, rewarding and exhausting.
I was always in between, never feeling like anything was ‘right’. At work, I was always behind, I was anxious about my career path, I needed to make money, I didn’t want anyone to realize that maybe my brain had in fact, gone to mush after too many episodes of Sesame Street (which I admit, I really enjoyed). And then there is the Mommy pull. We want to hold them, and talk to them and nurture all of their needs so they never feel like we aren’t there for them.
But in truth, I could only take so many pretend Barbie games and work was always in the back of my mind. And while I worked, I wanted to be with my kids. They will only be this age for so long! I swear someone could sell that on a blanket, it’s the dreaded phrase all Mom’s hear and think about….
And so. As with many of us, I plodded along, did the best I could, and was determined to do it my way. I am a big believer that all of us find our way and that what might work for one Mom or executive, won’t work for another.
So these little tips are offered to you – the working Mom or Dad that has sacrificed the freedom of lunches where they actually serve you, and is determined to parent as best as possible, all while managing life, and everything it holds.
I want to applaud you for working your career and trying to balance it all with little ones underfoot. I did this for years and always adapted my career environment to manage the kids. It is rewarding. It is not easy.
Here are a few proven strategies and suggestions that helped keep me sane. As Mom’s with grown children have experienced, as they grow, so will how you manage all of this.
1. I got help. I always had a babysitter, nanny, someone, anyone, who could spell me for a few hours. Anything to get help. Often I would get someone to help during the afternoon because the 4-6pm time was always so challenging. They are tired, you are pushed and they want attention. I would ask the sitter to do an activity, take them on a walk, whatever the case may be, something to give ‘the kids’ their own break. I even paid a friend of mine to come over and bring her daughter for afternoon visits. She would come every day for a few hours mid-day. I would take the baby; she would manage my toddler, feed him and get him down for a nap. You get the idea, flexibility was key.
2. I managed client expectations. I think this is actually easier these days as it is widely accepted to work from the house, telecommute and have hours that are transitional. For me, mornings were tough. Everyone, was needy, me included. When I would get a new client, I would explain to them that I worked odd hours and might not always be available during the standard 9-5 timeframe. That worked well. I always worked at night after the kids went to bed, it was my golden hour. I was able to concentrate and get tons done when the house was quiet.
3. I outsourced. I got a dog walker one day a week. I hired a yard service. I hired a housekeeper. I let go of the things that I really didn’t need to focus on. I accommodated for the extra expenses by shifting budget spend, i.e. not spending $120 on my favorite perfume, etc. It was tough but I was determined to make it work and I needed the help.
4. I approached each day with ‘out of the box’ thinking. Now this might not work for some, but I was very comfortable folding laundry while I was participating on a conference call. I was always loading dishes and cleaning up the kitchen when I checked with vendors on the status of jobs. I simply approached it as ‘total day management’ vs. work and then home life b/c it was impossible to separate them – I was the common denominator to bridge both worlds and that approach worked for me.
5. As the kids grew, I ALWAYS had a ‘busy basket’ available for those crisis times when you need 20 minutes and they want to be entertained. I had separate things for my son vs. my daughter. I kept these hidden away from their daily toys to make it special. I would ask that they sit, or be quiet, or whatever it was I needed them to do, and then I would bring out the busy basket. I would get stuff from the Dollar Store and add in new toys, arts and crafts, etc. Books were always good too, and dress-up clothes were a hit. And, of course, as much as I didn’t want this to be my afternoon babysitter, sometimes I would use video movies to help.
6. I shopped and did errands on off hours. This was a huge time saver for me. I would either get groceries at 10:30 at night or at 6:00 in the morning when the store opened. I figured it saved me 3 hours a week avoiding traffic and lines. When I was a single Mom, I had a babysitter that would come to the house at 9:00pm when the kids were asleep and out I would go to get my shopping and errands completed. Wal-Mart was my best friend. This really helped me get away from the ‘weekend churn’ when everyone else is out doing errands and shopping. I would then use the weekends for time with the kids or work catch-up. I just shifted everything in terms of time to accommodate efficiency.
Hope this helps you. The combined effort of being a Mommy while working from home can be a tough and lonely job. Aside from the obvious fact that you are working on your own, and your office buddies are now the cat, occasional UPS deliveryman, and your kid’s playmates, you have made a choice that could be seen as different from the norm.
I found that friends who didn’t work, didn’t understand my constant rush and couldn’t relate to my continuous schedule changes. My friends who worked full time, and had full time childcare, didn’t get me either. They dropped their kids off and had schedules that were more predictable. There should be no judgment on personal parenting choices; my choice was different because I wanted to do it my way. You have to find the path that works best for you and for your family, without worrying about fitting into everyone else’s expectations.
I left my ex-husband in 1996 when my kids were 4 and 6. To this day, I am not sure how I did it all. I am now happily (!) remarried for 10 years, have two stepdaughters and we now have a collective group of 22, 21,19, 18 year olds that are in college or graduating. I share this so you know that time does indeed fly, the pushed days will pass, and with every stage and every year, as the kids change, you will too. My rule of thumb was to simply adapt to what worked best. I applaud your courage, not everyone can do this. It is a treat to hear from readers, please keep in touch and let me know how all of this goes. Sending you the best and a quiet phone call. Cheers.