Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Working From Home VS Parenting: Deathmatch

This is where the magic happens...

There are a lot of benefits to working from home when you have kids, benefits that most folks can understand from the outside. I've been working from home for nearly a decade now. I didn't have to adjust my employment very much to accommodate for pregnancy or maternity leave, we save a ton of money by not having to invest in professional childcare, when and where I get my work done is very flexible, and our kid is with one of her parents all day. I also get to stay in the work force and never have to worry about explaining a gap on my resume. Whee! 

In these ways, it is excellent and it works well for both our family and my personality, but working from home is tough and throwing parenting into the mix makes everything even more complicated. People often tell me that they wish they worked from home, but it's important to go into this type of arrangement with both eyes open.
  • Those who work at home are more likely to be self-employed, do contract work, or work multiple, part-time jobs. By their nature, these are not cushy, forgiving positions. I live in the last two categories, teaching college-level writing courses for online universities. While I have a lot of job flexibility  I have very little job security. I was totally unable to take maternity leave at one of my institutions and kept working through three days of labor with Georgia and the difficult weeks following her arrival.
  • When you're working, you're not really parenting and when you're parenting, you're not really working. True, you can work and supervise your child to the point that he or she isn't climbing out of the dog door, and you can feed a baby while sitting in on a conference call that doesn't require your participation, but it's rare you'll be able to do much beyond that.
  • Work-from-home parents have very little downtime. The office employee gets a lunch break or can zone out while the computer crunches numbers or can take a long trip to the loo with their smart phone. The stay-at-home parent has nap time and the freedom to strap the baby to his or her chest or into a stroller and go out into the world. The work-at-home parent spends any break to tend to either working or parenting. 
  • There's no cleaning crew visiting your office in the dead of night. It's hard to keep up with housework once you have kids but it's also very difficult to work in a messy environment. Little things that are taken for granted in an office, like the toilet paper in the bathroom never running out, don't happen like magic at home. If the garbage needs taking out and it's a little stinky, it's nigh impossible to simply ignore until the work day is over. That said, it's a rookie mistake to give a day of work over to housekeeping.
  • Your partner may not understand how hard all of this is. I think every couple has times where one half doesn't really see how the other half is living when they are apart. It's normal but it's a challenge. This sort of an arrangement can create a lot of resentment, even when everyone has the best of intentions. 
So what's a work-at-home parent to do? 
  • Take care of yourself and have a routine. Eat breakfast. Shower. Get dressed. Get your kid dressed. Make a schedule. It can be too easy to feel like nothing was accomplished at the end of a long day. We write about our kid's schedules but here's a more specific look at my work day during the work week:
    • In the mornings, I love getting up 15-30 minutes before everyone else to make the coffee and check my work emails (three accounts! whee!) This gives me a good idea of what sort of variables I'm working with.
    • Once Georgia is up, I put work away as best I can and just focus on spending some time with her and my husband before he leaves for work, then taking care of her while getting myself some breakfast.
    • During her morning nap, I make a to-do list and start to tackle the items that require the most concentration first. I also try to get a quick shower and get dressed.
    • When Georgia is up again, she's in the mood to play and move and needs a lot of attention. Usually, we go into her bedroom and I set up a blankie with toys on the floor. I play kids' music on my laptop and she plays while I work. I'll flip her on her tummy so she gets some tummy time or get her a toy that's rolled away. I know this won't work once she can climb into my lap! But for now, it works, so it's what we do.
    • During her next nap, I get back to work and make sure I have some lunch.
    • In the early afternoon when Georgia is up again, I try and get out of the house, even if it's just for a quick walk around the block. Staying inside all day makes mama go something something. If it's been a really tough day, I let Patrick know in the afternoon that it would help if he figured out something for dinner.
    • Once Patrick is home, he takes over and I wrap up any loose ends. It's a bummer when I have to keep working late at night, but that's the way it goes sometimes.
  • Talk to your partner throughout the day. Obviously, there are situations where this isn't possible, but when it is, this is a powerful habit that keeps the two of you working as a team. You might only be able to manage a few text messages back-and-forth, but that can be enough to let each other know how the day is going, what challenges you're each facing, what adorable things the kiddos are up to, and how you can help each other. Patrick and I talk over IM throughout the day and it's so helpful to know what he's coming home with and what he is coming home too. 
  • The television is (probably) not your friend. I love television, I do, I'll admit it, but when I keep it on all day, my productivity suffers tremendously. I also feel bad when I catch the baby watching the Wen infomercial. Instead, I snap off the tv after watching the morning news and turn on the radio instead. It fills the quiet air without distracting me too much and I never feel guilty about Georgia chewing her toys to Larry Mantle's dulcet tones. 
  • Know when to call in reinforcements. This is something I sort of stink at. Work piles up, I start to feel stressed out and then guilty (Bad parent! Bad worker person!) so I get blue and then snippy and frantic. It's hard for me to reach out to others and ask for help when it gets this way, but it's so important. We have family and friends nearby and I need to lean on them a little more when things are crazy. Even if you can't get this kind of help, there are options for you. Look for Mother's Day Out programs in your area. These are childcare programs that are open to stay-at-home parents and their very sporadic needs. You might try and arrange a childcare co-op or work out a nanny-share
  • Housework comes dead last. Always. The only time you should spend part of the work day cleaning your house is when you children have no needs and you're ahead on your work. Leave housework for the evenings and weekends. Not only does this give you the day to focus on what's important, but when you leave the housework for the evenings, it gives the partner who has been in the office all day a chance to contribute to the running of the household.
While I'm an old pro at working from home, I'm clearly new to being a work-at-home parent. This is something I'll probably be posting about a bit moving forward and I'd love to hear from others who are making this type of arrangement work!

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