I’ve been working from home long before we had children. I started in 2007 when I opened up my own design company with my husband and set up our home office.
There I was, free of the daily commute, Skyping into client conferences instead of physically being there, and usually blissfully getting through the day without having to apply makeup. Work and life felt balanced, and I felt happy.
However when my son arrived in 2011, working from home became a whole new ballgame. Suddenly, it was not only clients who needed my attention during normal 9-5 business hours (and often beyond!)—this sweet new baby did as well. During office hours, after hours—really, any hour of the day and night.
Between the needs of a newborn and the needs of our clients, I wondered how I could manage all of them and my sanity. Was that one o’clock deadline for the new web design brief or the next feeding?
For almost three years, I’ve experienced a slowly evolving situation that has included the following:
Monitoring and managing employees while on “maternity leave” (AKA Handling only work “emergencies” but also responding to client’s “Congratulations!” emails to prove I wouldn’t abandon them now that I have a baby. )
Working at home with an infant (AKA Emailing clients with the one arm that isn’t pinned down by a baby who I do not dare transfer to the crib)
Sharing work and care time with my husband (AKA “You go work for the next 15 minutes while I change his diaper, then I’ll work for the next 30 minutes while you feed him lunch.”)
Hiring an in-home nanny a few days a week (AKA Hear my son screaming for me through the door. Is it worse to ignore him or undermine the nanny?)
Enrolling my son in daycare/preschool (AKA It’s three o’clock already?! I’m only on #1 of my to-do list!)
Even with my partner working by my side and raising our son, it’s never been as smooth as we originally imagined.
When I was pregnant, I had idealized fantasies on how things would work, most of which differed greatly from the reality. Here’s a little of what I learned and some tips that may help you too!
Myth: “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is a great way to stay rested
This common phrase for moms doesn’t apply to the work-at-home mom. The nap and bedtime are prime times for cramming in as much work as possible before our eyelids droop uncontrollably.
Categorize your to-dos by the amount of effort required to complete them. Have a task that requires deep concentration or for you to call an important client? Plan for when you know you you’ll be at your sharpest.
Reserve any mindless tasks for times when you know you feel your best and combine tasks with daily chores and errands. For example, proofread a contract while on the exercise bike, fold the clothes while catching up with the evening news, or answer emails while on the subway or bus.
One of the best things about working from home is the flexibility and with a little creative planning, you can get done more than you think!
Myth: My child will quietly play by himself while I work nearby
It seems ridiculous now, but before my son was born, I thought toys were enough to keep kids occupied and age appropriate toys meant they could play safely. Right? Apparently not.
I know every child is different, but for my almost-three-year-old, toys are just the gateway into some other highly messy, loud, or dangerous activity that needs my attention. To often I’m faced with a, “Mommy, can I show Mickey how to use the knife?” Or, “I’m just getting the screwdriver, my Thomas needs new batteries.” Or, “Mommy, I don’t want to play with any of my toys, I just want to climb on your head.” Basically, a non-ideal working condition.
I’m afraid there’s not a lot you can when you have to get work to do and don’t have childcare. As moms, we know that our children and their safety always come first, but we also know that there are occasionally emergency situations.
I like to have a few of my son’s favorite and rarely played-with toys on hand just in case these times come up. Everyday-toy-bin toys won't work—a preoccupied mommy is ALWAYS more enticing than those.
When the child is younger, you may get away with a play-pen, bouncer, or swing. For infants, a baby wrap leaves you hands free for typing while also giving you the ability to sway the little one to a nap. (With a few deep knee bends, you get the exercise in too!)
And then there are my true “in-case-of emergency” props: The iPad and TV. These are great last resorts, especially if you withhold them normally (which I do).
Once I had a video conference call with a client and my childcare fell through at the last minute. I couldn’t cancel the call so I gave my then two-year-old the iPad and turned on a Thomas video. Between the two forbidden delights, his head nearly exploded from joy and I got a child-free 30 minutes to handle the call. Not an ideal situation, but sometimes you just gotta do it.