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Straight out of college, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant and job hunting with a baby bump—not exactly ideal. I knew being a stay-at-home mom wasn't in the cards for me (nor was I sure I wanted it to be; after so many years studying and interning, I was desperate to put my degree to use). I found a great job, all was good, but then after a very short maternity leave I was back in an office, hours from my newborn, utterly heartbroken.
There has to be another way, I told myself.
Nine months after he was born, after countless mornings sobbing on my two-hour commute, I up and quit. People thought I was BANANAS to leave a "stable" and "secure" job (in a recession, nonetheless!) for the shaky world of freelance writing, piecing together jobs and part-time internships to make ends meet.
Six years later, I don't regret that decision. In fact, I think it was the bravest and most necessary choice I've ever made, next to having my son. I can confidently say that I've made this WAHM life work, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to raise my son during his earliest years while also building my career.
That being said, it hasn't always been easy. While telecommuting and freelancing allows more flexibility to design a work schedule around our lives (something that past generations of mothers never had), it's not exactly the golden ticket to work-life equilibrium. In fact, some might find it harder than physically going to an office every day.
If I could go back in time, I'd make the same decision again and again. But there are certain things I wish I knew before venturing into the work-from-home life:
1. There are basically two time periods when it's easy to work from home
A) When you only have one pre-mobile baby who is easily entertained by light filtering through blinds and who regularly naps
B) When the kids are older and understand not to bug you when you're working. Any time in between is a crap shoot.
2. It's impossible to work and parent at the same time
At least not without doing both of them poorly. Compartmentalizing your time is key.
3. You will need help, and this doesn't make you lazy or a complete failure
Even if it's a part-time mother's helper or a babysitter a few hours a week, childcare is necessary and important.
4. Even so, you'll still find yourself saying things like, "Now now..." and "In a minute" and "Mommy's busy" more times than your guilt-heavy heart can handle
5. On the days you have a deadline or big project, your child will suddenly refuse to nap, or come down with a high fever or insist on being carried and coddled ALL DAY
Count on it.
6. On the days you wake up at the crack of dawn to catch up on work, your child will sense your ambition and wake up
Usually with an attitude. Count on this, too.
7. The laundry and dishes will call to you like a siren luring you away
You must ignore this. Get comfortable with the idea of letting SOMETHING go for the day, and if it's a clean sink then so be it.
8. It's also way easier to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, or obsessively refresh Facebook and Gmail like a crazy person, than to buckle down and work
Working from home is not for the undisciplined among us.
Internet wormholes are real, and they'll drag you in. (This is where apps like "SelfControl" come in handy, blocking distracting sites for a specified amount of time.) Working from home often takes a herculean level of mental strength just to stay focused and on task, considering there's no boss standing over your shoulder and no immediate repercussions to your laziness. Working from home is not for the undisciplined among us.
9. That being said, sometimes adding other aspects of discipline to your life—a challenging exercise program or consistent yoga and meditation practice—can add discipline and mental toughness to other aspects of your life
Including the ability to sit and focus without clicking through Facebook trends.
10. No one will understand that you're actually working from home
People will think you have time to gab on the phone or grab lunch or do a quick favor. And it's really hard to say no because ... well ... see #8.
11. Our kids won't understand, either
Especially not during the demanding toddler years. There comes a time when it's easier to sneak away to a coffee shop for a few hours, because having our kids see us and not be able to have our attention is often harder than having us leave and come home on a consistent schedule.
12. Even the government won't understand—at least not here in New York
I was told that I didn't qualify for help.
Back in 2010, when I was in the beginning of my freelance career and financially struggling, I tried to apply for childcare assistance. After a full six hours in the waiting room, I was told that I didn't qualify for help. Since I technically didn't leave the house to work, my toddler could be home with me. "Put on educational television," the woman suggested. He was 18 months old at the time. RIGHT, that would work.
13. Relying on family and friends to watch the kids will almost always lead to anger and resentment
14. It will take a while to find a schedule that works for you
(Am I a night owl? An early bird? What happens when my kid stops napping?!) And the schedule will keep shifting as phases change, requiring us to re-find our footing. Basically you'll never totally feel like you have the work-life thing down to a science, at least not for more than a day.
15. The ability to work in your underwear is a major perk of the gig, but it can also grate on your self-esteem
Some people find it necessary to actually get dressed like a fully functioning grown-up to feel somewhat human and competent.
16. Working from home is lonely and isolating, without co-workers to bounce ideas off or get direct feedback
You might find yourself talking out loud to no one, just to keep yourself company. (That being said, the online writer friends I've made through the years have saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Some of my dearest friends are women I've met through blogging.)
17. You'll have to come up with a retort for people who say things like, "Ha must be nice" when you say you work from home
You'll also hear many people say, "Oh wow, how'd you get that job? Could you get me that job, too?" as if it's a fun little side hobby that anyone can do. The lack of commute makes our career that much less legitimate.
18. Yet those people don't see the sacrifices made for the work-in-pajamas lifestyle, like a steady paycheck, retirement plan, health benefits and sick days
We squeeze eight hours of work into two- and three-hour blocks of time.
They don't realize we squeeze eight hours of work into two- and three-hour blocks of time, often pulling all nighters for our "must be nice" work schedule. And don't get me started on tax season.
19. You'll have a hard time knowing where you fit into the "mom wars"
You're sort of a stay-at-home mom ... but not really. And you're sort of a working mom ... without the typical challenges of a 9-to-5 job.
20. And yet despite all the modern-day difficulties of the telecommuting parent, the ability to kiss my child "good morning" and tuck him in each night makes it all worth it