Struggles of a Work At Home Parent and How To Overcome Them
Working from home has many perks, but it’s not without its challenges. One of the biggest struggles balancing work and family life, which is odd considering many people choose to work from home to gain work/life balance. While a home-based career can help in creating balance, it’s not automatic. Plus, working at home can bring its out set of struggles. This week, we ask work-at-home parents to share some of their challenges and how they overcome them.
1) Good doors help productivity. My home office started in a back bedroom, it was comfy, warm and easy. But, my oldest could access the room whenever he wanted. From rifling through the desk to being asked for water, or snacks in the middle of the afternoon. It was a productivity killer.
Now? My 2nd was born, so my office moved to the garage. It’s damp. Cold. You can hear people talking when they walk down the sidewalk. But, it’s awesome for productivity because there are 2 doors in the way between me and the kids. No more snack requests (it’s too far from the kitchen). No more access to my desk.
2) WFH, Doesn’t Mean Stay At Home: One thing I realized last year, everyone seems to think that working from home means you’re constantly available. I’ve learned to say no. I can’t always drive on a field trip with no notice, if someone else cancels. I can’t pick up your kids if you have to stay late at work. I have to keep a regular amount of days and time off, otherwise it starts to feel like I am being taken advantage of. After all, being around isn’t the same as always being available (even if I really value the flexibility and really do want to drive on field trips and help with emergencies…..but I cannot always).
1) Set a Schedule – If you allow yourself to be at the whim of your business 24/7 there will always be guilt when you take moments to be a mom. Setting office hours is the best way to work efficiently and not drag out your work hours longer than necessary.
2) Set Expectations – On the occasions where my children are home during my working hours I provide secret activities they have never seen before. They get new painting books, new cookie cutters to use with play-dough, new dress up jewelry. None of the secret items are expensive, they are often dollar tree items, but there is a novelty period that buys this working mama time to concentrate.
3) Be Flexible – Everything is not going to go perfectly. Some days my kids are home sick, some days my parents need me to run an errand, some days I need to veg out on Netflix. Just because you have an off day, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. I run my business on the concept of progress, not perfection. No mom guilt, that’s so 1990.
Katherine McGraw Patterson
1) Create firm boundaries with your clients, know when you’ll be available and when you won’t. I implemented a no business emails or texts after 5 or on weekends rule. It’s really hard to disengage from your business when the computer and your desk are *right there*. By creating that firm boundary of work time vs. family/me time, I not only present myself as a professional business to my clients, but I give myself permission to shut off from work and focus on other things.
2) Create firm boundaries with your family. Even young children can learn that when a parent is on the phone or in their office, that certain rules apply. I encourage my clients to invest in babysitters and childcare for young children – and to look at it as a business expense. Likewise, just because mommy is home all day, doesn’t mean I’m a stay at home mom.
I’ve trained my children and my spouse that we all need to pitch in on the housework just as if I was out of the home at an office. My kids have been helping to clean the bathrooms and do laundry since they were 5, and their duties have grown as they have.
3) Give yourself grace. A lot of my clients are women who have left the corporate world to have a family, and are now creating a business to reengage with their professional side while being present for their children. They want their business to grow and succeed, which takes a time and energy commitment that is often at odds with parenting children (especially babies/toddlers/pre-K). I encourage them to take the long view and to adjust their goals to suit the time in their lives. One of the things I recommend is to focus on the foundations of their business and networking while their children are young, so that they can springboard from a place of strength once the kids hit school age and their time opens up. Women, especially, put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and to do IT ALL RIGHT NOW. I would love to see more of us give ourselves grace in recognizing all the amazing things we are doing.
One of the big struggles of being a work-from-home parent is keeping a clear dividing line between work life and home life. When your office is just a few feet from your family, it’s easy to find the line between the two becoming overly-blurred.
You may find your work being constantly interrupted by domestic matters, or small faces appearing in the background of your video chats. Even if you have the door firmly closed, the sound of a shouting child will reach clients at the other end of the phone.
Whilst I loved having my family around me while I worked, I found in the end that some clearer separation was required between business and domesticity. I converted the garage into an office and worked from there.
That meant I could run my business more professionally and with fewer interruptions. Yet I was only a few steps from family life, and was still able to help my wife with child care. I was also able to go to school plays, assist with the soccer coaching runs and be an integral part of my children’s lives every day.
Note from Leslie
My initial reason for working from home was to raise my kids. So I had many times where I felt guilty that I was working too much and not spending time with the kids, or I wasn’t working enough because I was spending time with the kids.
When children are very young, you have to attend to them when needed, so unless you can hire someone to watch them for a few hours, you have to choose a home based career that allows you to work odd hours while your baby sleeps or your spouse his home to help.
Once they’re potty trained, you can send them to pre-school, which can give you a few hours every day or three days a week to get things done. I used to drop my kids off at pre-school, and then work at a local java joint.
When they enter regular school, it’s much easier to put in a day’s work, until breaks and summer time. And if you home school, then all bets are off.
Here’s what I did to make the time I needed to work at home, while still raise my kids:
- Have a set schedule that everyone knows and follows.
- Be prepared each time I sat down to work. You can waste time trying to figure out what needs to be done.
- For kids that are old enough, have activities for them. I designed my day much like a school, in which different parts of the day had different activities available for them.
- Stop every hour or so to check in. Kids can only go so long without interaction or supervision. Every hour or 90 minutes or so, I’d stop and spend a few minutes checking in which them, making a snack, helping with an activity, etc.
- Take time to be with the kids. During the summers, I’d work until 2 or so, and then I take the afternoon to spend with the kids at that park, pool, or an activity. Any work that didn’t get done, I’d do later in the evening.
- Have rules for the kids. Little kids will have a harder time not interrupting you, but older children should be able to respect your time. I had times (i.e. when I was on the phone) in which I told the kids they couldn’t interrupt me unless there was fire or blood.
- Get kids involved. Depending on the work you do from home, why not have them help out?
- Have a routine but be flexible. Kids are going to interrupt or need you. Best laid plans never come to complete fruition. So relax and know that things won’t always go the way you want.
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