Can Moms work at home without losing their sanity?
Last week, we read a fascinating piece in the New York Times entitled "Home-Office Life and Its Discontents." This got many of the Moms here in the office talking about times they have worked out of the home. One Mom said she worked at home for five years before having kids and loved it, but the two years she worked from home after her son was born were hell. "I never got anything done—the only time I could work was when he was sleeping, and by then I was exhausted!" Is every day "Bring Your Children to Work Day" in your house? We contacted Julie Lenzer Kirk, author of The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business, for her pointers for WAHMs.
Mom•Logic: Is it ever really possible to work at home if you have small kids at home too?
Julie Lenzer Kirk: There are many benefits to working from home with young children, but there are also challenges to overcome, such as the interruption factor. Some tasks can be done in piece-meal fashion, but there are many that require a solid block of focus time to complete. One way many work-at-home moms work is when their child is napping. Another approach is to trade-off time watching your child with another mom who is interested in finding those blocks of time, too. You watch their child one day and they return the favor another. I have also talked to moms who have a neighborhood teenager come over after school just to play with the kids so they are occupied and Mom can get some work done. If you do that, make sure you stay out the children's sight for as long as possible. Once they see you, it is hard to go back into seclusion.
For many moms, though, the evening hours, after kids are in bed, provide the most opportunity for uninterrupted focus time. Personally, I did my best work between the hours of 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. To do that, however, you have to make sure you're taking care of yourself by getting some exercise and eating well. Otherwise, you'll drive yourself into the ground.
Another big challenge after the kids are in school is to not get pulled into household tasks while you're supposed to be working. At least in the beginning, I found the lure of laundry that needed washing, which was sitting within sight of my desk, hard to resist. Over time as you get more disciplined with your work, you can integrate some home-related tasks such as grocery shopping or running errands into your work day (going to the store in the middle of the day when it is empty is a bonus!) without it completely derailing your efforts. It is when I have to run up to my daughter's school right before a conference call that I most appreciate the flexibility that working from home provides.
Mom•Logic: How can Moms who work at home achieve any "balance"? Or are they always on the clock?
Julie Lenzer Kirk: When you work from home, it helps greatly to have your office in a room with a door you can close. That way, when you're done for the day, you leave the space both physically and mentally. When your office is in your bedroom, you are constantly reminded of the work that needs to be done, and there is ALWAYS something else to do.
I do let my work intermingle with my family life in that I talk about my daily triumphs and struggles with my kids at the dinner table and will sometimes bring my laptop down to work on something while we're all watching a movie together. I have found, however, that it is important for both you and your family to completely disconnect at times. If you work to set up a business that doesn't solely rely on you, it makes it easier to do that.
Mom•Logic: What are the advantages for a Mom working at home?
Julie Lenzer Kirk: There are many advantages for a Mom to work at home. First, you can't beat the commute. I try to take the time that I would normally be commuting and walk on the treadmill. Second, when your kids are in school, you don't have to rush home to meet the school bus. Third, you have the ability to work around your own schedule, whether you're a morning person or get
cranking in the evenings, and leave day time to spend more time with your kids. Forth, if you're like me, you want that satisfaction that comes from using a different side of your brain and contributing to the family income while still being able to be there for your family. You might not be the one sending home-baked cookies in to school for your child's birthday or sewing their Halloween costume, but you can if that is something that is really important to you.
Mom•Logic: What are the disadvantages for a Mom working at home?
Julie Lenzer Kirk: One of the hardest problems to overcome working from home is isolation. It gets lonely. You need to take the time to meet friends or a business associate for lunch or take your laptop to Starbucks and work just to get out of the house. Also, online forums are a great place to meet people with similar interests without having to leave the house.
The other disadvantage, which we discussed earlier, is letting the work take over your life. When you're the boss, it is easy to do. Pace yourself: Set realistic goals and let go of perfectionism.
Mom•Logic: What are your top tips for Moms who work at home on being happier and more effective?
Julie Lenzer Kirk: First, you have to define your own model of what success is rather than ascribing to what others think. Set your goals around what works for you and your family, but also don't be afraid to think big. You likely have a long working road still ahead of you, and what you plant as seeds when your children are babies could blossom into a business that provides income without requiring your personal effort. If financial gain is something you're interested in, consider as one of your goals to build a business that can operate without you. Also, as I said above, you have to let go of
perfectionism. You can drive yourself crazy trying to make sure everyone's clothes are wrinkle-free, all meals are home-cooked and healthy, and your business is thriving. Set your priorities and stick with them!