Work-at-Home-Mom Realities: The List
I’ve been a work-at-home-Mom since 2014. I loved being a freelancer, I loved being a Mom and appreciated the privilege of not needing to rush back to work for financial reasons. But by the time my Lil’ Pirate Dude was three months old, I craved the work. I desperately needed to feel a sense of accomplishment beyond getting all the diapers in the hamper which is still a challenge. I refreshed my email hourly in the hopes that a quick gig might appear. More than anything, I wanted conversations with adults that went beyond breastfeeding and formula and sleep patterns.
I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea how hard.
I now have a 3-year-old and 9-month-old. Here are some hard and true facts about working from home while being the primary caretaker of young children.
It changes quickly. The minute you finally find your working groove with your 4-month-old, their sleep pattern or ability to entertain themselves will change. So even if you strategically scheduled your weekly meeting to start fifteen minutes after your baby starts her nap and end 30 minutes before she usually wakes up, that very day is the day they’ll go on a sleep strike. Strap them into a Moby wrap and carry on.
You will feel guilty. You will feel the tug. You will not feel enough. You aren’t giving your kids what they need. You aren’t putting your all into your job. You missed an important call because of a diaper blowout. Your kid lunched on Goldfish because you had a deadline. There are more days like this than "balanced" days, and I learned to just let the guilt be present, acknowledge it, then move on.
You will learn to work in the (parked) car. You will learn to work in the Starbucks drive-thru. I remember reading once that a first time novelist wrote her book in the car during her kid’s soccer practices. Sometimes after a great trip to the playground, your child passes out in the car and you don’t want to risk waking them up in the transfer to bed. Pull up Google Docs on your phone and make the work happen.
Some people hear work-at-home and think you sell LuLaRoe. This depends a lot on where you live. When I was in L.A., I just said I was freelance. Here in Orlando, I’m a work-at-home writer. I don’t often get into the marketing consulting that I do because that, plus the WAH aspect, leads to people believing I sell leggings or shakes or the newest MLM. I don’t and it makes some people uncomfortable if they assume you’re going to try to sell to them. I sometimes buy Usborne books, but that’s the extent of it.
You will learn to love indoor playgrounds. I once took my baby and 500 pages of screenplays to an indoor playground to meet an editing deadline. It’s good for children to play and explore independently, and my First Mate gets a lot of practice. If you can find that $10/visit place where they can just climb and play and check in with you once in awhile, you may even meet that deadline.
You will need 2-4 options for a babysitter to accommodate different days and needs. It’s best for your peace of mind if you have at least one day that someone else is watching your child, with either them or you out of the house. When I started to work again after my second child was born, however, we didn’t have extra funds for a sitter until my freelance checks came through. You may be very familiar with that cycle. Work begets work, however, and we found the funds for an afternoon sitter once/week. Then slowly added the morning, and soon I had enough work that my oldest could be out of the house having fun two days/week while I still balanced the baby on one knee and typed with the other.
You will learn to value your time. You will also learn just how long your work tasks really take. I used a Passion Planner (not affiliated with them in any way) because you break goals down into the most minute of tasks, how long each task should take, and schedule your day down to the half hour. This is not a to-do list. This is a “I realistically only have time to get these two things done in the time that I have, so when can I schedule the other tasks?” I use three colors to code my day: blue for work/writing, orange for household/kid activities and pink for things just for me (yoga, talking to a friend not about work). If I don’t see at least one 30-minute time slot a week highlighted pink, I make sure to schedule something the next week.
You will schedule time to shower. It’s okay to take the first fifteen minutes of your babysitting time to shower. Really.
You will learn how to set boundaries. I was never big on boundaries when it came to work. With social media marketing, it’s hard to turn “off” and I rarely did. I learned very quickly as a WAHM that if I didn’t set time restraints, no one would. If I answer a text or email immediately every single time, no matter what’s happening, my clients would come to expect that. Same goes for my kids when I work in my office but their father is supervising. They can come say hello and show me something, and then they need to leave. It took some time for my 3-year-old, but he’s getting it and now only needs a quick touch base before heading back off to his Dad.
You will never wear white. I agree with pretty much everything else in this article on wardrobe basics though. Especially the stretchy dark jeans. I can’t find it now, but there was a series of photos circulating in Mom’s groups last year of work-at-home-Moms wearing glorious white clothes, laughing with their baby while they type on their glass living room table (that had a glass vase of flowers within knocking distance of the baby, even).
Sometimes it doesn’t work. Things happen. Households get sick. You’ll overbook. Teething will occur right when you had the time to finish a big project. As long as you are honest with yourself and your partner and employer or client about expectations, it isn’t the end of the world. You can do it.
Do you have questions or tips about being a work-at-home-parent? Let me know here or @cindymariej!