In the ongoing debate that continues to unnecessarily pit working mothers against stay at home moms, there exists an almost mythical solution that combines the best of both worlds: moms who work from home. Viewed in its best light, working from home does seem like the ultimate opportunity. Mothers can maintain professionally rewarding careers and contribute to their family finances while still being at home to care for their kids, maintain their houses, and perform that endless list of tasks stay at home moms face every day. For many, working from home appears to be the ultimate solution to their career/motherhood dilemma.
At various points in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work from home, and let me say that it is everything wonderful and beneficial that outsiders think it is. Yes, I get to maintain my professional status and contribute to my family’s income. Yes, I can pick my daughter up at preschool, I’m always available if someone gets sick, and we typically have edible meals on the table and mostly-folded clean clothes in the drawers. Looking at it from that perspective, it does sound pretty amazing.
Let me add that working from home is also the most stressful job I’ve ever undertaken.
The problem with working from home is that full time careers and full time motherhood are both full time jobs, and moms who work from home exhaustingly try to cram both of those roles into a short 24 hour day. Trying to take my professional career seriously while hosting a Disney princess tea party for my four year old and keeping my two year old from again diving in the bathtub and turning the water on while fully dressed is almost impossible. While I try to get as much work done as I can while my children are napping, every mom knows that nap time doesn’t always work out the way you had hoped.
And don’t get me started on the housework… There is a never ending list of chores that need to be done around my house, not to mention the day to day necessities: dishes, laundry, meals. When you work from home and you’re surrounded by piles of laundry, sticky floors, and Christmas decorations that should have been put away MONTHS earlier, you feel compelled to get up and address those issues instead of focusing on your professional obligations. When you work in an office and you walk out the front door in the morning, you can leave all those distractions behind. Even if you’re still thinking about them throughout the day, you can’t do anything about them because you’re at work. When I worked in an office, I still had piles and piles of unfolded laundry — I just didn’t care about it when I was at work.
Being a stay at home mom is a full time (24/7) job. Trying to toss a career in on top of that requires both extensive time management skills and an endless amount of patience and flexibility. Having learned the hard way what it takes to have a successful career working from home, I’ve compiled my top tips for helping moms who work from home make the most out of their precious time.
1. Have reliable childcare. This point sounds counterintuitive given that many women stay home to avoid the high costs of child care, but don’t let this one catch you unprepared at the worst time. Chances are good that if you’re working from home, moments will arise when you’re going to need to give 100% of your attention to a professional obligation or project and your children are not going to cooperate by quietly playing while you work. Having back up childcare so you can focus on important conference calls or meet critical deadlines is a must.
2. Find a dedicated workspace. For the longest time my “home office” was my kitchen table. While I have a lovely kitchen, it reached the point where I was spending most my waking moments there. Having a dedicated work space helped my personal sanity and allowed me to establish boundaries between my professional and personal life.
3. Be Social. People who go to offices every day have a built in network of other people to talk to and opportunities to interact with the outside world. When you work from home, it’s very easy to become isolated, so it’s important to find ways to get out of your house. Whether it’s the gym, a book club, or simply meeting up with a friend for an occasional coffee, don‘t lose touch with the outside world.
4. Split the Household Chores. Just because you’re home all day doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tackle all the household responsibilities, unless, of course, you want to… Remember, you’re ridiculously busy during the day doing the jobs of several people, so it’s not unreasonable to think that partners working outside of the house could pitch in when they get home. After all, you’ve been at work all day too.
5. Take Time Off. When you’re working from home, sometimes it can seem like an endless cycle of work and house responsibilities. If given the option, many moms will find themselves working all the time, just to keep up. While working from home brings a lot of flexibility, it’s important to remember to give yourself some time off from both your professional and domestic responsibilities. People that work in offices get time off, you should too.
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