Work-From-Home Mom 101
When I left full-time work to stay at home with my son and freelance, I literally Googled “how to be a work-at-home mom.” I didn’t manage to find a how-to manual. Instead, I found Pinterest templates of daily schedules with rigid start and end times to children’s naps, meals, and playtime to establish household order and routine.
This left me wondering if I was doing anything right. My five-month-old son’s naps typically involved lulling him to sleep with a car ride. Or I would let him fall asleep in my arms before stealthily laying him in his Rock ‘n’ Play as if he were a piece of dynamite that could explode at any moment. These naps lasted 20 minutes. Naps that reached an hour involved me holding him gently in a dark room, going cross-eyed while scrolling through emails on my phone as the time ticked away.
As it turns out, my expectations were too high, both in expecting to find a one-size-fits-all manual on how to figure this out and in expecting a five-month-old to nap on cue. Now, a year and a half later, I have a toddler with a somewhat predictable schedule who naps in his own bed, and I have learned some tools and patience to accomplish tasks while also caring for my son.
Establish Realistic Expectations
Be realistic about what you can accomplish with your job while your child is around. You can expect to check email, brainstorm, or take a quick phone call while caring for a child, but do not expect to join an important call or sit down to focus on a big project while bouncing a baby on your lap or entertaining a toddler. Children are unpredictable, and your work requires a deeper focus from you. Do what you can here and there, but plan to set aside child-free time to conquer the big stuff.
(Speaking of child-free time, you may be wondering what that is and how you can get it. Keep reading.)
Utilize Naptimes and Evenings
If you have a brand new baby or an unpredictable sleeper, this may not be an option for you (after all, children’s naps are an art, not a science). But if your child is on a nap schedule and has a regular bedtime, hooray! You can expect to do some work during this time. When your child goes down for a nap, get to work on your tasks for the day. You may find it helpful to do all meal and toy clean-up while your child is awake, perhaps including him or her in these chores as well, so that when naptime begins you can get right to work. Use your time in the evenings, too, either after your child has gone to bed or when and if your partner is able to cover bedtime. Try to clock out of work an hour before your own bedtime so your mind isn’t reeling when your head hits the pillow.
Consider Your Childcare Options
While it’s great to get work done while your child is asleep, you cannot guarantee a long nap every time. Children get sick and have sleep regressions, and they need you at this time. And spending every evening after bedtime working is a strain on your personal life and your relationships. If it’s a possibility for you, consider your childcare options. Can you send your child to daycare a few times a week, or even once a week? Do you have a dependable babysitter or family member you can call on occasionally? This gives you some dedicated time for your work where you aren’t anticipating a cry from your child’s bedroom. Responding to emails can be done here and there with your child, but real, deep work takes uninterrupted time and focus.
Find the Tools that Work for You
If you’re working a flexible schedule, you can’t keep up with your calendar on your own. Set up notifications on your phone for calls, important emails, or anything else you need to see in real time. Figure out a space that works for you. Do you need to work behind a closed door while a sitter or partner watches your child? Do you need a laptop stand where you can check emails while keeping an eye on your child? You might find tools that have nothing to do with work are what makes work possible. For instance, if you’re spending most of your child-free time working, you might dedicate funds toward grocery delivery service or a cleaning service so your evenings can be spent on work or on yourself.
Take Care of Your Child and Yourself
Work-at-home moms cover a wide spectrum. There are moms maintaining a skillset while taking a break from full-time work and there are moms serving as the family breadwinner while working full-time from a home office. Regardless of the income you are earning for yourself and your family, your child and your health are top priorities. If you are working at home and feel your child’s needs aren’t being met, or if you are working until 3 am every night to make it all happen, you might want to reevaluate. You’re not having it all if you’re miserable.
You might not strike a constant balance. Always assess what is working and what isn’t. As soon as you’ve figured one aspect out, your child’s schedule may change, or your work responsibilities could shift. Patience is key. Did I say I found a rhythm for working around my son’s schedule? That all changed three months ago when our second son was born. Lately, I've been Googling “how to care for a toddler and a newborn.” If you have the manual on that, please let me know.
Photo by Vanessa Stoller Photography