Imagine. After searching for a little over a year, you land a job for which you are a perfect fit. It’s an exciting field, your co-workers share your passion for what they do, and best of all, you get to choose your own hours, including whether or not you work at the office or from home. Who could ask for anything more?
Now, picture your first day on the job. You’re pumped and ready to dig into your first assignment. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the smoke alarm goes off. But here’s the catch. You can’t turn it off. It’s daily protocol for the company to sound the alarm every day for 20 minutes. So, you take a deep breath and attempt to tune it out for a while, until a car alarm starts blaring outside the window. You are so excited to start on this project, but the distractions are almost too much to bear. If you stop working, you’re not performing your job. But working with this chaos is nearly impossible. So, what kind of job is this? It’s the best, and at times the worst of both worlds; A part-time job working from home…with kids.
Working from home sounds wonderful, initially. Benefits include creating your own hours, working in the comfort of your own space, even working in your pajamas. But for those who work from home with children, it’s a whole new ball game. You are not on your own watch, but theirs. You’re on a deadline and your last string because Johnny is teething and has substituted crying for breathing, and Maggie has thrown herself into a tantrum because she wants cereal not waffles, and her favorite doll is touching Johnny’s pacifier. Suddenly the convenience from working at home, has transformed into a roadblock between you and your productivity, and let’s be real; your sanity is also at stake.
I’m not trying to scare you. Working from home can be wonderful. But as someone who is into month three of working out of my home with a 5-year-old and an infant, I’ve learned what works, and also what doesn’t, when it comes to creating a balance between being present in both your professional and personal life.
Create a schedule.
I learned very quickly that when my kids are awake, I’m not getting any work done. Although I pride myself on my multitasking skills, and could probably spit out a spreadsheet between breakfast and washing baby bottles, my kids, much like my co-workers, deserve my undivided attention. It is impossible for me to parent well and work well simultaneously. So, when my day as being a mother ends, my day as a working professional begins. That way, nothing is compromised. I attempted working on projects between naps and lunches. But, for me, it just doesn’t work. I can do both, but not at the same time. I now look forward to evenings where I can dig into my work and channel my creativity. It’s a time to reflect, and reignite the passion that I have for my field.
Keep an open dialogue with yourself and others.
Working from home takes some getting used to. Things don’t always go as planned. I’ve had to reschedule phone conferences last minute due to my daughter’s stomach flu. And because of the nonstop illnesses that our family has contracted during this brutal flu season, a date night or two has been postponed to catch up on deadlines which have already passed. Creating a successful life-work balance takes discipline and a great deal of communication. Be honest with yourself, co-workers, and loved ones about what your limits are in terms of time commitment. Overextending your time and spreading yourself too thin will not only result in a lot of unnecessary frustration for yourself, but also for those who are depending on you. Setting boundaries and communicating your needs clearly and honestly will make it easier to accomplish tasks and goals in both your professional and personal life.
Flexibility and leniency are two different words.
The flexibility of working from home can make life a lot easier, especially if you are juggling kids in the mix. But let’s be clear; flexibility doesn’t mean leniency. Flexibility in my job means one day I’m up from 4am-12am the next day taking my Son to the doctor and my daughter to dance class, and squeezing in an episode of House of Cards with my Husband who has been gone all week on a business trip, and the next day visiting two different job locations and writing three drafts for different projects. One way or another, I’ve got to get the work done. How I do it is entirely up to me, but at the end of the day, my family and my co-workers depend on me and expect me to give it my all. I owe them and myself at least that.
I have had the privilege to experience being a full-time stay at home mother, a full-time working mother, and now a stay at home mom who works part-time from home. By far, the most difficult has been the latter. Creating that balance between keeping a sound personal life and a successful professional life in the same space has been challenging, and at the same time, extremely inspiring, in that both worlds motivate me to be stronger for the sake of the other. If you’re a parent who is looking to get back in the professional world, or if you are working full-time at your 50+ hour/week job and looking for a change of pace, working from home may be the answer to achieving balance. I promise you will be working just as hard, but perhaps in a more rewarding and fulfilling way.
-Susan Madden; Member, Mom, and Guest Blogger