Confessions of a Work-at-Home Mom: The Rules of Engagement
The work-at-home gig isn’t an easy or a glamorous one. As with any uphill battle, a plan is worth its weight in gold. That’s why I do my darnedest to follow these ten rules – or, as I like to call them, the Ten Rules of Engagement for the Work-at-Home Parent.
1. Wear clean underwear.
When you work from home, sometimes it’s a little too easy to slum it in your PJs all day. Don’t be that parent. Rather than make a beeline for the desk in the morning, hop in the shower. Then, dress in something that you wouldn’t be embarrassed about if someone were to drop by unannounced (don’t be that parent, either). My bet is that you’ll find you make more widgets when you’re wearing a nice pair of jeans and a starched cotton dress shirt than when you’re still wearing your bunny slippers and yesterday’s work-out clothes.
2. Straight up now tell me.
Now that we’ve got on clean skivvies, let’s talk about full disclosure: If you work for yourself, be straight forward with those with whom you work about when you can be at your desk and when your presence in the backyard is absolutely required for the prevention of emergency room visits. They’ll appreciate the heads up.
3. Overcommitting: It’s just another commitment issue.
On the same note as the previous, don’t make promises to yourself or to anyone else about what you are and are not able to do that you can’t keep. Your blood pressure levels and your therapist both will thank you.
4. Respect The Nap Time.
Unless you want the rest of your day to look like Hiroshima circa August 7, 1945, you need to do whatever you can to maintain your child’s nap schedule. Everyone knows what happens if you wait too long and your kiddos fall asleep in the back of the car between appointments, and it’s equally frightening to think of what you’ll have to deal with if you attempt to skip nap time altogether. The worst case sceneario? Your kids will figure out how to do without nap time forever. Life as you know it at that point will be over. Cling to this wonderful time while you still can.
5. Maintain white space in your schedule.
It seems easier to say yes to projects when you know you can work on them from home than it is to give those same projects the nod if it means you’ll have to get dressed in something resembling business casual and sit in a cubicle all day to do the work. I have a dare for you: Attempt to underschedule yourself. Say no what feels like a little too often. Since most tasks take longer than you think they will, my bet is that you’ll come out pretty much even if you employ this strategy. At least, that’s been my experience.
6. Stopping the “Mom, mom, mom!” syndrome: It starts with you.
I’m talking generally in the direction of work-at-home parents of young children when I say this, but nothing invites disaster like taking your eyes off of a conscious baby or toddler, even for one measly second, to try to squeeze in an extra minute of work. If you aspire to raise children who enter into adulthood with all the limbs with which they were born, all smartphones, laptops and anything else that your job requires that could potentially steal your attention away from your accident-prone offspring are shut away in the office unless the kids are in La-La Land or are safely in the care of a capable individual who can pay your kids some undivided attention.
7. Get off the guilty bus.
Just because we don’t work in an office doesn’t mean we work-at-home parents don’t come down with a serious case of working mommy guilt from time to time. Rather than swallow your emotions or spoil your children with a monthly allowance of 37 Zhu Zhu pets, address with yourself or with a loved one why you’re feeling this way. If you make the effort and suffer the slight discomfort of completely unpacking your feelings as close to when they happen as possible, it’s easier to understand guilt for what it is and to keep it at arm’s length – and away from your budget for fad children’s toys.
8. No excuses.
“I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language. Just like the word “no,” these words are a complete sentence and stand on their own. Don’t diminish them with excuses that are anything short of your left arm spontaneously combusting or your spouse accidentally driving the minivan through the local AT&T outlet. Everyone’s schedules explode from time to time, and we’ve all watched helplessly as people and work and events that are important to us fall off the plate. Just don’t go blaming it on the fact that you work from home and often in the presence of seemingly insane juvenile minds.
9. Send your mate the occasional saucy DM.
OK, so this is me and my husband’s idea of fun, but what I’m say here basically is this: Find a way to reconnect with your mate as often as possible. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time – five minutes counts – and it doesn’t even have to involve text messages that you have to have your best friend swear to delete before your grandmother finds them in the unthinkable event that something were to happen to you and your love bunny. Sometimes a simple joke and a good laugh together is all you need to meet in the middle after a long day of working within the same four walls in which you also spend your evenings.
10. Wave the white flag.
Surprise! No one really expects you to raise your children full time, work full time and keep your home the picture of a 1950s vacuum cleaner commercial full time – at least, no one except you and maybe your mother-in-law, and we big boys and girls don’t give a rip about what she thinks. So when you need it, ask for help. You might be surprised to find how many of your friends and family have been waiting for the opportunity to give you a hand.
What are your tips for balancing the work you love and your family? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.