Making It Work
From: NEW BEGINNINGS,Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, pp 16
"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I've been offered the chance to work from home instead of coming back to the office for a while when my maternity leave is up in a few weeks. If it works out, I might even consider becoming a consultant out of my home. I'm a little worried, however, about how it's going to work out with my newborn and toddler. They're both so young and have such intense needs. How has working at home with children around worked for other women who telecommute?
I returned to work eight weeks after giving birth. My boss has allowed me to telecommute several times a month since then. Before my return to work I got my little girl on a very flexible schedule so that her daytime caregiver (my husband/her father) would have some idea of what to do at what times. This schedule is followed seven days a week so she doesn't get confused. On the days that I telecommute, I stick to that same schedule.
It's not the feedings that take up my time; it's the desire to pay attention to her instead of my work. That is why it is so important that she go down for her naps at the usual time since it is then that I can get some work done. If I were trying to work from home all of the time I would probably do the same as a friend of mine and put her in some kind of daycare for a few hours every other day or have a teenage babysitter come watch her in the afternoons while I work uninterrupted. The other alternative is to let your boss know that you will be distracted and that your work output will be the equivalent of a part-time position. Then the pressure to perform will not be quite so strong.
As with all things involving children, working at home with young ones around can be challenging, but I find it well worth the effort. I am a freelance writer/editor and the mother of two boys, ages two and a half and nine months. I have been working from home part-time since my first-born was three months old. I find the best times for getting my work done are one or more of the following: in the morning before the boys awake; during their nap time; in the evening when Daddy comes home; and at night after the boys are in bed. The key is to be flexible—there will be days, such as when the children are sick or teething, when you will not get any work accomplished. But it can be done, and it is certainly worth trying!
Working from home is a challenge for most people. It requires the discipline to work unsupervised and sometimes unaided. It requires the physical space to work in and it requires a job that is conducive to solitary work at erratic hours. When you add one or more young children to this mix, it can seem like a daunting task. I have been working part-time from home since my one-year-old daughter was about three months old and here are a few things I've learned along the way.
The most important thing I've realized is to be organized and plan out my projects in bite-sized pieces so that I can be productive and efficient in the time that I do have to work. My daughter has recently switched to one longer nap each day and that has been helpful as I can now plan for about two hours of uninterrupted work time each day—but if a younger child takes more frequent naps, just adjust your projects so that you can do small parts at a time. I also do some work in the evenings after my husband returns home, at night after our daughter is in bed, or on the weekends.
If you are likely to need to schedule meetings and phone calls, you should be very up-front with people that you may have to leave suddenly and that you may have to change plans altogether at the last minute. You can apologize for this, but don't overdo it—men and women in offices with "normal" work schedules have to change plans too, so don't blame it exclusively on your childcare situation. For anyone working from home, whether you also have children present or not, it's important to have a space designated as the "work place" so that the rest of the home is your living space. Otherwise it's too easy to find yourself trying to do bits and pieces of work all the time and never giving full attention to either your child or your work.
My husband and I share most domestic chores around the house since my full-time job is childcare and my part-time job is writing and research. If your spouse or partner cannot help or won't help, consider hiring some part-time help for basic chores so you can also have time for fun activities, too. Finally, consider hiring someone to look after your child(ren) or arrange for babysitting swaps with friends for a few hours each week so that you can schedule meetings, take phone calls, and work on time sensitive projects. The small time away from you will likely pay off for everyone. Not every job can be done from home, but many can be in this telecommunication age.
Jennifer S. R.
While I don't work much from home (just a few days or hours per week), I have some suggestions:
- Hopefully your children nap more than my baby does (mine naps a maximum of one hour at a time, maybe twice a day). If they are good nappers, or if the baby will nap in your sling while you work, you can get a lot done at that time. The sling/nap concept worked better for me when my baby was little.
- Depending on the type of work you do, you might be able to put in a few hours during non-traditional times, such as after the children have gone to bed or after your husband has come home. If this is possible, this can make your life a lot easier—you can usually find a few hours of interruption-free time this way.
- I also suggest setting up a child-safe room where you can also do your work while the children play. I don't have a toddler yet, so I'm not sure how realistic this suggestion is (it works for my seven-month-old quite well). I clear a large space for him to crawl around, and put out a bunch of toys. He is pretty content to roll around and play by himself. I talk to him while I work, and I hold him and let him look at the computer when he needs some lap time. I can also nurse him while reading stuff on my computer, although I'm not so good at typing while nursing.
- Do you know anyone else in a similar situation so you could trade duties? Or a teenager who likes playing with children?
Working from home is difficult with one baby, and will certainly be challenging with a baby and a toddler, but I'm sure you'll find an arrangement (or a combination of arrangements) that will work for you.
I have found working out of my home with my children both all consuming and also very rewarding. I feel some times that I can't win; either I am not spending enough time with my daughter or enough time working. The freedom of setting my own hours, however, is truly a joy. When my daughter, Hannah, was in preschool and kindergarten, I was able to help in the classroom and go on trips. I am always glad to be here when Hannah comes home from school, it's a great time to take a break. It is a balancing act and it's not for everyone, but it helps you earn money, have adult time, and yet also spend a lot of time with your children.
My husband and I are freelance performing artists, working at home and on the road. Our child has been with me since his birth, staying home with me and also coming with us for road days. I found that nursing him was the best possible way to make our work and family life blend. I could be in a car, at the computer, or in a rehearsal and easily offer him the nursing he needed. His other needs have been more complicated.
I think we've succeeded in meeting them because our work is scheduled around his sleep patterns— rehearsals during naps, performances around naps, writing during naps or at night. As his needs grew, I found that having a caregiver come with us to performances allowed him to move around, eat, etc., while we were performing; yet the presence of a helper never interfered with his sense that his own parents were truly in charge.
I believe that it is possible to blend work and family, but it does take creative juggling and respect for the needs of the child. It's certainly the "harder" way, but if you truly believe it's the right thing to do, it'll come together for you, and your family life will be rich. Be patient and creative. If it is at all possible, start small! Take baby steps to help you get the feel of it and understand the true scope of what is possible for you now. I have worked since my son was five weeks old and I had to make modifications in my professional life. In the time since, my professional work has continued to move forward and the family payback has been priceless.
After taking a year off from work after my son, Robbie, was born, I was fortunate enough to secure a part-time, work-from-home position as a medical newsletter writer and editor. The only reason I even applied for the job was because the ad specifically said the hours were part-time, flexible, and could be done mostly, if not almost completely, from home. I only have to go in to the office for meetings once or twice per month for three or four hours at a time.
When I just had my son, I was able to work in my office (our spare bedroom) during the day while he napped. (He took two long naps each day until he was almost 18 months old.) On days I decided that I needed a nap too, I would spend an hour or two working in the evening while my husband spent time with our son or after everyone was asleep. Once I became pregnant with my daughter, Amanda, daytime napping became more important, as did searching for, and then moving to, a larger house. (We chose a floor plan with a separate office just off our family room, where both children spend most of their waking hours.)
As my pregnancy progressed and our move came closer, I got further and further behind on my work. Fortunately, my employer was very understanding and gave me some additional help, hiring a freelance writer to help me catch up. Even so, working during nap times became an impossible task with two children—on the rare occasion that both napped at the same time, I was so exhausted (my children are just 19 months apart) that I needed to sleep as well. It took me reaching my breaking point before both my husband and I realized that we'd have to hire outside help if I was going to continue working. I don't think I'd ever be so lucky as to find such a flexible, well-paying position in my field like this one, so I didn't want to give it up.
Fortunately, the wife of someone my husband works with was looking for a job as a part-time nanny. This woman has a degree in early childhood education, but refuses to work in day care centers because she doesn't want to facilitate parents leaving their children for eight to 10 hours per day! I had met her at a company gathering and remembered that our child rearing philosophies were quite similar, so she was the perfect candidate. She now cares for Robbie and Amanda two mornings per week while I work at home in my office. She also stays with them when I have to attend staff meetings and the like. My children absolutely adore her.
The arrangement works out perfectly. I am guaranteed at least eight hours per week of dedicated work time (I still have to put in another 12 hours during nap time, in the evenings, or on weekends), and I'm never more than a few footsteps away from my children when they need to nurse, get a hug, or just say hello. As I've learned over the past two years, working from home is wonderful, but it's very, very hard to do without access to reliable, loving childcare.
Mothers not fortunate enough to find someone they can hire to care for their children while they work from home (or those not able to pay for someone to do so) might consider swapping duty with other work-from-home or stay-at-home mothers in their neighborhoods. One of my neighbors has been especially willing to bring her son, who is close in age to my daughter, over to play so she can watch all of our children while I spend an hour interviewing a source or participating in a conference call. I, of course, make myself available to do the same for her should she need me. Mothers who live in neighborhoods where such neighbors are few and far between might be able to set up a similar arrangement with mothers they meet elsewhere, such as in a local support group for work-from-home professionals, a children's play group, or even their LLL Group. LLL group members might perhaps be the best choice of all since they all usually ascribe to the same philosophies regarding breastfeeding and loving guidance.
Working out of your home can be a really great opportunity to stay with your children and also continue to provide some income for your family. As you've guessed, however, it can be challenging with little ones who require a lot of attention! I've been working out of my home ever since my first daughter was born four years ago, and I have learned a few things.
Before you decide anything, you and your husband should sit down and have a talk. Brainstorm all the details and decide as a couple how you'll work them out. Agree to revisit these issues as time goes by, as your children age, and as your work needs shift. Keeping your husband in the loop will help him to support you and ease the difficult times when your work cuts into family time. That said, be realistic about your free time, and don't overextend yourself.
Set as clear a schedule as possible dividing work and family time. That's easier said than done with young children, but you should make some attempt to work only at certain times. Plan to work either early in the morning, while children are napping, or later in the evening. Whatever you decide, don't forget about hubby, and close the door on the office when you are not working. Don't get sucked into a 24/7 schedule.
Set aside a workspace—even if it's just a corner of the living room—where you can be organized. Block it off if possible, and remember to keep important files and notes tucked away where little hands can't reach them! Get a desk calendar or day planner. Mothers tend to have lots more details to remember than the average person does, so get in the habit of writing things down.
Finally, suspend your expectations! No matter how you try, working at home will never quite approximate working out of an office. You'll have fingerprints on faxes and crayon marks on your stationery, but most importantly, you'll be home with your children!
I've been both employed and self-employed, fitting my career around the needs of my family for three decades. In a nutshell, the best strategy for working at home is to learn to work in bits and pieces of time. Give up any hope of getting long, uninterrupted stretches where you can concentrate. I set up my work and got the right equipment so I could work where my children were—in the kitchen while watching the stove; on the porch while my children were playing in the yard; and rising early to take advantage of quiet hours in the morning before everyone else is awake. I wore my babies on my body in slings or tie-on carriers and later, in frame-style backpacks. I took them everywhere with me. You'll be surprised at the little chunks of time that appear when you are least expecting them, if you're not resentful of the needs of your family.
Advice? Negotiate for task oriented, part-time duties rather than putting in "X" hours a week, and don't travel out of town. Do make it a point to attend most or all staff or departmental meetings so your colleagues and boss do not forget that you're a member of the team. Get a good laptop computer and high-speed Internet connection. Learn to save your work quickly when somebody needs you—don't put off the children to finish a paragraph or even a sentence. Carry your personal digital assistant (PDA) with you at all times, or place pads of paper, pads of sticky notes, or a small tape recorder in various spots around the house and in the car to jot down ideas when you're on the fly. Establish "work" hours, but be prepared to be flexible. Decide and negotiate with your spouse about what non-child chores you're willing to pay for or relinquish, as something has to "give."
Don't even think about consulting quite yet—that kind of work takes a huge amount of mental and physical energy and time, and usually there will be travel as well. Build up your skills and experience now, while your children are young. Over the years, I only accepted positions that I could fit around my family's needs.
For me, working at home has been an experience I would trade for no other. While it can lead to some hectic times, such as when there's a tight deadline to meet, the rewards are much greater than the problems. I've found that I work around my children's schedules. Most of my work is completed during times that they are both either napping or asleep for the night. I tend to work very early in the morning, too, while the house is still quiet. While they are awake, I can focus all of my time and energy with them, as so many other mothers out there would like to be doing.
Take this opportunity to work from home and embrace it. You can't imagine how many mothers out there would love the opportunity that you've been given! It will definitely have its ups and downs, and you will most certainly be challenged with the balancing act of being a career mother and a stay-at-home mother. Still, it's an experience that you will never regret if you have the positive attitude and the sense of humor needed to get through these times, raising your children while they are so young, and still contributing to the family income. Good luck to you and go for it!
I have found that working at home with children works best if you set your schedule ahead of time and set up some routines. My goal is to get my work done in the evenings after the children go to bed or in the mornings when my husband is home (he starts work at 2 pm, very nice!). At some point my husband and I realized we also needed to establish some down time so that our family could have a little time with everyone together. For us, that meant one morning a week and one full weekend day, with the other weekend day available as needed for work. Of course, flexibility is key, but knowing that there will be times when I'm not trying to squeeze in more work helps my husband feel better about the time I do spend working.
If I'm in a pinch, then I also work when baby is napping and four-year-old brother is ready for some downtime in front of the TV or playing a computer game. I try not to do this more than once a week, but I do squeeze in a check of my email when the children are occupied. I believe it is critical for work-at-home mothers not to expect to do work that requires concentration when the children are awake, unless another person is available to help care for them. I don't think this is fair to you or your children.
I feel fortunate to be able to do much of my work from home these days. Although I do not telecommute, I do consulting services online and all of my paperwork, insurance work, progress notes, correspondence, etc., from home. I am a psychotherapist. Although I do go into a rented office several days a week now to see my clients, half of my workload is conducted from home. I have a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. When my daughter was born, I had no option but to go into work as my husband was out of work and I supported the family. He was Mr. Mom. He would bring my daughter in three or four times a day to breastfeed. I worked twelve-hour days, four days a week, as clinical coordinator for a women's substance abuse program. I still hold regrets and some resentment that I missed my daughter's babyhood from a day-to-day perspective.
Last October, when my son was one, I decided that I had had enough. At that point I was part-time as my husband was working but I was so sad and depressed not being there for my children full-time. I decided to start my own practice. In the beginning things were slow so I had quite a bit of time with them. Now that I am busy, however, I find that, although I work around my children's schedule, I still have to put their needs second if I have a crisis call or an email consultation that I must respond to. I go into the office only two mornings a week. My daughter is now in school and my son enjoys his play with other children in daycare. The rest of my office hours are done when my husband comes home at night or on the weekends in order to accommodate my children and have them with their parents as much as possible. I don't work too late as I still nurse my three-year-old and would not miss bedtime for anything. I nurse him to sleep and he, my daughter, and I share a bed. It is such a special time.
At times I find that this is a tough arrangement since often I have the children while dealing with some pretty difficult client issues on the phone. I find myself billing, writing correspondence, or even researching an issue after 10 at night once the children are tucked in. It can be exhausting; however, I would not trade this arrangement for anything in the world.