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Making It Work

Meeting Needs and Making Deadlines

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 5, September-October 2006, pp.222-224

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published 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 lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I work from home and up until now have been able to work around my daughter's schedule. Now that she is older and more mobile I am getting nothing done. It is getting to the point that I wake up in the middle of the night to nurse my daughter and cannot fall back to sleep for all the worries of deadlines and projects I should be tackling each day. How can I continue to meet her need to be close to me and also meet my own need to accomplish something?

Mother's Response

I also work from home and have lain awake for hours after nursing my little one back to sleep. When this happens, I know that I am overtired.

It seems that if I put some effort into getting more rest (usually by taking a short nap during the day or by going to bed at a reasonable hour), everything seems better and I don't feel so anxious about all the work I need to do. Once my anxiety is under control and I am thinking more rationally, I can usually figure out a way to do what I need to do. I am not very productive when I am stressed and tired. I have also learned to stop worrying about deadlines and focus on just getting the work done.

If I wake up and can't get back to sleep, I get up and do some work. The next day I am usually very tired so I try to remember to take a nap or go to bed early. If this isn't possible, I'll try to energize myself by running around and playing outside with my children.

I have also found it helpful to manage my stress level by making sure that I am getting enough exercise, eating well, and connecting and having fun with my friends and husband.

Elaine Pflugh
Anchorage AK USA

Mother's Response

I started working from home three months after my first child was born. I took time off when I had my second child and increased my hours when I went back to work. I've found that a detailed schedule, a laptop, and a wireless network are very useful. The daytime schedule that I set includes time with my children, time for myself, time for work, and time for chores. When I have devoted time just to my children, they occupy themselves better when I need some work time.

Another way I am able to make my situation work is by having the option of using daycare occasionally. Even though I work from home, I go into the office for meetings a few times a month. On those days, my children go to a nearby in-home daycare. When things are really busy at home, I send my daughter there for the day, but I keep my son with me to breastfeed.

I allow my children to watch television when I really need to get something accomplished, but I stay in the room with them so that I can still interact with them as they watch. It's not my ideal situation, but if I am really busy it helps me get through the day.

I also use sleep time and their daddy as resources. When the children are napping during the day or sleeping at night, I work. Sometimes I work after dinner and before their bedtime routine when their daddy is home to play with them.

Having so many different options available helps me get through the day.

Liz Cushing
Herndon VA USA

Mother's Response

I have suggestions for the following three areas:

Work: you mentioned that you don't feel very productive. You may want to examine why you feel this way before making any changes that involve your relationship with your daughter. Time with your children cannot be recovered; however, work can always be done later.

One strategy I employed while working from home was to hire a college student with experience in child care to play with my daughter while I worked for a few hours each day. My daughter enjoyed playtime that was focused entirely upon her and involved different kinds of activities than those she and I did together. When I took short breaks from my work, I observed them playing and interacting and I usually learned new ideas for our own playtime. For the most part, it became an enhancement of our time at home, rather than a time that my child seemed unhappy.

Sleep: I read recently that you shouldn't lie in bed for more than 20 minutes if you are having difficulty sleeping; doing so will cause negative associations with your bed and sleeping. The recommendation was to get out of bed and do something (such as reading) until you feel sleepy.

Play: I highly recommend meditation for 10 minutes each day (see The Curse of the Self by Mark Leary). It will help you become calm and focused. It has been shown that people are more productive after "clearing their minds," so to speak.

I used to think that I was spending time with my daughter during the day because I was in the house with her and meeting her needs, but I realized that I was really focused on my work. It's easy to spend the whole day just meeting our children's basic needs (and taking care of business) without ever "playing" with them. I've found that my daughter only needs about 15 minutes of my attention focused solely on her before she can happily play independently for a while.

Michelle Collins
Titusville FL USA

Mother's Response

Keep in mind you are getting huge things accomplished by mothering your nursing daughter! I like to think of motherhood in terms of cycles -- at times there is more room for outside things, and at other times there is not. Enjoy the stage you are in -- it will not come again.

Projects and deadlines can be tricky. I try to remember my limits and think of work in mother-sized portions. I work around our schedule and after nursing my child to sleep at night, I work hard and fast for an hour or two. I keep a pad of paper with me to jot down work-related ideas and thoughts as they come to me.

Is there a close friend or family member nearby? You may know someone who would occasionally enjoy caring for and playing with your child while you work. Try to examine your expectations for yourself. Are you piling on too much right now? You are to be praised for your dedication as both a stay-at-home and work-at-home mother. The balancing act is overwhelming at times. Cut yourself some slack!

Vera Lynn Richardson
Chillicothe OH USA

Mother's Response

I started my own business when I left work on maternity leave. My business grew as my daughter grew. My clients loved it when I brought her with me to meetings and nursed while we talked. As my daughter became more mobile, I carried toys to keep my daughter occupied.

My challenge was completing paperwork and phone calls. I used to do a lot of data entry during the week and spent most of my business hours on the phone. I felt guilty about focusing on the computer and telephone when my daughter wanted me to read a story. I needed to concentrate in order to complete coherent thoughts and get things done. It was nearly impossible to have a professional phone call while my child experimented with ways to get my attention.

My solution was to do data entry and filing between 10 pm and 2 am while my daughter slept. I really didn't mind when she woke every two hours to nurse. After all, it's nice to take a 10-minute break after two hours of working. My husband, my mother, and I arranged our schedules so I could have 14 business hours spread over three days per week. This way, I was able to accomplish my business calls. The final two days per workweek were spent running errands for both my business and household and meeting with clients.

This solution did not leave me with much sleep. I averaged five hours of sleep per night for four years. During that time, we had a son. My daughter is now five years old and my son is two years old. A few months ago, I ran out of energy. I could no longer stay healthy with so few hours of sleep. My husband and I rearranged our schedules so I could work 40 hours per week sometime between 6 am and 5 pm, Monday through Saturday. Now I can go to sleep with my children and get around eight hours of sleep per night.

With some help of the members of your household, can you create a flexible schedule that will allow you to meet the needs of your daughter while meeting your work requirements? Do you have any extended family or close friends nearby that would be able to commit to a dependable number of hours per week so you can focus on your work?

Though the hours were hard and exhausting, I'm grateful that I've been able to be my own employer and set my own hours. I've been able to exclusively breastfeed my children for as long as they chose to nurse. When I need to take a day off to care for a sick child, I don't have to justify myself to anyone. When my children need me, I can accommodate their needs. This time in your life is so short; try to enjoy it. The baby I once nursed during client meetings starts kindergarten in the fall.

Tracy Jacoby
Shoreline WA USA

Mother's Response

I often find that being a work-at-home mother is like trying to perform several full-time jobs simultaneously. I can really sympathize with your feelings of being overwhelmed!

When I hit a rough patch where I feel overwhelmed, I find that if I force myself to let go of some "extras" for a week, no matter how much it irks me, I'm much better off. If we eat macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches a few nights in a row, if we run out of apple juice, or if we wear wrinkly clothes because I have not folded the laundry, we are none the worse for wear. Sleep and time with my children are more important than any of those other things. I've even had to resort to posting my priorities on the fridge to remind myself that a messy playroom is not on there! The children, myself, and my job are my top three priorities (in that order!). If a task doesn't directly affect one of those priorities, it's probably not worth doing if I'm already overwhelmed.

I've hired a mother's helper to help me four hours per day (I work six hours per day). She takes my children to the park or plays games and does crafts with them, but more importantly, I have turned over the bulk of my daily housework to her. When my little one is napping or nursing or playing in my office contentedly, she loads my dishwasher, chops vegetables for dinner, vacuums, or folds laundry. To me, having these things done is utterly invaluable—it frees me up for my family, my job, and myself. When my toddler wants to run and play and blow bubbles while I'm on a conference call, my helper can swoop him outside for a while until I'm ready to be with him again. My older child especially loves having someone who almost always says yes to messy crafts, baking, and other things that I sometimes don't have the energy for.

Don't forget to make yourself a high priority. You need to eat and sleep well in order to be a good mother and good at your job. For me, this is something that often falls to the bottom of the priority list. Luckily, my husband is very supportive and often encourages me to have a night out with a girlfriend, take time to work on a craft, or just sit and watch TV with him in the evening if I don't have the energy for anything else.

A wise LLL Leader once told me that having a tidy corner of the house with some comforting items (such as a cuddly blanket, a cordless phone, and a good book) where you can go and nurse your little one and not see the mess for 10 or 20 minutes is a wonderful way to recharge your batteries! I've found this to be very true. Even if the rest of the house is a mess, having a quiet corner where I focus on the important things (my nursling and myself!) is invaluable.

Another option is to negotiate for less work hours when you are feeling overwhelmed, if possible. A day off to spend with your children at the park may make you feel like a new woman and give you the energy to tackle projects that seemed overwhelming!

Heather Drewett
Burlington ON Canada

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