For the past three years, I’ve been a work-from-home mom. I thought I was mostly alone, but quickly found out that working from home isn’t all that uncommon.
I had an opportunity to speak with Holly Petersen, the Director of Client Services for Turbine Interactive, a completely virtual marketing communications firm that specializes in interactive technology and web development.
Holly and I talked at length about the things we like and dislike about working from home. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how similar her thoughts and feelings on the subject were to my own. We agreed that for every plus, there’s an equal minus.
“It’s all about balance,” she said. “You have to juggle work responsibilities with home and parenting responsibilities without a visible separation between the two when you’re not leaving the house to go to work.”
Working from home can be both convenient and inconvenient for a mom. While it’s nice to be able to skip the makeup and the morning commute, the interruptions can be extremely frustrating.
My kids are old enough to be home with me while I work and close enough in age to be able to keep one another occupied…most of the time.
“I’m bored and I need someone to play with,” is something I hear my kids say quite often.
But the interruptions aren’t just in the form of children. When was the last time you had a door to door salesman show up at your office trying to sell you new siding or the latest and greatest cleaning product?
Another work-from-home mom I spoke with, Beth Mastre, understands what I mean about interruptions:
“I’ve worked from home for 14 years and for me working from home is the only option, it is about control of time and environment. With that said, there is a bit of a trade off. I work in the high tech sector with companies like HP, IBM, and Symantec, and I spend most of my days on the phone talking with EVP level contacts. What is imperative to me is keeping my youngster quiet and not interrupting at the wrong time. For this reason, I’m always jealous of my husband being able to leave the house for work, he doesn’t get interrupted by our son and he simply does not come home until his work is done, whatever time that might be. I on the other hand, can have all kinds of unexpected interruptions, everything from I’m hungry, to there is someone at the door, to I’m bored.”
As far back as my kids can remember, I’ve worked from home.
I asked my kids, “Do you like that I work from home?” Their response was an overwhelming yes.
“I don’t want to have to go to daycare while you’re at work,” my 6-year-old said.
“I like that you’re HERE,” my 9-year-old said.
But working from home is far from a substitute for child care. Even though my kids have the option of staying home with me, they don’t get to do so all the time. When school’s in session, it’s easier. During the summer I do my best to keep them occupied with day camps and trips to grandma’s house.
“Working from home, as a mom of two young kids, has its challenges. I'm fortunate enough to have a nanny - because despite what people might think about the luxuries of working from home - it's impossible to share work time with kids time. It was key in my home to set the rules early on. My son, who is now 4, and my daughter, who is 16 months, don't know any different. They know when the nanny arrives in the morning, that it's time for mommy to 'go to' work,” Lisa Bishop, Vice President of Gray Digital Media and work-from-home mom said.
When my kids are at home, they understand the boundaries I’ve created for them. They know to take notice when I’m on the phone and they recognize my “concentrating really hard” face. They use a dry-erase board to communicate with me when talking is not an option.
“From the point my son could start to understand that I had a home office, around the age of two (he’s now seven), I starting laying the ground work of rules around Mom’s office. My son is always welcome in, but he knows to open the door quietly and look to see what I’m doing, before saying anything. In an effort to help him feel like he is part of my work world, I also let him do homework in my office while I’m working. I’ve got a great comfy chair and lap pad for him, so to him it is special and allows us to be in the same space. I also take proactive steps to semi plan out his day, when it is just him and me. We set it up, so that there is structure, yet fun! An afternoon might look like, 30 minutes of reading, 1 hour of Lego time, 15 minutes of math problems, 30 minutes of cartoons and 30 minutes of drawing. By providing structure, he knows what is going to do and I’ve engaged him to have him help me set that structure,” Beth Mastre said.
“They're not permitted to enter my office when my door is closed. They know this means I am not available to them. My son will occasionally ask me 'mommy, are you doing inside work, or outside work today,' which means, am I going to be in my office, or do I have meetings out of the house ... This is his world. My husband works in a traditional office setting - so my son also understands that there is work out of the home as well. It's not difficult on him because he knows no different. It makes me think about what his perception of 'work' is as he grows up. ‘mommy gets to play on the computer and talks on the phone all day’,” Lisa Bishop added.
“Is there anything you don’t like about me working from home?” I asked. My kids couldn’t think of anything.
I was surprised at that. One of the hardest things about working from home is the increased availability to do your job. It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day and it’s far too easy to take care of work-related things during the evenings and on weekends.
I’m not alone in this either.
“What is hardest about working from home is being disciplined to separate the two, particularly during evenings and weekends. Because it is so readily available, it's difficult to stay away. It's difficult to wrestle with the guilt that sets in when I realize that I'm working on my kids' time. Creating a healthy balance between the two so that I can still be involved in their lives, and what's going on in their day, but remain productive is important,” Lisa Bishop said.
“When you don’t work in a physical office, it’s less obvious when you take time off. The people you work with don’t see that you’re “out of the office” and you find yourself working when you’re on vacation with your family,” Holly Petersen added.
Working from home may be unconventional, but if anyone can make it work, who better than a mom? Isn’t it our job to juggle seventeen things at once?
Mothers always find ways to fit in the work - but then when you're working, you feel that you should be spending time with your children and then when you're with your children, you're thinking about working. -Alice Hoffman