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Making It Work

Handling a Home Office

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 6, November-December 2003, pp. 218

"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.

Situation

I worked in an office away from my home with my first child and now that I have given birth to my second child, my husband and I have decided that it would be better if we can figure out a way that I can earn an income without leaving home. I spoke with my boss and he decided to give me a trial period of three months to see if I can work from home and maintain my previous high level of performance. I need to make this work and would love some tips from other parents who work from home. I will have to go in for meetings and at other times, maybe two or three hours a week. How do I find a sitter to watch my children during that time period? Also, how do I complete my work while caring for and meeting the needs of a preschooler and an infant?

Response

Caring for both a preschooler and an infant is a double challenge. I believe you will be able to find a way to make it work out for everyone. It involves a little give and take, yet the benefits are worth it. I've worked a full-time job from home since my now nine-month-old daughter was 10 weeks old. There are stressful days when I'm not sure how I do it, but I've discovered a few tricks to make it a bit easier.

Because I "power work" during my daughter's naps, it was important that we set up a nap routine right from the beginning. Even if your preschooler doesn't nap much, you can establish quiet time.

It's important to create a safe place for your children to play that is close to your work area. Set up a play area, with lots of age-appropriate activities to entertain the children. Since I'm not paying the high cost of child care, I can afford to purchase a few extras to help us through the day. Before my daughter was mobile, I had an activity mat, bouncy seat, exer-saucer, and a hanging jumpy seat near my desk. I would talk to her while doing computer work. Now that my daughter is crawling and pulling up, I rearranged her area to include a large, gated play yard that is completely baby proof. I can see and communicate with her while she's playing, but if I'm distracted by a phone call, I know she's safe.

Try to get out of the house at least once a day, even if it's just for a walk. My daughter and I both get tired of seeing the same four walls all day. Sometimes I plan "lunch hour" around activities at the library. I take my pager and cell phone in case anyone from work needs me, and I'm always prepared to come home early if something comes up that needs my attention. We also have an occasional play date with other mothers and babies. As long as my work gets done, I allow myself some time off during the day on occasion, and I make it up after my daughter goes to bed.

Susan Calloway
Ellington CT USA

Response

Good luck with your work-from-home trial period. I have been "working from home" since March of 2000 when my first child was born. I work approximately 28 hours during regular business hours supplemented by four hours of flexible time put in during the evening or over the weekend. The best thing about working from home for me is my ability to continue to breastfeed on demand and to feel close and connected to both my children (three-and-a-half and six months) while I am "at work." Having no commute and not having to decide what to wear in the morning are just icing on the cake!

Be available to your co-workers when you say that you are going to be working. For my job, it is important that I am available during some regular business hours to participate in meetings via phone or if someone should call or email. I let people know when I am available and I do my best to be available during those times. If I need to be absent from my home office for an extended period, for instance if my child is sick or I have a doctor's appointment, then I let my boss know this and use personal/sick time for these instances.

Be willing to go into the office when needed for important meetings, discussions with your boss or whatever event may be important for you or for your boss to have you physically present. Be willing to meet your boss halfway. In the current economic market, the employer really holds all of the power. Sometimes you have to be willing to be a little more flexible in determining your work options.

Make arrangements for the tools that you'll need to be productive in advance of your work start date—things such as a second phone line, high speed Internet connection, computer, printer, fax, or whatever equipment is appropriate for your job. Some companies will pay for some of these items (although this may not be available to you in your trial period). I recommend doing as much as possible in advance of your back-to-work start date because setting up a home office can eat up time that you'd really rather be doing your job. This is particularly true for you since your boss is giving you a trial period.

Within reason, do your best to meet your deadlines. Sometimes I think this means that you actually work a little bit harder from home than you might by going into the office everyday. And without being annoying about it, make sure that your boss knows that you are getting your work done.

Arrange for child care if needed—I know that I could not get my job done if I didn't have someone watching my children and I believe that I would be doing a disservice to my children if I tried to parent them while working at the same time. Only you will be able to decide what is manageable for you and right for your children.

As in any household, the juggling can get hectic and overwhelming at times. I feel lucky to work for a technology company which makes it acceptable and easy for me to work from home. It is not unusual for business to be conducted via email, the Internet/intranet, and teleconference; nor is it unusual for members of the same group to be physically located around the globe working from traditional offices, home offices, hotels, and airports.

Kris Johnson
Medford MA USA

Response

After my daughter's birth, I arranged to work part-time from home, spending only one morning a week in the office. It was supposed to be a way for me to transition back to working in the office full-time. What my employer and I discovered was that when I worked at home, I was able to accomplish just as much as before, but in a shorter amount of time. There are as many (or more) distractions in an office as there are at home, but we are less conscious of them because we are "at work." Though I rather missed the meetings, office parties, and discussions with co-workers, without them I could get a lot more done!

My experiment with working at home was so successful that my manager wasn't even particularly upset when she asked when I was coming back full time and I replied "I'm not." For me, it was necessary to have some help with child care. Much of the time my daughter was with me while I worked, but she also spent a couple of hours with my mother each morning. I found that if I had that block of time to concentrate without interruption I could fit the rest of my work hours in during naps or when my husband was home.

If you don't have family nearby, you might look for another mother to help out with babysitting when you need to go to the office. Ask around at LLL meetings, playgroups, in your neighborhood, or place of worship and you'll probably find at least a few stay-at-home mothers who would be interested in earning some extra money by babysitting.

You could also hire an energetic and enthusiastic teenager to come to your house after school to play with your children. That way your children would be entertained, but you'd be right there if they needed you.

Karen Varney Shaw
Fairfax VA USA

Response

I admire your realization that working from home is better for your children at this important time in their lives. My situation isn't much different from yours. When my three-year-old, Moriah, was seven months old I started working part-time in the office and she came with me. While I was pregnant with my second baby, I proposed working from home after my maternity leave. Because I had already proven my abilities and productivity, this was an option and was considered. Also during the pregnancy, my toddler stopped napping in the office, but would still nap at home. I wasn't sure that I could dedicate two full days a week, so I suggested working two to five every afternoon from home. This way Moriah can take her nap and I can focus on work and the baby.

So far, this arrangement works well for us. Moriah doesn't always nap the whole time, but with a videotape of a children's show or some of her toys, she usually does okay with minimal supervision while I work—and she stays in the same room as me so I can keep an eye on her. The baby is six months old and sometimes she naps, sometimes she plays, sometimes she's on my lap trying to type on the keyboard while I work. I am trying to adjust her sleeping time to encourage napping while I work. I, too, have to go into the office sometimes. I reserve some toys for the office, so Moriah doesn't get tired of them as quickly. I also take snacks for her that she may not normally get at home to make it a fun treat. Talking to her each day for a few days before we go in also helps. Explaining what we are going to do helps her know that I expect her to play quietly and stay near mommy.

Kymberlie Stefanski
Villa Park IL USA

Response

I have to say it was very challenging to care for an infant by myself and work (and I only did it one day a week!), but here are some suggestions I have for making "telecommuting" work.

Commit to your job. If the paycheck is important to you, don't jeopardize it by thinking that working from home means you can "slack off" here and there. I often had friends ask me with a wink, "So do you 'cut out' early some days?" I always told them that working from home is a privilege that my company allows me and I would not put that privilege at risk. Your family comes first, of course, but remember to keep focused on your job to show your boss that you are serious about making your situation work for both you and the company.

Find out what your supervisor expects your working hours to be, and if possible, ask for as much flexibility as you can. Unfortunately, I was expected to work normal working hours (8 am to 4 pm), and that can be challenging when you're caring for an infant (and even more so for you, with two children). Ask if you can be allowed to work flexible hours, and make sure those who want to contact you know that although you are always available by phone for emergencies, email is the best way to get in touch with you. That way, you can enjoy your children while they're awake and then work when they nap or go to bed for the night.

Remember that although you are committed to your job, you are not married to it. One of the hardest things about working from home is that you usually work harder than you do if you're in the office. You always know that the work is there, just in the next room, waiting for you. You owe it to yourself and your family to keep work as separate as you can from home.

Working from home can be a great advantage for a mother and for an employer. Few employers realize how much more efficient and productive a conscientious employee can be when working from home.

Some of my favorite memories are of breastfeeding my son during conference calls with colleagues located around the country—my mind was working for my employer, and my body was working for my son. Now that's productivity!

Stephanie Hawkins
Newport MI USA

Response

After taking a year off from working outside the home after my son was born, I was fortunate enough to find a part-time position in my field (medical writing and editing) that allowed me to work from home. Things went smoothly at first. We set up our spare bedroom, which was right next to my son's room, as a home office. My son had a very predictable schedule, taking two two-hour naps each day. I set aside those hours as my work time during the week and was able to meet all of my deadlines. When I needed to go into the office for meetings (once or twice per month), my husband arranged his work schedule so he could be home to stay with our son. My employer was flexible and we usually set up meetings I needed to attend for late in the afternoon. This arrangement allowed my husband to go into his office a little earlier and still get a full day of work in before he needed to come home.

This setup worked well for quite a while—until my daughter was born. We moved to a new, larger home—farther away from both offices and my son also stopped taking one of his naps. When both children did sleep at the same time (which was quite rare), I was too tired to work. We soon realized that we'd need to find outside help if I was going to continue working. Luckily, we found a woman already working as a part-time nanny for another family who wanted to add a few extra hours to her schedule. (My husband and her husband worked together.) We hired her to come into our home two mornings per week while I worked in the home office adjacent to our family room. This way, I was always available if my daughter needed to nurse or if either of my children needed me.

We were fortunate because the person that we hired, although not yet a parent herself, was very pro-breastfeeding and into attachment parenting. Her parenting philosophy was right in line with LLL's concept of loving guidance, so we got along well. We also hired a housecleaning service. Knowing that the house would get a good cleaning at least once a month, helped relieve some of the pressure I was feeling. My husband also helped out a lot with household chores and child care as well. If I needed to meet a specific deadline, he'd often take the children to a playground or elsewhere so I could have some quiet time to work.

Karen Meade
Schwenksville PA USA

Response

Working from home can mean the best of both worlds, but it can also be the toughest option to juggle. Finding the time to work on your projects and still be productive will take creative planning and a new approach to managing your time. The key to success is to remain flexible and set realistic expectations. Here are some of the things I have learned in the past six years of working from home while caring for children.

Don't expect to put in an eight-hour shift and work only Monday through Friday, unless it is what your employer demands. If you have the flexibility, use it to your full advantage. Tackle your work in a series of time chunks, utilizing nap times, evenings, and weekends when Dad is home and can take some time being the primary caregiver for your children.

Nurse the baby in a sling, and he or she can fall asleep as you type at the computer. Use the phone sparingly, and email as much as possible so you can respond or contact people at a time convenient for you.

Since children this age love to imitate, give him or her some items which mimic your activities so they can "work," too. You might even consider having your preschooler help you with some tasks, such as sticking mailing labels on envelopes, or sorting papers.

Keep a log of the hours you work, the time spent, phone calls made, and the tasks you complete. This will be a good way for you to evaluate how you are managing your time, and it will be a concrete record to show your boss what you are accomplishing outside of the office.

Don't forget about yourself and your own needs. You will not be able to keep up this balancing act if you do not receive some support. Many women are surprised to discover that the thing they miss most about working outside of the home is the chance to spend time with other adults, so find opportunities to socialize. Attend La Leche League meetings. Join a playgroup. Take your preschooler to the library for some scheduled activities. Look into support groups for mothers working out of their homes, either in your hometown or on the Internet.

Finally, and most importantly, be flexible enough so that you can enjoy time with your children. It always seems that when I have a really important project approaching a deadline, my children need attention from me the most. I've found that in these circumstances, the best thing to do is to let go of my frustration and put away the work for the time being. The projects will get done, perhaps after the children are asleep that night. Sometimes we all need a reminder of our priorities, and the reason why we wanted to work out of our home in the first place.

Michelle Richards
Elkhart IN USA

Response

I am a single mother of a now nearly two-year-old baby. As a graduate student with a teaching position, I have mostly worked from home preparing for classes, grading papers, and working on my thesis since my daughter was four-and-a-half months old. In addition, I have spent between four and six hours per week in the classroom plus three to four all day field trips per semester. I estimate that I have worked between 20 and 30 hours each week.

I volunteered for the field trips even though they are more work, because my supervisor allowed me to bring my baby with me. I had to plan the day carefully in order not to short-change either students or baby, but overall it worked well and I did something at work that not all other people were willing to do and that the students and my supervisor appreciated.

If you are caring for your children and bringing in money, you are already doing two jobs—running a household is a third job and getting some household help is essential and it is the one thing I wish I had started earlier.

There have been times when I absolutely needed to get work done with a deadline looming—such as at the end of the semester. For those few times, I have made the decision that it is more important to get the work done and maintain my reliability and high performance level in the eyes of my supervisor, even if it means extra child care or a somewhat unhappy child who has to entertain herself alongside me. As a single mother, I just don't have the luxury to jeopardize my job.

Overall, I think that the benefits of us spending so much time together with me working at home outweigh an afternoon or two when she doesn't get top-level care from me. And the one thing that really makes this work for me is to make sure I spend some real, undivided one-on-one time with my baby every day. If we spend quality time together every day, I find that my daughter is then much more willing to go with her sitter or play a while longer by herself. Good luck to you—it is definitely worth it!

Anna Thompson
San Francisco CA USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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