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The Difficulty of Being a Work-At-Home Mom

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Recently I had a conversation with one of my children that went something like this:

Child: "Can I invite BFF over to play this afternoon?"

Me: "Didn't you just see her last night?"

Child: "Yes, but we really want to get together again today."

Me: "You know I'm working this afternoon and I don't have time right now to go pick up your friend."

Child: "You never have the time. I wish you didn't have to work. Why do you have to write anyway?"

As a work-at-home mom (WAHM), I have these kinds of conversations from time to time with my five children. They're not my favorite kinds of chats. I come away from them feeling guilty, like maybe I shouldn't be working or at the very least, not working as much.

But I enjoy my writing. And so I usually tell my kids, "I don't HAVE to write. I WANT to write. I like writing. And I find it very fulfilling." I also remind them that even if I wanted to quit (which I don't!), that I can't because I'm under contract and I need to follow through with my obligation to write the books I said I would.

Our kids won't always understand our passions and gifts. Sometimes their world is limited and they can't see much beyond their current desires. In their frustration, they say things they don't really mean. Don't we all?

As a WAHM there will always be the inevitable push and pull between being the Mom and the Working Parent. Our kids and our work both need our time, attention, and energy. Unfortunately we don't have an endless supply, and there are days when we'll have to make tough choices that don't make anyone happy (like in the scenario above).

But in an effort to avoid some of the drama, here are a few of the things I'm trying to implement this fall:

1. I'm trying harder to keep work and mom time separate. I've been blocking in chunks of time several times a week where I can "lock" myself in my office and work (usually at times when my husband is home to supervise the kids or when my mom comes over) (and I use the word "lock" very loosely since I usually don't lock the door, and I allow for plenty of interruptions).

When my work time is over, I can come away from it and focus on my kids without work distracting me or pulling me away from them every few minutes.

2. Keep the lines of communication open. I want to be open with my family about my work demands so that they know what I'm working on and what's consuming my time. And then I also want them to feel free to come talk to me about their frustrations and concerns. In the busyness of life, however, making time for talking often gets pushed aside.

So this fall, we implemented "dates" with our kids (something we'd done in the past but had fallen away from). My husband and I rotate taking one child out for a special "date" each week. Usually it's something as simple as going to Target's cafe, getting popcorn, and chatting. The undivided time allows us to keep the lines of communication open.

3. Staying flexible to the changing needs of my children. As my children are getting older, their extra-curricular activities and friendships have increased in importance. Even though their busier schedules make my life more hectic, I'm trying to adjust without complaining (I've learned that complaining only compounds the problems!).

Adjusting means I haven't been able to be online as much this fall. I've also had less work time in the afternoons and subsequently write more at night after the kids go to bed. The key for me is being willing to change my expectations, reminding myself that what worked in the past won't always work now.

My Summary: Yes, there will always be unique frustrations that come with being a WAHM. But when I'm feeling especially discouraged, I remind myself that even though the boundaries get blurred when working at home, there are many blessings too. And as always, counting our blessings seems to put things in perspective.

What about you? For those who work from home, what are your biggest frustrations? How do you make it work?

46 comments:

  1. These are some great ideas. I think the key is being flexible. Being willing to change the routine as your family's needs change. It's not easy, but it helps.

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    1. Yes! Routines are so comfortable, aren't they? And once we get into them, it's hard to have to change! But it does help if we can keep flexible. I find it reduces the frustration level! :-)

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  2. Great post! As you said, I think flexibility and being willing to change your expectations is a very good thing. And I know what you mean about extra-curricular activities. As my children all grew older, we seemed to get much busier...even though we homeschooled. It's very hard to find a balance, but I think you are doing a great job. And counting our blessings does indeed keep things in perspective. The days are long, but the years are short.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Blessings,
    Amy O'Quinn

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    1. Good morning, Amy! Love your last sentence: "The days are long, but the years are short." That is SO true! Thanks for sharing that. I'll be chanting it as I go through my busy, LONG days! :-)

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  3. I'm a SAHD to an 18-month-old, plus three others who are in school, which (I'm sure you know) makes finding time to write somewhat difficult. Nevertheless, I think sacrificing a little bit of work time to have a whole lot more kids time is worth every second. Of course, ask me again at the end of NaNoWriMo, and I might have a different (sleep-addled) answer for you.

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  4. One day your kids will not only understand why you "had to" write, they will look up to that and apply it to their own lives. You're teaching a valuable lesson about commitment, personal fulfillment, balance, and good, old-fashioned follow-through.

    I was a single mom (my kids are all grown now) and had a job that allowed me work from home while also being a professional songwriter. These days my kids often tell me that they learned a lot from me during those years, and they thank me for the example I set.

    You'll do great!

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    1. Thank you!! I truly appreciate your words of encouragement from someone who's been there and lived to tell about it! :-) I hope that someday my kids can look back and appreciate what they learned from my example!

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  5. Great info Jody! My wife and I work full time and we also run a home based business in our spare time and as you eluded with our 2 daughters life does get hectic sometime. We try to dedicate at least one day a weekend to just them (although I admit making calls when they arent looking!) but we explain to them that we are doing this HOPEFULLY so we can leave our legacy to them in the future. Our end goal is to focus on our home based full time in the future and grow that business since its where our passion is truly at. Do you have any advice on leaving your kids for business trips? We hear what you describe now since we started about a year ago....at first Mommy and Daddy has to go away for a couple days for work....now when we have to we get the comment that we are ALWAYS working and having to travel. Advice?

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    1. I think you're doing a great job if you're already setting aside concentrated time to focus on your daughters. As far as leaving my children for business trips, I try not to travel too much at this stage. In fact, I've had to limit my speaking engagements and say no to requests so that I won't be gone too much. I have taken my older daughters on research trips with me and made it into a girls' weekend. And I know of other families who do a lot of traveling for work together and make it into a family affair. But the bottom line is that our kids won't always understand and appreciate what we do, and we can't let that guilt dictate our decisions.

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  6. Thanks, Jody!! It is sometimes hard to juggle things but like you said, since I love what I do, so worth it. I may not always win favor for doing what I do, but at least I'm teaching my kids to follow their dreams, and work to make them possible.

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  7. I'm not a parent yet, but hope to be a SAHM when we do have kids. Examples like you and others who still manage to balance both passions inspire me. Thanks, Jody. :)

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  8. I had to capitulate a few months ago and admit that I am not actually a SAHM, but a WAHM. And you do have this constant tug-of-war of guilt, thinking, "Not enough for my kids! Not enough for my kids!" I keep setting the bar for work accomplishment lower, and it's never enough. Some days I think I shouldn't be doing it at all, and I'm being selfish. And every time, I think of you.

    The limits have to be always shifting. Routines make things so much easier, but routines are constantly getting shredded, not to mention rearranged. It's the nature of the beast. I'm trying to cut myself off at 3 or 3:30 every day and say, "Now, I am mom, not writer." Sometimes I do okay. Sometimes not. I just pray it's enough.

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    1. I'm honored you think of me and that my busy life can be an inspiration to you! I find it's hard to shut off my writing and go into mom mode. The story keeps calling to me and I think about it even when I'm not writing. Sigh. But all we can do is the best we can! :-)

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  9. Putting my laptop in an out-of-the-way drawer during "mom" time is good for me. I'm a mom of 3 (ages 5, 3, and 4 months) and homeschool my 2 oldest. I make an effort every day to let me children know I prioritize them above my writing. Whether that means closing the laptop so I can see a drawing or it means taking them to the playground while I work so they can have as much fun as I'm having. Also, prayer. Praying about my priorities every morning and asking God to take my efforts of this day and guide them. Makes such a huge difference.

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  10. I work in an office three days a week and from home (doing that same job) two days a week. When you add writing responsibilities and motherhood on top of that, it can feel overwhelming. I make it work by having an incredibly supportive husband and taking advantage of the early mornings when my son is sleeping.

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  11. Ever since I had our baby last year I've found it hard to write. Mostly because a baby is so demanding, and this one doesn't like to play by herself.

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  12. I'm just walking into this, Jody, and I'm discovering it's a learning curve. At this point, I don't know what's going to work, but then when I figure it out, I imagine it will change. Right now my two older girls are in school and my twins boys are home with me - as I write this one of them is trying to "help" me write and the other is pulling a chair up to the counter, no doubt to get at a snack. Thankfully, like you, I have a supportive husband and a mom who will be here at 12:30 to play with the boys so I can finish some last minute polishes to my WIP before I submit it on Thurdsay. I think the best thing I can do right now is set a schedule and try to keep it - and try to seperate "work" time from "family" time. I love that I can come to your site and know that there are others out there trying to balance the WAHM scenario. Thanks, Jody!

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  13. Jody - you've got a great attitude. And I agree that flexibility is the key. My schedule changes almost monthly as kids transition from activity to activity and my writing tasks rotate between research and writing and editing and publicity.

    But I also think you're right about saying no to the children sometimes. I've learned not to feel guilty about it, because this teaches them valuable life lessons. 1) They are not the center of the universe. 2) Other people have needs too. 3) Work comes before play - play is the reward for a job well done, not our main purpose in life. 4) Respect for parents and authority - we're not our children's personal slaves, but their parents.

    My children have the third priority slot in my life, after the Lord and my husband, but that doesn't mean they completely dictate the rest of the priorities in my life. Just that I put them ABOVE those other priorities, consider their needs first, and make sure my writing doesn't negatively affect their lives.

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    1. I like what you've said here, Sarah. The boundaries you enumerated really do have a positive impact on kids' lives, I think. You're right in that it teaches respect, but I think it also models for them how to set those boundaries and build that respect from others in their own lives. It shows that the necessity of work does not equal a lack of love or affection. That it actually translates into a form of it - you are working to take care of your family, you are doing it in a healthy way, etc. Flexibility is very important too, absolutely. It's a fine balance, but in my opinion, a very helpful and healthy one for everybody involved. Good thoughts, thank you!

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    2. I echo Megan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here, Sarah! I like the boundaries you've set with your kids. And I also like your outline of the lessons that your/our children can learn as a result of our work. In our modern culture kids are growing up very me-centered, and so it's constant battle we're facing to help them look beyond themselves.:-)

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  14. I have a special glass jar on my desk filled with unwrapped candy: skittles, reeces pieces, M&M's, that the children can enjoy when I'm at my desk. They used to sigh whenever they found me typing. Now they get excited because they can come get a treat. I wanted my writing to be a positive experience for them and reward them for their patience. I've had it for almost a year now and they absolutely love it. I'm fortunate this year that all my children are in school so that I have the mornings free to write. Of course I have other projects and housework vying for my time, so I still have to schedule it out. Love to hear how others are rising to the challenge! :) Thanks so much!

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    1. GREAT idea, Karen! Love the positive reinforcement! Thanks for sharing! :-)

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  15. As a newbie (but very determined) writer, this has been in the back of my head for a long, long time. My husband and I don't have kids yet, but the question of how to balance our children and my work-at-home writing time has been nagging at me for years. I am going to make a career of writing, but how does family fit in with that? I like your approach, the balance that you conveyed in this post, and the flexibility that you expressed. I love the idea of setting up "dates" with your kids. My mother did that with me when I was growing up (you just reminded me of it) and I don't think anything ever made me feel quite as special as that one-on-one time. Very great ideas here. Thank you!

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  16. Wow, definitely hit me where I am this week, Jody! As a homeschooling mom, I tend to think of that as my job (esp. since the writing pays nothing yet!). BUT I am a WAHM, I'm slowly realizing. Just chatted w/my hubby about setting up some times I can COUNT ON for writing.

    In the end, it all comes down to scheduling time, which is not something I love to do for my kids' down time (since we're scheduled for schooling). Still, I have talked to them about how my computer time is not just "play time" for me (I'm blogging or obsessively checking for that acceptance email!).

    Thanks for this encouragement today to make the writing a priority too!

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  17. This is gonna sound mean but...

    I AM SO GLAD YOU STRUGGLE WITH THIS TOO!

    Misery loves company, ay?

    :-)

    This is a constant struggle for me, and I've yet to completely figure it out. LOVE your ideas, though!

    We do date night with our girls, always have since they were big enough to understand. We haven't had a lot of time lately, due to our change in schedules, and not along of $$ either, but we still make time, even if it's grabbing one of the kids to go on an one-on-one grocery shopping trip and letting them get a special treat.

    I've found the BEST thing I've done is to LEAVE the house. While I can write at home, the interruptions, especially with my youngest, is constant, even when Daddy is home to help. While I can work with interruptions, have done so for ages, I get things done SO much faster elsewhere. So while I do writing time at home too, I'm trying to specifically find at least a small block of time each week when I can head to Starbucks or the library and spend an hour or two writing.

    I really try to involve my kiddos in my writing too. Sometimes they'll brainstorm names with me. And they LOVE going to bookstores to see if they can find Mommy's book! I think they enjoy it as much if not more than me, HA HA!

    All that said, I am still trying to figure out a good balance... I'm not there yet by any means. But I figure if I keep doing trial and error, I'll figure it out about the time they go to college, right?? :-)

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  18. it's such a balancing act, Jody. The worst part is that when you do manage to achieve that elusive balance - then you have to do it all over again the next day! Sheesh. Let's just say that at the end of the day I'm happy if my kids like me OR my manuscript has improved. I've given up trying to get both.

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  19. I do a lot of work at home too; in fact, the only work I do outside of my home is teaching students in the classroom. The rest of the work is done at home. What's hard is when some people in my life assume that my schedule is more flexible just because I work at home. They think I should be available to take their phone calls at any time, or that I should always be available to hang out with them during the day. I would never go to their workplaces and expect them to drop everything for me; I want them to show the same consideration for me and my work.

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  20. It is so encouraging to read this post and all the comments, and see where other people are at, too. It's too easy for me to start feeling like I ought to be able to juggle it all effortlessly - writing, homeschooling, housework, parenting, being a wife, being a friend, cooking - and that I'm a failure when I inevitably let all those balls drop because I can't possibly keep up with them all. I need the reminders that I'm not the only one!

    I've had to adjust a lot of my expectations. I am allowing myself (since I am not under contract, but self-publishing) to take my time with the writing, not feel pressured to work under a deadline. That way I can take the time to figure out what I'm doing in this first year of homeschooling! I'm learning to accept a messy house and simpler meals if that means I can put more time into the people in my life. And I am trying really hard to not feel guilty about those times when I do close the door to my study and write. Or even the times when I hide away just to read or sew or whatever I need to do to recharge my batteries! Even moms have needs, and I'm learning to accept that about myself. Slowly.

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  21. I'm having a hard time balancing, too. Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing a good job in *any* aspect of my life. :-(

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  22. Thank you Jody and all the other women who commented! I struggle too- I have four kids (and so admire you for doing all that you have with five! You inspire me too!) and juggling all the different plates gets overwhelming. I think we have to find flexibility within a schedule. I like blocking off times that I know I'll spend writing (I have to be good about NOT doing laundry or other things at those times), and also leaving blocks of time open for mommy stuff. If I have a plan sketched out, I feel more in control, but I also must realize that the plan can never be carved in stone.

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  23. thanks for sharing..

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  24. Thank you for your insight. I find with everything I do that doesn't relate directly to my husband and children, it helps to set aside blocks of time throughout the week which are devoted solely to that activity.

    That way I don't feel as though I am "cheating" anyone of their time, including myself.

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  27. The magic word is boundaries. Kids, family, neighbors and other parents seem to think a WAHM is the same as a SAHM. I have had to create a designated office and block off time dedicated to my work then explain it is REAL work that requires actual effort. I also stress the importance of meeting obligations and enjoying the way you earn a living. It can still be a tough balancing act.

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  28. This definitely spoke to me, Jody. My nine-month-old (my first child) has been ill since Thanksgiving. She is recovering now, but my writing has been shoved to the back burner. It's nice to know other authors are feeling that tug between writing and mothering, too. Blessings to your precious brood!

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    1. Sorry to hear about your daughter's illness, Jolina. That's never easy at that age. They're just so miserable and don't know why. When you're sleep deprived and busy with your little one, writing will have to take a back burner. And that's okay. We will always have the push and pull between mothering and writing. Sometimes mothering has to take priority, and other times we can give more to our writing. Blessings to you too! :-)

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  29. Great Post.. To keep work and mom time separate one have to be balance but Every coin has two sides. Although you have discussed very well.There are following benefits of work from home like Flexibility of hours, Work load control, New skills, No office politics, No commute.

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  30. thanks for share.

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  31. The working mom vs. stay-at-home mom debate is one that has gone on for decades. Which situation is ideal for the child? Which is easier on mom and the family? And of course, which is more challenging? As a work-at-home mom, or WAHM, I lie somewhere in the middle.home based business

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