A little after my son turned seven months old, I found myself feeling anxious… restless… just off.
It took me a long time to figure out the source of this feeling. Was I lonely? Maybe. Was I unhappy? Not really… I mean, the months after having your first baby can be weird, to be sure, but I was happy overall.
Satisfied? Now there was the kicker. I realized that, no, I was not satisfied. I wanted to work. (Which I never thought I'd hear myself say, but it was true.)
So I sent an email to an old friend about writing for his company, and the rest is history. That email kicked off my freelance writing career (while also teaching me a thing or two about trade agreements and contracts) and changed the course of my domestic life.
It sounds glamorous… it's not.
"Hi, I'm Lauren and I'm a freelance writer."
When I close my eyes and think about that phrase, I think of some breezy lady in heels and designer clothes tossing a wink and a handshake at a famous person who then throws millions of dollars at her and invites her to their pool party.
The reality is that I'm probably in jeans and a t-shirt (that I slept in and decided didn't smell too bad) and looking totally frazzled. And not getting invited to celebrity pool parties.
Working from home with kids is hard.
It's a very delicate balance that is not easy to achieve. I won't say that I've found that balance, but I've developed some methods to help get myself closer to it. So, without further ado… let's tackle some work-at-home tips:
Isolate Your Workspace
It might seem easy to plop your laptop down on your kitchen table and get to work… but believe me when I say that's a good way to get milk spilled on your keyboard and almost zero work done.
If you have an extra room that can be used as an office, or a corner in your bedroom that would fit even a small desk, use it. Not only will it keep your work away from your lovely, angelic, surprisingly destructive children, it will also help keep you focused. Working from the kitchen table gives you the perfect view of all the dishes that need to be done, or all the vegetables that need chopped. That's not to say you can't ever do it, but you'd be surprised at how nice it is to have your own space. Put up some motivational quotes, a picture or two that you like, and create yourself a space that you'll want to work in.
Designate Specific Work Times
"I work from home! My schedule is SO flexible!"
You might see that a lot. It might be true sometimes… but what I've found is that "flexible" often means "easy to put off your work for other responsibilities."
Whether your kids nap, go to preschool, or have weekly grandparent/friend time, it's important to mark out specific days and times each week that you can use solely for work. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and stressed out at the end of the week because of all the work you've missed.
I know it's hard to find babysitting, so you might have to get creative. Institute a trade with a friend whose kids are similar in age to yours or, if you're making enough money to make a profit, consider signing them up for preschool or hiring an in-home babysitter for a few hours each week.
Communicate Your Work Needs
Whether you've got a spouse, a partner, or a designated child care helper, it's imperative to explain your work needs with them. I've made the mistake in the past of assuming my husband could watch the kids while I scrambled on a weekend deadline, only to find out that he'd signed up for work-related duties during the time that I needed him.
Whose fault was that? Mine. If I'd kept him updated on my progress and my needs, he would have made different plans… and I wouldn't have needed to ask for an extension on my deadline.
Be Kind to Yourself
Remember: your job is different. Balancing a domestic and professional life in the same environment requires a different set of skills than most people (and society in general) are used to. You're going to make mistakes, you're going to experience exhilarating success… and you're probably going to figure out most of it on your own.
Hold yourself to your own standards — not society's — and you'll do just fine.