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Work At Home Parents

Hallelujah, I'm Working at Home! (So why do I feel like I made a mistake?)
by Liz Fretz
Many moms and dads that start working at home find the transition to work at home more difficult than they expect. Often times the pre-conceived notions of how it should be are quite different from the realities of working while caring for a child. In addition, any new work environment (whether it's starting a brand new job on-site, getting a new boss, starting to work at home, or any other change) requires some time for everyone to adjust and to feel comfortable with the change.

It's important to remember that working at home can be very different from working on-site - especially for parents. At home, you have to deal with interruptions from hungry babies, screaming kids, and a whole host of things that don't occur in traditional office settings. The first few days working at home can seem overwhelming. Remember when you're a work at home parent, at least two people are going to have to adjust to the schedule change. Both, you and your child(ren) will need time to adjust to the new routine.

When you are working on-site, you go to work from a set starting time until a set ending time. Sometimes even your breaks and lunch hour are scheduled for you. However working at home is not nearly as structured and some parents find this lack of structure unsettling. One mom said that she felt guilty taking breaks to breastfeed her child. Another mom was troubled by the sounds of her children in the background while she talked on the phone with her customers. So, what can you do when you feel like working at home isn't working?

  1. Set realistic expectations. Remember that the first few days (and maybe even weeks) working at home will be an adjustment period. Don't expect things to run smoothly from the first day. Think about your first day back at the office after a long vacation. Is that always the smoothest day? Of course not! It's a transition day from vacation to being back at work. It's unrealistic to think that any change will occur perfectly from the start, so be easy on yourself in the beginning and console yourself with the knowledge that things will get easier with time.

  2. Use time wisely and schedule your work around your child's schedule. Pam runs a business out of her house, and she works around her kids' schedules. Pam said, "One thing I do is a lot of the busy work at night; I stay up very late, but since it is summer, they sleep in late, too." Pam also uses her answering machine so she can talk to customers when her children are out. She said:
    I try to run an office out of my home too. The bad part is that my office is right off the living room and it is summer.....kids home. I nurse my little one too, while taking calls. One benefit to me is that we own the business so I don't have to worry about the boss calling, but I do worry constantly about the kids screaming and yelling while I am talking to a potential customer........I let the machine take a lot of calls, then call back while they are outside.

  3. Be creative. Try to think "outside the box" when you need to solve a problem. There are many baby supplies and office supplies that can be used together to allow you to get your work done and be with the baby. Many work at home moms love their sling. They can keep their baby close and still have their hands free for typing. Office supply stores have hands-free headsets for phones so that you can talk on the phone while attending to baby. Don't forget about speakerphones and mute buttons. You can talk on the phone with the mute set to cut out background noise and release the mute only when you want to speak. There are also voice recognition programs that can allow you to "talk" to your computer. Some moms have founds these helpful. Always ask yourself if there is another way to approach this. Just because you did things one way at the office doesn't mean that's the only way to do it.

  4. Tell people what you need. If someone calls and the baby needs to be feed, go ahead and tell them you'll call them back. Nancy tries to be creative with her phone time, but when all else fails she calls back. Nancy said:
    I've found that I have to come up with creative ideas for phone time. As much as I would love to work in my home office for three straight hours - that never happens. Why? Because I have kids. You need to plan to take regular breaks. If possible, try to plan your conference calls in the afternoon, when your baby normally naps. Of course, this won't always work, but it's worth a try. Don't feel bad asking clients or even your boss if you can call them back. My reply is often, "Can I call you right back in about 15 minutes?" If your boss wants an explanation - "I have a situation I need to take care of so I can give you my full attention."

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  5. Remember no situation is perfect everyday! If you're feeling really crazy, just take a minute to think about working on-site. Can you remember at least one day that was really crazy and made you want to pull all your hair out? Of course you can. So you had a hard day working at home, but there will be other days that will be really great. My personal motto is, "A crazy day working at home with my baby is better than any number of perfect days without her!"

  6. Don't feel guilty. Your work schedule may end up being very different than it used to be. If you're still nursing a young child, you may be taking a break every couple of hours. Don't feel guilty about the breaks. Instead, realize that you are making up for the breaks by working differently. Also, when you worked on-site you may have been there for 8-striaght hours but you took breaks there, too. So instead of gossiping around the water-cooler, you're nursing you baby. Let me ask you . . . what's more important?
The transition to be being a work at home parent can be difficult. Like Pam, I own my business, and I didn't have a maternity leave. I delivered via c-section on Tuesday, was discharged from the hospital on Saturday, and started answering my email on Monday. My personal transition from a cool and calm career woman to a work at home mom was difficult and filled with self-doubt. But, it got better for me, and it will get better for you, too!

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