How Moms Make Working from Home Work
Nowadays, many moms don’t have traditional 9 to 5 jobs. Instead, we’re building businesses from home. Which gives us lots of flexibility to structure our days and be with our children. But working from home isn’t without challenges. While there’s no commute, rigid hours or regular meetings, the line between work and family life is frequently fuzzy and faint.
For starters, we could always be working. I’ll just answer one more email! I’ll just edit a few paragraphs!
We could always be doing something around the house. Afterall, it’s hard to ignore piles of dishes and laundry and cat hair and sticky floors. In other words, it can be hard to focus on our family and our work. “You’re just really pulled in both directions,” said Denaye Barahona, Ph.D, founder of SimpleFamilies.com, a website and podcast that provides practical, intentional solutions for living well with yourfamily. “It’s easy to fall into this habit of feeling like you’re failing at anything.”
Which is why we wanted to know how other successful work-from-home moms really make it work, and navigate the various challenges. You’ll find the specifics below, along with insights for creating yourown version of fulfillment. Because it can look different, and it does. As you’ll see, each woman has herown structure and systems. And that’s incredibly empowering.
Last year, Barahona’s kids attended Montessori School three hours a day, five days a week. But between drop-offs and pick-ups, this only gave her two hours to work. “I felt like my mind was on work stuff [when I was with my kids], and my head was on kid stuff when I was [working]. Neither was getting proper attention and time.” Today, she has an au pair who works 45 hours a week. During the week, from about 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Barahona spends quality time with her two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. Then she works from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. or5 p.m. However, this schedule isn’t set in stone, and flexibility is key, she said.
Amber Anderson and herhusband decided to stay home with their son after he was born 9 weeks premature. Anderson is the co-founder of MORE and Tote + Pears, a full-service agency that creates and markets products, services and experiences for women. For four years, she and her husband switched shifts: She was with their son from midnight to noon, and her husband took care of him from noon to midnight. “The shifts were designed around accountability. If my son needed something during my shift, I was accountable for ensuring it got done and vice versa. This included things like cooking food and waking up in the middle of the night.” They still do a version of this schedule today. Anderson believes that having a parent be accountable at all times helps to establish expectations and remove stressors. They’re “currently exploring nanny share options as a way to get [ourson] engaged with other people while keeping the adult to child ratio and costs low.”
For Sara Robinson, MA, a writerand creator of the site GetMomBalanced.com,working from home has evolved. When she had a newborn and a toddler, she worked during naps, afterbedtime, and on days herhusband was off. Now that her sons are three and six, Robinson works in the mornings while they’re in school. She still sometimes catches up on work in the evenings and on herhusband’s days off— “which unfortunately can make us feel like passing ships when I’m in a busy period with work.”
Working from home also has evolved for Kate Swoboda, author of The Courage Habitand director of the Courageous Living Coach Certification at https://TeamCLCC.com. For the first three months of herdaughter’s life, Swoboda was a full-time stay-at-home mom. “[T]hat about killed me as I tried to manage my business all while being sleep-deprived.” Then she had half-time childcare until herdaughterwas a year old, “which was a crack of light…As I adjusted to having that time, I found that I was more productive with those four hours in the morning than I had ever been with my unlimited time, before having a baby.” When Swoboda needed to work on weekends, herhusband watched their daughter, and she had a VA who worked for 10-12 hours a month.
Today, Swoboda’s business has almost doubled and she has a bigger team of contractorsand more VA help. She works from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the week, while her daughter is in daycare. “I rarely need to work evenings or weekends, and consider the tradeoff of full-time daycare to be that my daughter has more of my full attention in the evenings and on weekends.”
Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, is a registered dietitian, founder of the private practice Nourishing Confidence, and mom of four. During the day, she’s at home with her10-month-old son and 4-year-old daughter while her 13-year-old and 8-year-old sons are in school. She works most evenings—from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.—when her husband is home. “I'm definitely tired starting my ‘workday,’ but I actually find that working is pretty invigorating since I enjoy what I do.”
Fonnesbeck doesn’t put pressure on herself to work before 4 p.m. “There are some days or weeks where I'm hitting a deadline on a project and my kids watch more TV than I'd like, but that's the exception rather than the rule.” She also doesn’t wait until the last minute—just in case a child gets sick or life gets hectic.
Carla Naumburg,Ph.D, LICSW, a parent coach, writer and speaker, works when hertwo daughters are in school, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday though Thursday, and until 1 p.m. on Fridays. If she’s really swamped, the girls watch a show while she works. She also works about an hour or two after they’re asleep. She occasionally works for several hours on Sundays, while her husband is with their daughters. And if a deadline is looming, she “may or may not freak out,” and spend the entire day at the library.
“The assumption that working from home is always easier than working at an office, and that we should always feel 100 percent pleased with, and grateful for, this option makes things harder,” said Naumburg, author of several books on parenting,including the forthcoming How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids (Workman, 2019). However, acknowledging that it’s “a mixed bag” can help, she said.
Janine Halloran, a licensed mental health counselor and founder of Coping Skills for Kids, also works while hertwo kids are at school. “When it’s getting close to the end of the school day, I try to wrap up major tasks, so I can fully focus on my children when they get home. If I need to continue on a project or have a time-sensitive task, I work on it when they are doing homework, after they go to bed or when my husband gets home so he can take over.” She does have in-person meetings, which she schedules on one or two days during the week. This is when their babysitter or family watches the kids. She’s also started traveling more. Her husband, who has some flexibility at his job and can occasionally work from home, gets the kids from the bus and drives them to their activities.
When working from home, it’s key to find a rhythm that works for you. “Getting into a routine has been important, both with the days and times that I work, but also what tasks I tend to do on what day,” saidRobinson, author of Choose You: A Guided Self-Care Journal Made Just for You!
For instance, Robinson generally sticks to this schedule: On Mondays, she outlines articles that are due the following week; on Wednesdays, she writes the articles while her kids are in school and with Grandma afterward; and on Fridays, she edits the pieces. She schedules in extra time for the weeks she falls behind (e.g., someone’s sick; she has a greater workload), and heads to Starbucks one night a week.
It’s also critical to work from your values. “So many people start working for themselves and think they'll do it differently, but then the pressure to perform or to make money drives them into the same fear-based work structures that their former employers might have demanded,” Swoboda said. We expect ourselves to always be producing, juggling, hustling and on-call—and to do more and more. Years ago, this is exactly how Swoboda operated. Today, her values—creativity, feeling a sense of freedom in her work, making a difference, and being a conduit for ideas—dictate herdays. This “means that I'm going to need downtime to think, read, and ponder if I'm truly going to be able to generate and create.”
Swoboda understands first-hand that this can be difficult, but she stressed the importance of identifying “how you want your work day to look [and] how you want it to feel, and…living from those desires. This requires tough choices, accountability, integrity, and a lot of intentionality and presence for how you want to spend your time. But the results are worth it.”