How To Balance Family, At-Home Work And Time For Yourself
Every at-home mother knows how annoying it is to be asked the question, “Do you work?” As anyone who has raised children knows, motherhood provides an individual with the most work for the least recognition. An at-home mom must be a housekeeper, handyman, child-care specialist, psychologist and economist. Add to these duties the work of an outside-the-home occupation and the demands can become overwhelming, if not mind-boggling.
With the advent of business starting to accommodate professional women who choose to stay at home with their children, at-home mothers who also maintain a regular career, or run a business from home, are in a unique position. Unlike a woman who leaves home to go to work each day, the at-home mother must find a way to competently complete her work while still fulfilling her duties as a homemaker and mother. As if this weren’t hard enough, she must also maintain her marital relationship, friendships and meet her own physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological needs. In a lifestyle where taking a shower can seem impossible to work into the day’s schedule, time management skills and attention to priorities are crucial.
I myself am a full-time at-home mom with two part-time careers. Over the last four years I have learned through trial and error the best way to manage my time and still fulfill the needs of my family and myself. A few simple time and stress management techniques have enabled me to live a satisfying and productive life.
Discover how your time is spent.
The first step in determining how you can become more efficient, is realizing where your problem areas are. A time study will accomplish this very well. Simply keep a record of your daily activities for a week, and the amount of time spent in each. You must be very detailed in your record keeping. A stop watch works well for this. At the end of the week, total up the amount of time spent in each activity, and the problem areas will become apparent. It’s amazing how much time is actually wasted each day. Exposing these pockets of daily inefficiency is the first step to eliminating them.
Increase the number of hours in a day.
I rise one hour prior to the kids each day. That’s an extra hour each day that I can work uninterrupted. It’s very tempting to use that hour to get dressed, or do some type of housework, but for that one hour to be the most productive, only “home-work” should be done.
Make optimal use out of your time.
Never sit idle unless you intend to. So much of our time is subtlety whittled away without our even realizing it. Sitting down for “just a minute” easily turns into a half hour, and a quick look at the weather forecast on television can become an hour if something catches our interest. If I’m just sitting watching television anyway, I might as well be making a few notes at the same time, or doing some other activity like folding laundry, or clipping coupons. Generally, the kids are in bed by eight, and I have regained control of my home by nine or ten. My husband is well accustomed to me watching television with him while I scratch away on a note pad. Doing two things at once is not as difficult as it may sound. Every time I nurse or rock my daughter I have a pen and note pad at my side. It’s also quite easy to enter information into the computer while holding the baby. Most of my business calls are made while doing other things as well. I often wonder what my business contacts would think if they realized that while I’m discussing work-related issues I’m also bathing my two-year old or scrubbing the kitchen floor.
Buy yourself some time.
Even if you have to hire a babysitter, it’s worthwhile if you’re falling behind in your work. Even the most dedicated and organized work-at-home mom will need some help once in a while. In my case, my children spend one day a week with their grandma. This gives me time to work and run errands while providing a quality experience for my children and their grandparent.
Make nap-time a scheduled event for both the children and you.
I believe nap-time is truly a gift from God. From the moment my children are in bed, until they wake up, my time is spent exclusively on work. Plan ahead, saving tasks that require the most focus for nap- time, before children are awake in the morning and after they are asleep at night, or any other time when you have help with the children.
One of the biggest household distractions is the telephone. For a work-at-home mom, call-waiting is wonderful and a portable phone and answering machine are mandatory. The few times each day that the children are occupied should be used exclusively for work. Ignore the phone. The machine will get it, and you can return the calls while you’re involved in child care or housework. Keep special “phone-time” only treats for the kids by the phone—Playdough, healthy snacks, etc.—that you can pull out to keep a child occupied when you must take a work-related call.
Set aside a special work space for your at-home work.
Though you want to be near where your children play, setting up a work space that you use just for work, will allow you to be more organized and will make it more clear to your family that when you are there, you are at work. Having all your equipment and supplies together in one place is more efficient and allows for easier “child proofing.”
Be organized and prioritize.
Compose detailed schedules and lists. Use the same schedule book for household and career. This ensures that all of your duties will be completed, deadlines met, and nothing will be forgotten. Remember to make your schedule and lists realistic. Allow for the possibility of sick children or unexpected visitors. Scheduling too many duties will only make you feel defeated and depressed.
Household duties can take more time then they need to. For instance, if you are anything like me, several hours each day are spent in food preparation and kitchen clean-up. I have learned to trim off some of that time by freezing meals in advance. Just last night I made a double batch of chili, froze half, and served the other.
Lessen your cleaning load.
If you usually dust once a week for instance, dust twice a month instead. A little more dust in your house won’t matter, but a little more time in your life will. Delegate household tasks to other members of the family. Allow children to do as much as they can for themselves.
Plan activities for your children for while you’re working.
Having a variety of age-appropriate activities available for your children, will give you more focused time, and keep them happy while you work. Keep on hand plenty of blocks, other building materials, puzzles, Playdough or other modeling materials, other “non-messy” crafts, make forts or playhouses, provide educational videotapes or software for older children, etc.
Involve your children in your work.
Whether you own a business or work for someone else from home, at-home work allows your family the opportunity to see just what you do “at work.” Find simple tasks that your children can do while you are working—sealing envelopes and collating are some examples. Your husband or partner may also enjoy getting involved. Many businesses started by a mother at home, have grown to be family businesses over time.
Maintain your physical health.
Work-at-home moms don’t know the meaning of the words “vacation leave” or “sick days,” so practicing a healthy lifestyle is critical. Exercise and regular meals may seem to expend a large portion of your time, but remember, if you don’t feel your best, you can’t be at your most productive. One of my biggest daily temptations is to skip breakfast, which invariably causes me to become fatigued by early afternoon. Spending fifteen minutes on a quick nutritious meal can make the difference between a slow-moving or highly productive day. Eat as many healthy foods as possible, and avoid excessive sugar, caffeine and alcohol for greatest energy and well-being. Regular exercise will not only keep you fit, but will also increase your energy, reduce stress, and relieve depression. Even a quick walk around the neighborhood, strolling the baby, can do wonders for your physical and emotional well-being.
Don’t give yourself negative messages.
Saying things like, “I didn’t get enough done today,” or “I can’t do anything right,” will only contribute to depression and further reduce your productivity. Don’t be too modest to pat yourself on the back from time to time. At-home moms don’t have the luxury of contact with co-workers, so we need to rely on ourselves for positive feedback.
One of the greatest challenges of working from home is avoiding isolation. Make an effort to connect with other mothers through playgroups, or mother’s groups to share parenting ideas and experiences. Also network with others who have home businesses, both in a related area and in other fields as well. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce for information on others working from home.
Get away from it all.
Allow one night each week for getting out of the house, and use it to do something recreational. Resist the temptation to do work-related activities and enjoy yourself. This is a great time for daddy to have some quality time with the kids, and for you to have some time alone or with friends.
Remember your feminine needs.
It’s easy to overlook this little detail when you are caught up in meeting the needs of work and family. Take time for an occasional bubble bath after the kids are in bed, or perhaps curl up with a good book for a few moments of solitude—whatever you like that nurtures You.
Take care of your marriage.
Don’t forget your partner in parenting. Husbands and wives need to nourish their relationship if they are to continue to nourish their children’s lives as well. The best gift you can give to your family is a stable, loving marriage.
The house may not always be neat and tidy when your mother-in-law drops in for a visit, but the work will get done, and your family will respect your skill in effectively fulfilling your dual role. Approaching the multitude of tasks before you, and constant interruptions, with a sense of humor will save your sanity and that of the whole family.
Learn to relax.
Deep breathing, meditation, counting to ten and various other relaxation techniques can be mandatory when daily stress begins to take its toll on you. Check out some library books on stress management and make daily use of the practices that work best for you.
Make your children your priority.
I sometimes forget that the reason I’m working at home is so I can care for my children. When my son interrupts my typing to ask me to read him a book, or my daughter unplugs the phone while I’m making a business call, I have to remind myself that these are not interruptions of my work, but rather the very reason that I am working at home. No matter how strict your deadlines are, or how many phone calls you need to make, remember to take time for special moments with your children. Schedule time just for them and be flexible at other times when they really need your attention.
As work-at-home mothers, the work we do every day is demanding, exhausting, challenging, sometimes heart-wrenching and always enlightening. Our work is a daily balancing act between home and career, with endless distractions, but an abundance of love. The work we do enriches our lives and that of our children if we remember to keep our priorities in place with our children as the primary focus of our days.