I work from home, along with my husband. He’s a programmer and me, an organic web editor. We practice hands-on parenting with our two kids, a 6-year-old, and a 7-month-old. Because my job allows me to work remotely, I do not have to (or get to) work from an office.
I also cannot be a stay-at-home mom because, well, I have two kids to feed. The only option left is to work from home, which isn’t as rosy as it sounds.
First of all, there is no office for me to hide away from diaper changes, milk feedings, questions about “how to be a princess” and “where do unicorns live”. I bend and break so many HR rules, it’s a miracle I still have a job. My work schedule is such a mess, it shouldn’t be called a “schedule” and an abundance of my job is completed ad hoc.
Because my boss has a weird sense of humor, this post is going to shine the spotlight on my chaotic working environment and will take you inside what it’s like to be parents who try to juggle work and their children the way they know how.
At the very best, it will give employers a good reason to cut us some slack and to have some faith in parents who choose to deliver results while working from home.
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The Chaotic Life Of Work-From-Home Parents
Here’s an inside look at what working-from-home parents are up against (and some tips sprinkled here and there on how to cope).
You can throw “work-life balance” out the window because it means squat when you work from home with kids. Even if you can separate business from leisure, your kids can’t. They expect their parents to be available to them so long as they see them around.
You get interrupted and hence distracted a lot. And losing track of time becomes the norm. (Oh my Thor, is it Friday already?)
There is an unbelievably insane amount of things children need, from complicated tasks like help with their homework to simple things like brushing their teeth.
You cannot, under any circumstances, lose your temper. Being angry takes energy, which could be better used elsewhere.
You need a truck-load of patience because once you upset a child, you can kiss an hour of your life goodbye, trying to make her stop crying.
Try to not be too anxious about the time you are “wasting” waiting for your toddler to finish her broth or tie her shoe or go to sleep. I found staying calm allows you to last longer without breaking down.
There is no such thing as a break. You fear weekends and school holidays but not as much as your child getting sick. Work comes to a halt when a child gets sick.
There is no distinction between weekdays and weekends anymore. It’s all a blur unless you have something that breaks the monotony, like going to church or celebrating special holidays.
A majority of time is wasted looking for things: socks, trucks, milk bottles, the TV remote. The TV is the best invention ever. No, wait, the pacifier is.
You work in blocks of time because of interruptions. This means a lot of stop-and-go, and bookmarking is needed.
Before kids, a quiet house is when you can be most productive. Post-kids, when the house is quiet, you go into panic mode. “Where are the children?”
Stickie notes rule: you need to make notes for everything. It doesn’t matter if you use digital or paper notes. Just have them handy and nearby. Apologize to the fridge on a weekly basis.
You miss (not fondly) a lot of things like emails, calls, appointments (sometimes) and will need to apologize (often).
Expect plenty of rainchecks when it comes to appointments. Like they say, “sh*t happens”; sometimes with kids, that is literal.
You apologize a lot to your remote co-workers, and they make compromises for you too. “I have an hour before my kids wake up, we can talk like, right now.”
You love naptime: your own, and your kids’.
You’re always in a state of urgency — something needs to be done while your kids are napping. For me, it’s emails, spellcheck, a follow up with a writer, discussion for a new topic, and time’s up — they’re awake.
The house is always in a state of chaos because you can only clean up after the kids are asleep. Coincidentally, that’s also the time when you can do work that don’t appreciate interruptions, like write. #sophieschoice
Sleep is overrated. And your sleep debt is beyond replenishing. Sitting down initiates a nap (which I term “a crash” instead).
You take a lot of coffee. Then again, doesn’t everyone?
You roll your eyes when a friend who is single tells you they are tired from a gym session or because they didn’t get their full 8 hours of sleep last night.
You roll your eyes when someone offers you parenting advice that starts with, “you should…”
Online shopping is possibly your favorite and only hobby. The toy section is your favorite category to spend hours on. Toys are the best invention ever.
You take entertainment where you can find them because finding two hours of uninterrupted time to watch a movie is like finding Edward Snowden.
Even if you are committed to deliver 8 hours a day to work, most of time you end up doing more, to make up for time lost to interruptions.
Watching the kids is a juggling act between you and your partner. To ensure World War 3 doesn’t happen, always offer, never assign. With a sick kid, both parents are needed to chip in. You might need to take leave from work.
It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help with your kids, so you can take a short break from both them and work.
Even if your partner is okay with the idea of working and parenting simultaneously, other family members may have their own opinion. #tradition #itsthemothersjob
Sometimes you feel like your partner is the kindest person in the world (for letting you sleep in); other times, you want to murder them in their sleep (for saying things like, “your son is crying for milk again”.)
It is, however, a sign of weakness when you complain. Complaining weakens the resolve and makes you question your life decisions. You seriously don’t have time for that.
You need an extremely understanding and flexible boss. If you are a boss, and you have a work-from-home parent, be flexible.
The only way you can handle the needs of toddlers, babies, and clients simultaneously, is to get everything done, one at a time.
If people don’t think you are crazy for wanting to be a work-from-home parent, you’re not doing it right. A good sense of humor goes a long way.
If things are so tough, why do it?
Many people would tell you that parenting is a big responsibility; what they fail to convey is how difficult, tiring, and demanding this job is. Unlike a job job, you can’t clock out, you can’t protest, and you are at the mercy of your child’s pace (ever tried trying to make a child chew food faster?).
But here’s the thing. If having kids is in your family plan all this while, the first three years of a child’s life will be the ride of your life. The rate at which a child transforms from this small, fragile infant into a walking, talking, salivating machine (with boundless energy) all in 36 months is just amazing — and you’ll want to be around to see that and be a part of it.
Because, in case you forget, there is no rewind button.
Employers, Should You Hire A Work-From-Home Parent?
This revelation of how things are like for a work-from-home parent may put us parents at a disadvantage. While household conditions may vary and some parents cope better than others, all I can say is that we do have some strengths to offer:
We are pretty good at foreseeing the future (and what can possibly go wrong).
We are paranoid and thus are proactively prepared for the worst.
We are also pretty good working in the midst of chaos, stress, fatigue, and conflicting priorities.
We are used to doing things in a way that is not because we want to but because we have to.
Most of all, we get things done. Family isn’t secondary to our work, they are the reason why we work, and there are few other motivations that are as, or more, powerful than that.
My chaotic working environment. At the very least, it will take you inside what it’s like to be parents who try to juggle work and their children the way they know how. At the very best, it will give employers a good reason to cut us some slack and to have some faith in parents who choose to deliver results while working from home.