Summertime presents challenges for all moms, regardless of their job status. Moms who work full-time at an office have to find all day camps or child care. Moms who stay-at-home have to find things to do to keep kids occupied so they don’t fight all day and destroy the house. But moms such as myself who work from home have to do all of the above, as well as find time to work while the kids are out of school for three months.
Like so many moms, I consider myself part of the Gig Economy. I work as a freelance writer and graphic designer for several publications. It’s part-time work that I (mostly) enjoy, and it allows me the flexibility to be home with my kids, to work in my pajamas, and to contribute to our family’s income.
The catch is that I make enough to be necessary to supplement our standard of living, but not enough to hire a full-time babysitter.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I am thankful to have the opportunity to work from home. But, especially during the summer, it can be really hard to balance work and family.
Last year, when my son was five and my daughter three, our family barely survived the summer. By the end of July, we even took my son to see a counselor because we were concerned about his behavior. Looking back, I realize that it was probably a combination of factors: fear about starting kindergarten, frustration about expressing his big emotions, not enough stimulation or structure at home. I felt guilty for having to work and not being able to give him the attention he needed.
It’s a strange situation for my kids. Physically, I am at home, so I should be there for them, but mentally my focus is somewhere else, so it probably looks and feels like I’m ignoring them.
And inevitably, on the days that I have major deadlines, things always go wrong — kid meltdowns, computer breakdowns, communication with husband breakdown, my own nervous breakdown. There’s a reason most jobs and offices don’t have Bring Your Kid To Work Day Everyday; it’s hard to focus and get work done with young children around.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers about making life easier for mamas who strive to be there for their kids and be the best at their job. But having worked from home for more than eight years, I’ve lived through it and learned lessons the hard way.
Here are three tips that have helped me survive:
Make the Most of Your Time
During the school year, I would go to the gym, run errands, eat a leisurely breakfast, clean up the house, and then settle in to work. But when school’s out, any time the kids are out of the house, I seize the opportunity to get as much work done as possible.
Camp is only from 9-11:30? Those will be the most productive two hours my company has ever seen! My neighbor offers to watch the kids for a couple hours in the afternoon? It’s amazing how much I can accomplish! Any time you can devote to work without kids around, make the most of it, even if it’s only an hour.
As a night owl, I like to stay up late and work. I can get a lot done when the house is quiet and there are no additional distractions from emails or phone calls. This has its drawbacks, of course, like being more tired in the morning, but when your time is precious, take advantage of every moment. And isn’t that what coffee’s for anyway?
I remember a particularly exhausting day when I was nearing my deadline, my son, who was two-and-a-half at the time, took out all his blocks and proceeded to build tower after tower, right behind the chair of my desk. Normally, I would have praised this activity (He’s keeping himself busy! He’s using his creativity!) if he wasn’t also knocking down each tower as hard and as loud as he could.
The only thing that kept me from going insane was a sudden epiphany: Just think how much more productive office workers would be if they had a toddler continually knocking over blocks in their cubicle. Or, imagine the incentive to get work done as quickly as possible if everyday near the end of the day, or at the most stressful time for workers, an office unleashed a band of screaming kids to run up and down the hallways. I even thought of a clever name for my new business model: Teambuilding Toddlers.
(Clearly, my survival skills involve daydreaming and a sense of humor. Both of which come in handy when the only adult conversations I have all day are one-line responses from annoying co-workers via Skype.)
A Little Help From Your Friends
Without any family nearby, having a reliable network of mom friends is crucial — for many reasons — but especially when you need to get the kids out of the house and get some work done. The good thing about having a flexible, part-time work-from-home job is that there are plenty of opportunities to have friends over for playdates and return the favors.
If you live in a neighborhood with a lot of kids, you might be able to set up a Mom Babysitting Co-op. My mother-in-law told me she had this when her kids were growing up; it’s essentially a slightly more organized system of moms/neighbors taking turns watching each other’s children.
Establish a Schedule
Kids thrive in a structured environment. Or so I’ve been told. This is one area that I struggle with, being that I am generally unorganized and terrible with time management.
But I am trying to be better about planning in advance. When summer camp registration opened in March, I was consulting with other mom friends and signing up my kids on the first day. Before school ended in May, I had a general outline for the whole summer written on the calendar. Each week I talk to my kids ahead of time to let them know what we have scheduled. They like looking at the calendar and counting the days to get excited for upcoming events.
However, even the best laid plans don’t always matter. If I had to add a fourth tip, it would be to be flexible. With all kids and jobs, there will be circumstances beyond your control, such as those days when camp or a playdate is cancelled and your deadline looms at 4 p.m. In those situations, you do whatever you have to do to get your work done on time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If it means letting your kids watch an entire season of My Little Pony on Netflix, or eat packs of fruit snacks back to back, then so be it. This work-from-home mama won’t judge. (And neither should anyone else.)