So there is the career mom, there is the stay at home mom, and then there is the work at home mom. That to me is three types of moms who all work incredibly hard.
I had always planned on being a career mom. Drop the kiddo off at daycare, and head into the office. I spent three and a half years in college, another three years in law school, and planned on spending the next three decades in an office. But as you all know, Asher is nothing if not a destroyer of all of our best laid out plans. Even after we had Asher, that was still the plan. I stayed at home with him for 3 months and then started him in daycare. All was going amazingly well, until he was 5 months old and ended up in the hospital for a week because he came down with 3 respiratory viruses that he wasn’t able to fight off on his own. After the doctors ran the tests and found him to be immunodeficient, they expressed a lot of concern about him remaining in daycare. The biggest concern was the size of his lungs, plus his immunodeficiency. Now don’t get me wrong – in a lot of ways, I think daycare germs are GREAT. They build up those little immune systems in some amazing ways. But because Asher’s chest was so much smaller than average, the fear was that if he were to get very sick, he would have trouble being able to breathe, and it would get bad very quickly.
So here I am, 2 years into being a work at home mom. And every time I do a Q&A on Instagram, this is one of the top questions I get – how on EARTH do I work full time at home with a toddler. So here it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly about working from home.
- Your job. I am putting this at the very top of the list, because this is, as far as I am concerned, the number one factor that determines whether you can be a work at home mom (or dad! – all of this info also applies to the WAHDs out there) with your kiddos. Some jobs strictly by their nature rule it out as a possibility. If you have to be there in person – you have to be there in person. But in this day and age, with so many jobs focused on technology, the concept of working remotely is becoming extremely widespread. Because I am an in-house attorney (as opposed to an attorney at a law firm who meets with clients face to face on a regular basis), my job can be done very easily from home. I spend my day on conference calls, reviewing contracts, and answering emails. Whether that is from my home office, or from our corporate offices, the job is the same. But I also do not fail to recognize and appreciate that my ability to do this is SO reliant on the fact that I work for a company that is understanding of my needs for Asher, and they allow me to do this. And I know that I would not have the same opportunities at a great number of companies out there. When we were first told by the doctors that we needed to pull Asher out of daycare, I almost panicked since a nanny was not in the budget on top of Asher’s medical bills. My company didn’t bat an eye at the issue, and I have never forgotten that or taken it for granted.
2. The noise. Ahhhh the noise that a toddler can make. An incredibly noisy toddler is the second scariest sound you can hear, coming in close second behind an incredibly quiet toddler. And when your job requires you to be on a lot of phone calls, like mine does, finding ways to keep the kids quiet in the background can be a challenge. I won’t tell you how many calls I have taken while shut in our walk-in pantry, but whatever number you are guessing – double it. This is one of the “uglies” about working from home. And the best way I have found around it is to watch my schedule very closely. If I have control over when calls are scheduled, I will try to schedule the important ones when I know Asher will be down for his nap, or when I know that my husband or mom will be here to watch him. This is not always possible, so I check my schedule in the morning and prepare in advance to make sure he is set up with an engaging toy, activity, etc. that will hopefully keep him occupied during the extent of the call. And I will be the first to admit (mom shamers, feel free to skip to the next section), that we do sometimes resort to putting Bubble Guppies or Sesame Street on in the background if I need to take a call and keep him engaged. You do what you have to do to make it work, get your job done, keep your kid safe, etc. – and it isn’t always easy. But it works for us. And at the end of the day, yes – my colleagues have frequently heard Asher’s chitter chatter as he tries to provide legal advice of his own.
3. Keeping him entertained. Keeping any 2 year old entertained is tough. Keeping a 2 year old with limited motor skills entertained is even tougher. I hear mom’s of Asher’s peers talk about living their best life as a work at home mom on the patio in the backyard while their toddler runs around in the grass, or on the play set, and I just sigh with envy. But I also know that each situation comes with different struggles – a kid that is more mobile may be able to run around and play, but that also means you can end up chasing them around to keep an eye on them. So while the grass is always greener on the other side, the water bill is probably higher over there as well. Alas….So with Asher, as I have noted in previous posts, we do a lot of toy rotation to keep him from getting bored since he tends to stay in the same area of the house (see my previous post on staying organized with a toddler). Crayons, books, more Mega Bloks than you could dream of, cardboard box forts, dinosaurs galore. The list goes on and on. He will get tired of one after a while, and we rotate in another one. Sometimes he spends half the day foraging for treasure in the kitchen cabinets. Sometimes I spend half the day chasing him out of the pantry, where he generally ends up splashing in the cat’s water bowl. Some days he spends half the day screaming because he wants to go outside and play on the deck in his water table. This is not simple to do while working full time, and I can’t express how thankful I am that my mom lives with us and Matt also works from home a large chunk of the time, and they are both here to help when he is being a little more high maintenance than normal (they both work full time as well, so sometimes this involves careful schedule coordination). I will say that being a work at home mom and trying to keep him entertained has resulted in my living room looking like a toy-store on occasion, but that is a battle for another day.
4. Finding time for myself. So I tried to describe to my husband one of my biggest frustrations that comes along with being a work at home mom. If I was a stay-at-home mom, I could take him to parks, go to the splash pad, go on walks, take him to the Zoo – relax, clean the house, workout during nap times, etc. We could get out and about and run errands during the day. Whereas if I was a career mom in the office, I’d get my adult interaction, get out of the house, Asher would be in daycare with his peers and would be constantly stimulated, and then I would come home and get my Asher time in the evenings. Being a work-at-home mom though, I still perform my job as though I was in the office, I am at my desk during business hours on Monday through Friday. So there isn’t the chance to get him out of the house during those hours, and then by 5 or 6 when work is done, we are starting to wind down for dinner, bath and bed. I often feel caught between the two worlds – trying to find a good balance. This one has taken me a while to get a handle on – and I’m still working on it, I’ll be the first to admit. I looked into mom groups for example, to try to find Asher some playgroups – but they all met at parks at 10am during the weekdays. That clearly wasn’t going to happen…. So I have had to find alternatives.
I have found that getting up early in the mornings (I try to wake up by 6:30, which gives me one hour before Asher wakes up, and two hours before work starts) always gives me a good start to the day. I drink a cup of coffee or tea with the husband and try to get the house cleaned up before the day starts (so I’m not staring at a mess all day…). I have also resorted to finding good ways to workout at home. We tried to do the gym membership for about a year after Asher was born, even one with a daycare that we paid extra for each month, and one which I did not use – not a single time. To those moms who break away and go to the gym – more power to you. It was just not happening with me. But I do try to get on the stationary bike for an at home spin class during my lunch hour 3 or 4 times a week (I’m obsessed with our Peloton bike for this), which has helped IMMENSELY.
5. Staying focused on work. I certainly do not have a job that I can do by putting myself on auto-pilot and going through the motions. My job is detail oriented, and requires a lot of focus. So finding a way to keep myself from getting distracted not only by Asher, but by things around the house, is a constant effort on my part.
First – I have to clean my house before the work day starts. Otherwise I will use a mess to procrastinate something I should otherwise be doing. Don’t want to review that contract right now, maybe I will do these dishes that are driving me crazy instead. It is amazing how fun cleaning looks when you should be doing something that you are dreading even more than cleaning. That just doesn’t work for me – so I have to start with a clean slate. No distractions around the house put me in a better mindset for work. I pick up the house after the workday is done, but I do a final clean sweep and make sure everything is in order during the couple of hours before the work day starts. I also use my lunch break on days I am not working out to organize around the house since Asher is usually asleep at that time.
Second – I know my kid is cute, you know my kid is cute, and yes – I would love to sit and play with him all day just to make him smile and laugh and giggle. But that also isn’t going to happen. So I set Asher up in the living room, and I work from the dining room. He is close enough that I can keep an eye on him and I can hear him, but he is far enough that he can’t see me all the time, and he knows this is time to play on his own and not time to insist that mommy play with him. And y’all, I feel so mean even typing that! But it is the reality of working from home. If I try to work from the living room, he wants to sit in my lap and remove all the keys from my keyboard. If he plays here in the dining room, he thinks it is great fun to turn my computer off right before I finish a crucial contract. It is the way of the world around here. Occasionally he likes to go play in his room now and then (which we have worked hard to make it safe, while still fun), so I use the baby monitor to keep a watch over what he is doing – but it let’s me continue to work uninterrupted.
6. The advantages. So I know I have outlined a handful of struggles that come along with being a work at home mom and how I handle them, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also highlight all of the incredible benefits.
It has also been so much easier to eat the way we would like to – since we have, especially lately, been on a pretty strict dairy/gluten/sugar free diet. That isn’t the easiest thing in the world when you aren’t home all the time (unless you are good at packing your lunch – which I never was – or you have more will power than I do and can avoid eating out or grabbing snacks from the break room). My house stays so much cleaner when I work from home. I can throw laundry in the washer in the middle of the day. I can do dishes during lunch. I use the time I would normally use commuting or getting ready to clean up. It is just frankly so much easier.
But the best part about being a work at home mom, I don’t miss much when it comes to Asher’s accomplishments. The first time he scooted, his first time attempting to take steps, when he decided to start reciting the alphabet, when he learns new words, and how to do new things. I get to be here for that, and that is the best thing since sliced bread (maybe even better, since Asher’s accomplishments are carb-free).