Yes, I do work

When it became clear to me years ago that my absenteeism from work was going down like a lead balloon, I decided to switch careers and work for myself, from home.

Glorious! I thought. I can be with my kids, I can set my own hours, I won’t have to ask for time off if the kids are sick, I can take leave whenever I want... It took me years to accept the fact that I was sorely mistaken.

The reality

For some reason, people have this idealised vision of what it means to work from home. Contrary to popular belief, the average work-from-home mom does not spend hours at moms and tots, or sipping martinis around the pool.

She gets to make bottles, wipe bums, fetch kids, cajole, bribe or threaten kids to eat their lunch and do their homework. She sorts out fights over what DVD is going on, drives the kids to specialists’ appointments and therapy – all the while fielding calls from irate clients who want that brief yesterday and trying to squeeze in a little productivity between supper and bath time.

By the time most people are knocking off, she’s really only getting started on the day, which most likely will go on until the wee hours of the morning.

Don’t get me wrong – working from home does have its advantages. I don’t have to deal with an irate boss when I’m off again tending to sick kids and I don’t have to face the glares of co-workers who feel I am shirking office responsibilities by pulling out the kiddie-card. Again.

But it’s no free ride, especially if you’re the breadwinner.

Working from home has forced me to streamline my activities and make the most of the time I have on my own. I have learned to say ‘no’ to other (office-job)  parents who seem to think I am permanently available to babysit, fetch or otherwise entertain their progeny.

I have also learned to tear myself away from the kids and leave them in the care of their (very capable) nanny, and that I have as much right to hire a driver or an au-pair or a nanny as a mother who works in an office. After all, I do the same work. 

When it comes to dealing with clients, the same office rules apply at home. I found out the hard way it doesn’t look good or cute or endearing to take your two-year-old to a business meeting, and it doesn’t create a great impression to talk to your latest client for hours about your baby’s diarrhoea. That distinction between the mom-role and the work-role still has to be there, even if it doesn’t feel like it exists at all.

But that is only half the equation. Just as other parents think you don’t work because you’re based at home, clients can think you are permanently on call for them because you never leave your office. It’s easy to take that on, but when you start to feel like your family is living in your office, it’s time to look at how you’re working.

Laying some ground rules
  • Setting hours is crucial. There has got to be a knock-off time, for your sanity and that of your family, and there has got to be a designated space for work that you can leave outside of office hours.
  • You also have to be very careful about how much work you take on – don’t take on what doesn’t fit into working hours, no matter how tempting it is to take the money and lose the sleep. Believe me, it’s not worth it.
  • Finally, you’ve got to laugh. As hard as you might work at creating that professional image, there will always be some little person round the corner to bring you right back down to earth with a well-placed, “Can you wipe my bum?”
Are you a work-from-home mom? How have you found the experience?
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