I wish I were writing this while little birds sang outside my window, watching a shiny rainbow trail across the sky. In my pre-work-from-home fantasies, I envisioned more cupcakes at the very least.
While there is the occasional rainbow, the fairytale isn’t picture perfect. So, I’m going to tell you the tale of the work-at-home parent, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
When I worked in an office, the remnants of our family’s morning routine disappeared when I walked out the door. Now that my office is the living room, it’s hard to ignore evidence of our existence. I attempted to put on chore blinders, but a sink full of dishes and piles of laundry are persistent (especially when the laundry trips you).
The lesson: Every morning I take 30 minutes to clear the clutter and chaos from my path. If it can’t be accomplished in 30 minutes, I shove it out of sight until I’ve gotten some work done.
Work-life balance is like one of those mermaids that used to lure sailors to their deaths on the rocks. It’s a fib, a myth ... like successful multitasking, non-deployable bases, and tasty, fat-free chocolates. No matter how hard you try, you can’t wish these things into existence.
The lesson: The work-life scales will always be unbalanced. Work tips the scale when projects are due, clients need your attention, and deadlines beckon. Life will take a backseat on those days, but there will be days when life takes top billing. You can maintain the illusion of balance if you don’t spend too many working days without a few life days sprinkled in. Easier said than done, I grant you—the line between parent and remote worker is always blurry—but it’s always worth the effort.
To help balance the scales:
- Create a work schedule and (try to) stick to it. For example, my work hours are usually Monday-Friday from 9:00 – 3:00, but today is Saturday and I’m writing this blog from the floor as my toddler plays in the bath.
- Take advantage of Google Calendar. I input my work hours and personal hours so I can visually balance my time. I also use Calendly for client appointments; these calendars can be merged so my events don’t overlap.
I have amazing co-workers, but they are virtual … which means no chats over morning coffee. Despite the joys of working in PJs if I choose, I spend most of my day in front of a computer and it’s easy to close myself off from the world. The loneliness really sets in when my spouse is away; I can go days without adult interactions. The day that I spent an hour and a half talking about cooking tips with a client, I realized I was starving for adult relationships.
The lesson: You have to consciously manage your social interactions. I volunteer at my kids’ schools, practice yoga, and attend library time once a week. Forcing myself to get out and interact with others helps me to remember I’m not alone.
When I mentioned my work to my eleven-year-old son, he replied, “I didn’t know you worked, you just stay home all day.”
I was gobsmacked. Stung, even.
When the feeling came back in my body, I explained that I do have a job—just like Dad, just like his friends’ parents. The only difference is that I work from home instead of an office.
He still doesn’t quite get it, and tells people I’m a blogger (not 100% accurate, but I’ll take it), and he’s not alone. It’s difficult for my kids and even my husband to envision my work life. My husband schedules home maintenance visits during my weekly work call, my son texts an SOS an hour into school, sure I can drop off his forgotten homework. My toddler has no clue what a client call is (or why his drum solo is so offensive).
The lesson: It’s a work in progress. I have to remember that I work, and I have to remind them that my work is important (as I remind myself). We’re all learning from each other, but with Netflix and the assistance of a bowl of gummies, we at least get through most calls without incident.
Story by Amanda Marksmeier