Time works in odd ways these days. Like pancake syrup, at times it runs quickly out of the bottle, and at other times, it pools in a waffle square. Has it really been seven days since I posted a blog entry?
I've been thinking about today's entry for a while, even if I haven't placed fingers to the keyboard and solidified its form. Since so many people currently find themselves in an odd situation, being stuck at home perhaps for the first time ever -- and for some of us, with kids -- I wanted to share some insights I picked up as a work-at-home mom.
Wearing headphones, focusing on work,
with my dad and son in the background back in 2016.
Until this year, what paltry income I contributed to my family's finances came from at-home work: most of the time with strict deadlines. I'd already been working at home for several years prior to becoming a mom, having been downsized from the P.R. department in a small Philadelphia museum. Naively, I thought that having a child wouldn't change much about my work day. Boy, was I in for a shock.
For the first two weeks after giving birth, while I was still on bed rest, I took an unpaid leave from my regular gigs. Those days seem so special to me now: enjoying the breeze through the open window in the second-floor bedroom of our rowhouse, listening to endless hours of the local public radio station, bonding with my baby on our bed, and writing musings about my baby's earliest days on my husband's laptop.
Then, so that our finances didn't take too bad of a hit, I returned to work. I soon realized how challenging that would be. My deadlines, especially those that occurred in the afternoon while my husband was at work, became harder and harder to hit. Yes, I learned how to nurse and type -- don't judge me -- but I couldn't type while changing a diaper, or entertaining a bored baby. I'm not sure how I held onto those afternoon assignments for as long as I did, but eventually, they were reassigned when it became clear that I could no longer meet them.
For years, I kept a split schedule: a couple assignments in the morning, plus several at night once my husband came home. The morning assignments could still be a struggle, but at least once I finished them, I'd have the afternoon to spend with my son.
As the years continued, I picked up new work here and there, and every time, we had to find a new routine. However, the following lessons applied at every stage and still apply today. Hopefully, they'll be useful to some other people, too.
* Be realistic about goals. For those with a more open schedule, you might have ambitious plans every morning when you arise. Today is the day you will complete that unfinished project, organize your home office, and write that long-awaited letter to a loved one. Instead, set your sights smaller. Each day, if you achieve one goal, or complete one portion of a goal, celebrate your accomplishment.
* Seek balance between home and work life. When you're working at home, it's tempting to work at any hour of the day. Unless you're working on a strict work schedule, like I did, establish a work-day routine that allows time for household tasks as well as down time. It doesn't have to be an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day, either, unless required by your workplace. If you find it works better for you to get up earlier, for example, before your house is filled with noise, then set a work day that runs from 6 a.m. until 3. And after 3, push away from the computer and mentally "clock out."
* Get dressed every day. While you might feel like lounging around in pajamas all day, I've found that getting dressed in street clothes helps me to differentiate "work time" from "relaxation time." Of course, your work clothes may be considerably more casual than if you were in an office (you can always throw on a button-down shirt for teleconferences), but a perpetual pajama party soon loses its charm. Plus, it makes it weird when the Amazon delivery person comes to the door.
* For those with children, help them become independent. Now, obviously, babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even grade-school children often need help that has to come from a parent. By all means, put the laptop down when your child needs to be fed, changed, comforted or assisted with a task. But try to help them find activities they can do alone to entertain themselves, and don't always jump in to solve their difficulties. Of course, that will look different for different families and different kids.
When my son was a preschooler, we babyproofed the living room, and I'd camp out on the couch with the laptop while he had free reign of the carpet between two baby gates. He loved to build with wooden train tracks, and sometimes things didn't match up to his specifications. While he'd want me to come down on the floor and help him, I would talk him through the problem, providing possible ideas for solutions, and insisting he solve it himself. Over time, he found that simply expressing the problem out loud was enough to help him work out a solution.
Of course, I realize that method won't work with all kids. Maybe your kids can't be trusted to do anything independently, without destroying the living room or taking an unplanned walk around the neighborhood. In that case, I'd suggest finding a way to have someone else take care of them during the hours you most need to get something done. Of course, in these days of quarantine, I realize that may not work with all households. If all else fails, work with your employer to figure out how to restructure your work tasks to better suit your present home situation.
* Take care of yourself. While it might be obvious, eat primarily healthy meals, get regular exercise, get enough sleep, and drink plenty of water. Your life might be crazy busy right now, or it might seem lethargic and slow. But seeing to these daily needs will help you stay strong in the long term.
* Treat yourself. For those who are not fans of the Amy Poehler series "Parks & Recreation," a little explanation. Two of the employees in this sit-com had a regular habit, a special day where they would periodically treat themselves to a reward. In their case, it was usually something extravagant, like a limousine ride and a day at the spa. In your case, it might be watching your favorite non-family-friendly series after the kids go to sleep; or indulging in a favorite dessert; or just closing the bathroom door and taking a bubble bath. On a regular basis, make time to relax and do something that makes you happy.
Tips from a Work-at-Home Mom
When your sleep-crusted eyes
blank, take a break. Step
back from the blinking.
Look. A robin lands.
Listen. Small voice