Moms: Here's What You Should Know About Working From Home

I enjoy working from home—I get to do what I love (writing), get paid (yes, English majors make money), and keep my professional network active during these intense years of raising young kids. That said, working from home comes with its own set of difficulties. Not the least of these challenges is feeling a little invisible, a little tribe-less; I'm not fully a "working mom" with a closet full of heels and the day care on speed dial. I'm also not fully a "stay-at-home mom" with the associated schedule freedom or routine. Like many other areas of my life, I find myself somewhere in the middle as a work-at-home mom

I reached out to a few other moms who work from home and asked them to share their tips, strategies, and secrets for staying sane and getting work done. Here's what you should know about working from home. 

Since I've felt tribe-less at times, I wanted to help other work-at-home moms feel less isolated. I reached out to a few other moms who work from home and asked them to share their insights, strategies, and secrets for staying sane and getting work done. Here's what you should know about working from home. 

It's Easy to Get Distracted

Many moms who work at home don't give up their primary caregiver job, and because of this, there's always something as pressing (or more pressing) than your email inbox or upcoming deadline. Blow-out diapers and toddler tantrums wait for no one. Every mom I interviewed listed this as their greatest hurdle. "My biggest challenge is distractions around the house," says Lindsay Koch, a photographer who stays home with her two sons. "I try to not let home chores and things that need cleaned interfere with work but I have a tendency to be a squirrel." 

A Lot of Work Happens in the Margins

There are serious perks to not working the 9-to-5 grind, but there's one major drawback: your work time can get squeezed out of the picture by plain old life (especially if you're chasing toddlers and babies or ferrying kids around town all day). Molly Flinkman is a mom of three and works from home: "The only time I have to get things done are the leftover hours that I scrape together." Nap times, after bed times, early mornings before the kids wake up—these are the shifts that work-at-home moms take on. I love what Molly added: "It's easy to get frustrated when you live in the margins of leftover time, but I'm learning, instead, that everything is better when I choose to take joy in making sacrifices for my family."

It's Awesome

Ask any work-at-home parent and they'll tell you: for all the challenges, working at home is flat-out awesome. Amber High works from home and has a 10-year-old daughter, and says, "The best parts for me are being able to be available to our kiddo when she really needs me (she is pretty self-sufficient at 10!), and not having to fight traffic on a commute!" Other moms shared that they love never having to take a sick day, witnessing their kids' firsts, and keeping a flexible, family-centric schedule. 

Advice from the Pros

Finally, I asked these moms to give me their top piece of advice for work-at-home parents. 

"Create routines for yourself and your kids and then live flexibly inside them. I've got a pretty good rhythm of productivity going right now, but I know I'm going to need to reevaluate and adjust in the fall when I send two girls to half day preschool and our schedule is rocked. Flexibility is key too because so often my deadlines have to take a backseat to another demand during the day." - Molly Flinkman 

"My piece of advice would be to prioritize your time to fit your schedule. I know that I get the most work done in the mornings and I'm the most focused so I work on any projects that have deadlines first thing in the morning. I also know that Hutton is in the best mood in the morning so I can get him focused on something that allows me some quiet time. Also, I have learned not to feel guilty about giving it 110% everyday. I have learned that balance is key and some days you give it 70% and some days you give your work 120%." - Lindsay Koch 

"My biggest tip is to plan ahead. Try to set aside specific times for your tasks. This can be more challenging when you have littles at home, and things have to be done around their schedules. But for me, making lists at the end of each day for the day ahead, helps me rest better at night and gives me a clear picture of what I need to tackle the next day when I get up and going!" - Amber High 

 

These Are the Short Years

Marriage takes a beating during the early years of parenthood, doesn't it? I've started calling them the short years. Because we're in the thick of them, and sometimes it helps to give things a label. We're short on everything. 

Short on sleep. Money. Alone time. Self-care. Time together. These are the short years, the pinched years, the years of tightening up and buckling down; hands-on, always on, hearts out, worn out. 

We're short on energy. Patience. Our words to each other are always cut short by cries and demands and crashes from the other room. We're short with each other. The emotions and the worries and the work and the exhaustion get boiled down into a few curt words, and we're too short on time to get to the making up part. 

We're short on passion, motivation, creativity—the things that used to attract us to each other—because these tiny people our love made take most of (sometimes all of) our bodies, minds, and spirits. 

We're short on money because we're in the expanding part of our lives: everything (everyone) is growing faster than our paychecks and our house and our car can keep up. 

We're short on time to spend together—and I miss us. I sleep next to him every night (and please understand, I use the term "sleep" loosely these days), but I can't remember the last time we relaxed together. I miss laughing with him, I miss hours without an agenda or the looming duties of bedtime creeping up. 

PC: Meredith Adams Photography

PC: Meredith Adams Photography

These are the short years. 

But they're short. 

If the cliches are to be believed, I'll look back on these years fondly. They're already whizzing by, leaving us breathlessly and stunned and half-smiling in disbelief. And isn't it good these full years only last so long? 

And there's no one else I'd rather be short on everything with. Here's to the short years. May we weather them well. 

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms

Any mother will tell you: it can be isolating to spend your days picking up messes no one knew existed, making meals that are rejected, and living your life on a loop of mundane tasks. 

I've found that working from home can make this isolating effect even more intense. I feel like my work as a mom can be invisible; my paying work can feel invisible too. I don't put on a pair of slacks and heels and leave the house every day, but I put in my hours. Many of my friends don't even realize I work. My husband only knows how many hours I've worked in a week if I tell him. At times, it feels like I live in two worlds, and neither world understands the other.

Motherhood exists in a twilight zone where up is down and down is up. You work harder than you ever have—harder than you knew you could—but by the standards of business or finances or pie charts or performance reviews, your productivity is near nil. You feel superhuman when you manage to respond to your sick infant every hour through the night when your body should be pushed past the point of exhaustion. At the same time, you feel subhuman, reduced to celebrating wearing real pants and taking a shower; here lies a sad meme where once was a person. They tell you your "job" as a mother is worth tens, maybe hundreds of thousands a year, but they also wonder what you could possibly be doing all day since you left the office. 

You know your job, your time with these babies is priceless. But priceless almost means hard to quantify, difficult to measure, impossible to describe. And that's where the magnitude of motherhood and the pragmatism of the work-a-day world collide: at the intersection of priceless and worthless. The world outside parenthood doesn't like priceless, it likes hard numbers and cold cash.  

I think this is part of why I've struggled to be a work-at-home parent. I have a foot in both worlds: the stay-at-home mom world and the working mom world. I'll admit, I'm drawn to the pragmatic. If I let my inner type-A overachiever have her way, I'd miss the reasons I'm staying home at all. I'd throw my mental health away and sacrifice my time with my kids on the altar of productivity—always telling myself that right after this month or once I finish this project, I'd get my time back. 

Thank God for motherhood. 

Motherhood has forced me to divorce productivity from value—from a day's value, from my value. These aren't billable hours that I'm counting ducks with my toddler or nursing my baby. I'm not doing my resume any favors while cutting up sweet potatoes or wiping runny noses. But somehow, I'm doing the most meaningful work I've ever done. 

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms. It's not easy living in two worlds, and working from home can feel isolating. Sanity-saving tips!

That said, switching gears and setting aside time to be in the world of business and pie charts and deliverables? That's challenging. I've been working from home for over two years now—almost as long as I've been a mom—and I've learned a few tactics that help me keep my home (nearly) peaceful and my mental health (almost) intact. I'm not always great at taking my own advice, but when I do, my work-at-home maxims look something like this. 

1. Don't Live in the Margins 

Don't let your work and parenting push everything else to the margins. The everything else is your mental health, your rest, your marriage, your interests, and your alone time, to name a few. Too often, I'll try to squeeze in rest and connect with my husband and read a book, all in the 1.349 hours I've left for those things in a week. If you don't make time for rest, you won't get it. Don't let working from home take over to the point that there's nothing left for a healthy life. This is directly related to tip number two, which is...

2. Protect Your Time Off 

If you had a boss who forced you to work nights and weekends, who took every opportunity to get more production out of you, and who never gave you a break, you'd probably quit. Life's too short; toss a few files and walk out. But if you're anything like me, unless you intentionally give yourself time off, you are that boss to your overworked self. Before I imposed this rule in our house, there were times I dreaded weekends, because I knew Jason and I would be performing this mad dash of handing off kids to each other, trying to get work done, and squeezing in some "relaxing family time" that wasn't relaxing at all—it was just exhausted collapsing. Now the rule is it doesn't matter if the work is done—on weekends, we don't work. It'll be there Monday.  

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms. It's not easy living in two worlds, and working from home can feel isolating. Sanity-saving tips!

3. Get Help 

Work-at-home parents have a conundrum to address: most of the time, they're working from home because a part-time paycheck + part-time childcare = zero. And working hard while handing off your children for a financial wash is cruel and unusual punishment. Thus, we work-at-homers tend to try to get everything done without paying for childcare. This isn't always realistic, and I've had to become more intentional about asking for help. My mom is an invaluable resource—and even on weeks she doesn't help out, I invest in a few hours of babysitting a week. 

4. Set a Daily Routine

Working anytime, anywhere can mean working all the time, everywhere. It has been key to my sanity to implement a routine for every day. In this routine, there's designated time to work and designated time to be with my kids. I avoid working while they're awake and in my care as much as possible, since that's not only counterproductive, it's a waste of my time with them. My routine allows me to relax a little: if I know that my work time is coming up in a few hours, I can focus on the now with my kids. 

5. Get Up Early

Finally, my least favorite tip of all that honestly, truly, absolutely works: get up early. I'm a night owl, everybody, a lover of sleeping in, so you have to know—if I'm suggesting this, I believe in it. Getting up early has made a huge difference in my ability to work from home. I spend the time catching up on an always-messy house before my kids wake up, drinking my coffee, responding to emails, and planning my day. When I forego this hour or two of quiet in the morning, I regret it—majorly. 

5 Habits to Cultivate Peace for Work-at-Home Moms. It's not easy living in two worlds, and working from home can feel isolating. Sanity-saving tips!

If you're still reading, bless you for sticking it out. Actually, why am I surprised—you're probably a work-at-home parent, one of the sticker-it-outers. I hope this post is a resource for you, and I'd love to connect and hear about how you balance working from home and being a parent. Connect with me on Instagram or tell me in the comments. I'm rooting for you!

Stop Letting Perfectionism Steal Your Joy

My tired, temporary eyes can’t find something soothing to rest on. It’s too early, too dark, my brain too sleep-starved. The plates from last night’s dinner are in an unsteady pile by the sink, the full dishwasher asks to be emptied while my children ask to be filled, and so I serve oatmeal from a spaghetti-splattered microwave and breastmilk from my aching body, rubbing my eyes.

My eyes: they’re in this moment, which sounds like a good thing, but right now it feels like a trapped temporality—I’m stuck here. Stinging eyes see undone laundry, toys that I should repair, pantry appallingly disorganized—a household mismanaged, I suppose. Look deeper; you’ll see trim that wants painting, kitchen without backsplash (still), chairs with screws slowly loosening—a household always under construction.

Imperfection everywhere. If I’m honest, these trapped moments feel frequent and all-consuming sometimes. Raising babies comes with plenty of imperfection because babies don’t care about clean houses. Working from home and staying with my children enclosed by these same four walls gives my eyes too much time to study the drywall cracks on the bathroom ceiling and the slowly deteriorating paint on my living room furniture. Perfectionism wags its finger at me, showcasing my housekeeping (and other) failures like a nightmarish Vanna White. And the category is… how Emily is failing and has failed, circa 1990-2017.

I want things to be perfect. I want my house perfect, myself perfect. According to my Instagram feed, anything less is off-brand. Read more at gloryannaboge.com.

Why I Blog

This is the second February that my little word home has existed. This time of year is a ripe space for contemplation and reflection, and it brought some thoughts to the surface of why I'm still here, clicking away at a keyboard while my toddler says "play with me, Mommy" on loop. (Don't worry, I set a timer and told her I'll color with her when it goes off. The only problem is, she has zero concept of time.) 

Blogging is a world fraught with expectations. I didn't expect much when I carved out this little corner of the internet for myself, and I liked it that way. We writers are known for our love of over-indulgent navel-gazing, which is part of why I enjoyed hitting "publish" without overthinking. Of course, as my readership grew and my knowledge of blogging (and marketing, because of my job) increased, the overthinking developed anyway. 

What's my goal? To get my words in front of as many people as possible? Is that my goal, and if it is—is it even a decent goal? Is it to connect with people? What does that mean? Is my goal to make money? To de-stress? To pad my resume during these years that I'm raising tiny humans? 

The answer is complicated. It's multi-faceted. It's something like this: 

1. I'm Supposed to Write

Yes, this photo is me. Yes, I'm scribbling nonsense with a coffee cup next to me. Yes, there is nothing new under the sun. My mom is going through our old papers right now and has confirmed it: I generated more pages than all four of my sisters combined. 

Why I Blog // emilyfisk.com

I don't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer when I grow up. I'm still waiting for the growing up part, but I'm confident I'm supposed to write. What I've learned is that I don't have to wait to "be a writer," especially in the age of the internet. I don't have to slave away in an attic on a manuscript and then wait on the mercy of a publisher to share my words with you; I can write and share at my whim. This is an incredible gift, and I don't take it for granted. 

That also means that writing and blogging can feel a little cheapened; everyone can do it, so are you really a writer? I've dealt with crushing imposter syndrome every time a post of mine is well-received—I'm just sitting at my kitchen table, stringing some inadequate words together. I'm not a writer the way my idols are. 

But here's what I know about creativity and art: we all start somewhere. I am writer because a writer is someone who sits their butt down at their kitchen table and keeps stringing together words and believes in the craft. A writer is someone who gets past the competing messages in their brain of inadequacy, purposelessness, and imposter syndrome. A writer is someone who cuts through the noise and writes, expectations and guidelines and standards be damned. 

I like to remember what one of the great creatives, Ira Glass, says: 

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Ira Glass on Creativity

2. We All Have Something to Share

I once read a mean-spirit piece about how we're in an age of over-sharing (maybe true) where too many people fancy themselves writers (not true) and there's just too much content written and submitted to publishers (absolutely not true). I realized the writer was operating under a false pretense: that there's not enough room for all of us. 

Here's what I know: writing is a form of communication—a beautiful one—and it connects us. Everyone has something to share. There's enough airspace for every single one of us. So what if someone feels you're just adding to the noise? Someone else probably needed to hear that noise. 

3. I Have an End-Game

Maybe that sounds calculating, or self-promoting, but I do. I have an end-game. Blogging, for me, is a place to play—to test out material, to see how you all react to what I write, to hone my words and my craft. Eventually, this will help me write my first book, whether by providing the groundwork words (groundwords? see how playful I am when I blog?!) or just letting me exercise my publishing muscle. Whatever the case is, I know blogging has made me a better writer. 

If you're writer wondering whether blogging is right for you, I'd encourage you to give it a try. This episode of the Hope*Writers podcast also makes a great case for writers to blog. 

You're a writer, but should you be blogging? Blogging can help develop your writing career, especially if you want to publish a book. Here's one writer's take.