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.
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.
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.
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!