By Mary M. Byers
Release Date: April 1, 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Mary M. Byers
Everything you need to know to work from home successfully without sacrificing your family.
I left full-time employment outside the home to be more available to my children. I remember calling my friend Dana to tell her I had resigned from my job to become an at-home mom.
There was silence on the other end of the line.
After a long pause, Dana asked, “You’ll freelance, won’t you?”
Frankly, the decision to leave work had left me so emotionally exhausted, I hadn’t even gotten around to thinking about what I would “do” once I got home. Clearly, Dana was shocked. Being an at-home mom had never occurred to her at that point, even though she had bravely navigated the challenge of birthing twins. (That’s enough to make me want to lie down and take a yearlong nap!)
I answered Dana’s question by mumbling something profound like, “Yeah, I probably will,” even though I had no such intention. I had to save face somehow. (I take great joy in the fact that Dana is now also a work-at-home mom. She took the skills she used previously in the marketplace to launch a meeting planning business that’s thriving. More importantly, she gets to spend time with her two beautiful daughters, Erin and Julie.)
Dana is not alone in her inability to imagine heading home. I didn’t even think of it as a possibility until my friend Libby stepped off the fast track to focus on her two kids, Alex and Claire. I’m embarrassed to admit that once, when we met for lunch (me in my professional business attire and she in her decidedly more comfy “mom” clothes), I actually had the audacity to ask her, “So how do you spend your days?” because I was insanely curious about what “at-home” moms did all day.
It wasn’t until I saw Libby—an educated, talented woman whom I knew personally—decide to trade a briefcase for a diaper bag that I even began to think about it. (Eventually Libby also became an at-home entrepreneur, making exquisite beaded and hand-crafted sterling silver jewelry and working for an accounting firm on a contractual basis.)
This leads to my story.
I left employment outside the home several months prior to my second child’s birth. My former employer was kind enough to ask me to do some freelance work. That was the beginning of my work-at-home career. My son was in utero, my daughter was close to two at the time and still taking naps, and I found I enjoyed the stimulation of working for a couple of hours each day while she slept.
After the birth of my son, a colleague who needed a speaker for a meeting called. I live in central Illinois. The meeting was in the state of Virginia. At a resort. I’d be gone for two nights. Alone. In a hotel room. No crying babies and no midnight feeding. It sounded pretty good. Mustering every ounce of professionalism I possessed, I told him I’d “check my schedule and get back with him”—even though I knew before hanging up what my answer would be.
The only things on my schedule were changing diapers and cooking meals. In fact, that’s all I had on the calendar for the next six months.
I talked to my husband, who gave me his blessing to accept the engagement. He bravely offered to hold down the fort while I was gone. At the time, neither of us realized we were starting a business. And that’s how I became an at-home entrepreneur.
Your journey as a work-at-home mom may be similar—or you may have been more intentional about starting a home-based business. In either case, there’s a work-at-home success principle that’s more important than anything else you need to know. Though all moms work at home, there’s a key difference between an at-home mom and one who works at home for a profit: one has responsibilities to clients and customers in addition to family. Recognizing this difference is essential both to your sanity and to your family’s well-being.
Early in my at-home career, though I was a work-at-home mom, I still thought of myself as an at-home mom. In retrospect, I can see that I made an error that many work-at-home moms make: I wasn’t honest with myself. I was running a business while telling myself—and those around me—that I was an at-home mom. I was working without the support system that moms who work outside the home have. I didn’t have child care. I simply expected that I’d be able to continue to do everything—even as the business kept growing.
As business piled up I continued to try to juggle my family needs with my business needs. I woke up before my kids to put in writing time. I worked during nap time. I stayed up late at night to finish projects and meet assigned deadlines. Then I’d wake up and do it all over again. It took a toll on me physically. It took a toll on my marriage. Being the stubborn “can-do” woman that I am, however, I soldiered on. When I couldn’t get everything done or give everything the attention it needed, I berated myself for not being more organized and more productive and challenged myself to work harder. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to “do it all.” I was a work-at-home mom with an at-home attitude.
You know the saying: if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
I was home with my kids, where I wanted to be, but I was miserable. I was torn between my business life and my home life, but I couldn’t get away from either since both were under the same roof. Working at home wasn’t working.
After living through a holiday season that held no joy and only the stress of marking things off my to-do list, I realized that my failure to acknowledge myself as a “work-at-home” mom was doing damage to me and my family. It made me think I was readily available to volunteer for anything and everything, launder a needed jersey on short notice, sew on Girl Scout patches within one hour of receiving them, run errands anytime, and participate in every one of my kids’ field trips. All that and write two monthly columns, edit and proofread a forty-page association magazine, coordinate the production of two newsletters, research and develop new speaking presentations, and write a book.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention having dinner on the table every night?
The reality is that very few, if any, mothers (at-home or not) have the kind of availability I expected of myself. I was a victim of my own faulty thinking. When I realized the danger in doing this, I made the decision to start thinking of myself as a work-at-home mom.
That was the beginning of saving my sanity.
The shift was subtle, but as a work-at-home mom, I now understand that I need to consider work deadlines before I say yes to anything. I know that sometimes work has to come before other things I’d like to do. And I also know I have to work a minimum number of hours each week to keep from falling behind in my business.
Now that my schedule reflects these three realities, being a work-at-home mom isn’t nearly as frustrating or overwhelming as it used to be. Today I’m mastering my business instead of letting it master me.
Being honest regarding your work-at-home status is key to your success as well.
Do you think of yourself as an at-home mom or a work-at-home mom? The difference may seem small, but it’s not. When you work at home, you have commitments to clients or customers outside the home. This adds to your to-do list and complicates your days. When you recognize and acknowledge this additional dimension of your life, however, you begin to plan your days differently, which is why being honest with yourself, your family, and your friends is essential to the success of your business.
Perception is indeed reality. When you perceive yourself as an at-home CEO, you’ll be more likely to act (and plan) like one. Doing so is the difference between an out-of-control business and a controlled one.
Are you minimizing your business and the resulting income simply because it is secondary to your primary role as mother? Whether you make six dollars or six figures as a work-at-home mom, that income is the result of your precious time, talent, and hard work. You deserve credit for producing it. But how many times have you caught yourself saying or thinking things like the following?
• I don’t make much money.
• I don’t really care about making money; I just enjoy the work.
• The money is just icing on the cake for me.
• Our “extras” come from this income. (As if the extras aren’t important too.)
• I’ll work around the family’s schedules. (What about when the schedule changes?)
When we minimize our roles as work-at-home mothers or how we came to be at-home entrepreneurs, we also minimize our skills, talents, and abilities. In addition, we diminish the positive aspects of working at home, whether it is the mental stimulation we crave, the personal growth we experience as a business owner, or the ability to contribute to our family monetarily as well as emotionally and physically.
It was liberating for me to finally be able to say, “I work at home.” When those words began coming out of my mouth, I began to do things differently and working at home began working.
This may seem like a minor issue, but I purposely introduced this concept first because when you think of yourself as an at-home CEO, you’re more likely to manage your business like one. You’ll control it rather than letting it control you.
You don’t have to choose between having a great business and having a great family. To grow both successfully, however, you must be honest about the task you’ve undertaken. Managing work and family under one roof isn’t easy. But in the end, the rewards are worth it. Deciding to be home with my children was a step I took in order to live without regret. My family remains my number one priority. That won’t change.
What has changed in my career as a work-at-home mom is how I think about myself and what I’m doing. Minimizing my business certainly wasn’t the answer. In fact, it made everything much more difficult. Being honest about what I am doing—and why I am doing it—was the first step to creating harmony between work and family. Being honest enabled me to find the balance that was so sorely lacking in my early years as an at-home entrepreneur.
Are you minimizing your work or trying to make it invisible so as not to “bother” your family? If so, are you ready to be honest about it? Doing so is an essential step in preserving your profit and saving your sanity. Acknowledging that you’re a work-at-home mom rather than hiding the fact will:
• make it possible to find balance because you’ll begin to consider everything on your to-do list rather than trying to squeeze the business in solely around family activities and needs;
• encourage you to recruit or hire the help you need to get your work done, whether it’s arranging for child care, household help, or subcontracting services to support your business;
• provide the opportunity to involve your family in the business and to teach your children a skill set they might not otherwise learn;
• allow you to set necessary limitations on your time and how you divide it outside of work and family;
• enable friends and family to better understand the demands on your schedule and the pressures you’re under and permit you to more easily ask for their help when you need it;
• elevate your business so that it receives the time and attention it needs—not at the expense of your family but in addition to it.
If you’re an at-home entrepreneur with an at-home mom attitude, now’s the time for an adjustment. It’s essential that from now on you use the words “work-at-home” when describing yourself or thinking about your business. Doing so is the first step to finding the balance you need and want as a work-at-home entrepreneur.
And remember, if mama’s happy, then everyone else is more likely to be happy too.
Used by permission, Making Work at Home Work, by Mary M. Byers, Revell,
a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 2009. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group, http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.
Special Considerations: None
Topics Addressed: Self-employment, working from home
Visit Mary’s website at http://www.makingworkathomework.com
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