I am sure many mums have been faced with this dilemma: what to do once the maternity leave is over? With the financial pressure that many households face, working mothers often feel forced to go back to work soon after they have had their babies, but when you factor in the cost of childcare you start wondering… is the best option to work from home with your child?
Although I enjoy the position I am in today, working from home and looking after my daughter at the same time, this doesn’t go without pain and difficulties. Working from home is not easy and it brings its own work life balance problems.
The balancing act
After a few months of being the “working mum at home” I am starting to feel the strain. Not because it is so difficult, it’s not, but because you have to juggle a lot between your work, looking after your child, doing the household chores, cooking, shopping, doing errands, being there and available also for your partner or husband…
Although I do not have to travel to work anymore, I still need to get ready to work in the morning. And if I wish to have a good honest day of work, I prefer to have a good healthy start in the morning. For me this means getting dressed and ready (just as if I was to go to work in an office), but this also means getting my daughter ready, whether she goes to the child-minder or not. I like to do this for a healthy start to the day and a healthy routine. But if, for example, the start to the day is a slow breakfast maybe because you have a cranky baby, when all you want is to get on with your work, you will already find your frustration levels quite high. This would often give the tune to the day ahead.
As soon as I sit down at my desk, it suddenly feels like my daughter always needs me more when I am trying to get on with some work. Armed with patience, I will explain calmly that I am at the moment busy, making sure my daughter has plenty to occupy herself with, and we will be playing when I am finished. Of course this can sound quite easy if your child understands you perfectly and lets you be for an hour or two. But most of the time, I end up working with one eye on the computer and the other on my daughter, an art quite hard to master, mixed with a lot of impatience and stress on both sides.
There are times when I will be lucky and be able to concentrate fully on the task in hand while my daughter is concentrating deeply on her own activities. Unfortunately your child will always require your attention at the most inconvenient time for you. I cannot count now how many times I have gestured at my daughter to be quiet, with a pleading face, whilst on the phone or on a conference call.
I will more than often feel guilty I do not spend enough time devoted to my child, but finding a work life balance in this hectic world is very tough. And adding on top of the guilt is the stress of making your own venture work and trying to earn enough to make a living out of it. Now your stress levels have gone right up!
My home is also my place of work
I find it hard to be cooped in at home all day, every day. The challenge is to make the time to get out of the house, whether it be for a quick walk out in the fresh air, or going to the park for playtime with your child. I feel it is important and must be part of our daily routine to go out, helping to reduce the levels of frustration we can sometimes both feel.
The danger of working from home is also not being able to leave work behind at the end of the day. It is so easy to turn the computer on to check your emails, but you then find yourself starting to answer emails in the evenings or over the weekends when your time should maybe be dedicated to your family and partner or even just to yourself.
Then there is that feeling of always being on your own. For sure you have plenty of advantages working in the comfort of your own home, but if you don’t keep in touch with the outside world, you do get very lonely and you might start to miss those chats at the coffee machine you used to have. I for one do not like to be too much on my own; therefore I make sure I am not. I will keep regular contact with former colleagues, for example, plan regular calls with the people I work with, keep in touch with my professional circle.
When you work from home, there is even less separation between the work and home tasks vying for your attention. And that work-life balancing act can become frenzied juggling. It is difficult to escape and ignore your household chores as you could when you worked in a separate environment (i.e. in an office). It is so easy to get drawn into sorting out your pile of washing, or cleaning your dirty dishes, when you should in fact be working. For this I have allowed myself some time on the short breaks I give myself, if I really do have the urge!
In my view it all comes down to being organised and to respecting the time you have planned and divided between being a mum, your work and the rest of your duties.
While working from home has its benefits, it requires an adjustment for all household members and setting rules for everyone and mainly for yourself. Cranky babies and conference calls may now coexist in the same sphere, but it is up to you to keep your worlds from colliding. The key is planning and practice. I truly believe combining both work and being a mother is possible. This is still a learning curve for me but I am fully determined to make it work.