I quit my job and became a work-at-home freelancer in August 2007, more than a year before I became a mother. I had wanted to freelance for a long time. No commute! A schedule of my own making! Weeks off at a time, should I so desire!
Ha! Ha! Ha! That was my vision. Reality, of course, turned out to be . . . complicated. And then in September 2008 my son arrived, complicating my work-at-home reality even more.
Certainly one essential aspect of finding balance as a work-at-home parent is to establish and maintain boundaries between your professional and family life, for example by setting schedules, setting a budget, and setting aside space for your work within your home. Open any book or check out any Web site on freelancing or working at home, and you’ll find advice galore on these and similar topics. But I believe that another essential — and overlooked — aspect of finding balance when working at home is making connections.
Depending on the nature of your work (I’m a writer and editor), working at home can be lonely. For example, with no workplace to go to, there’s no guarantee that I’ll spend much time on any given workday with anyone other than my husband and son. In fact once I’ve brought my son to preschool, I rarely have any reason to leave the apartment. I pass the day in silence, or maybe with the radio. And, even with the radio on, I can feel cut off from the larger world. Cut off from other people. Cut off even from myself and my sense of purpose.
In such a state of isolation, who can possibly feel at ease in the world? Fortunately, in nearly four years of working at home, I have found many ways to reconnect, such as the following:
1. Get dressed. Being able to work in your pajamas is an oft-cited benefit to working at home, and I imagine that some folks (many?) enjoy doing so. I don’t. Whether or not I take a shower, I feel refreshed once I’ve gotten dressed. For one thing, I know I can face whoever might show up at our door — not that folks often do, but still. More fundamentally, it’s simply a way of taking care of myself — and reminding myself that taking care of myself matters.
2. Begin your workday with a ritual. I begin my workday with a simple ritual: I light a candle and some incense, make the bed, and open the shades. The ritual grounds my entire workday in a sense of my greater purpose, which is simply to take care of that which needs my care.
3. Keep your workspace clean. Few things make me more grumbly than sitting down to work at a desk where there’s not much space for working . . . and where I can’t find anything . . . and which seems to just get worse and worse as the day goes on. Furthermore, a cluttered desk sends the message to yourself and others that your work actually doesn’t matter all that much. If your workspace has gotten unmanageable, giving an hour or two (or more) to clearing it up is worthwhile — for the sake of both your comfort and your clarity of mind. To maintain order, be sure to give time at the end of each workday to wrapping things up and putting them away for the next time. Also, don’t allow others to use or put things in or on your workspace.
4. Take a break. It’s so obvious, but sometimes I forget to take a break. The pressure of a deadline feels so great, I want to get just a little bit more done, and a little bit more, and a little bit more — and then it’s mid-afternoon or even later, and I haven’t even taken a break for lunch. Don’t do this to yourself! Shut down your computer and get something to eat. Call a friend. Read the next chapter in the book you’re reading. Or, even better, go out for a short walk.
5. Have lunch with a friend. The best break of all, perhaps, is to meet up with a friend for lunch or a treat. Talk about your children, the weather, your plans for the weekend, your dreams — anything but your work.
6. Bring your work to a library or café. Changing the scenery and being among other people — even strangers — is a great way to shake yourself free of any malaise or frustration with your work. Plus, a library or café is where you are likely to find and connect with other folks who work at home.
7. Find other work-at-home parents. “How do you do it?” For me, this question is not an expression of awe, but rather an earnest and practically oriented query. I really do want to know how other work-at-home parents do what they do! When do they work? How much do they work? How do they care for their children while they work? And so on. Connecting with other work-at-home parents connects you with folks who understand your struggles to find balance — and who are most likely to be able to offer solutions.
8. Give time at the end of your workday to simply being with your family. At least twenty minutes before I expect my husband and son to arrive home, I begin to wrap up my work: saving my files, putting away any books and papers, and generally clearing my desk. I go to the kitchen and start preparations for dinner. Because when my husband and son come through that door I want to be right there — with no worries about work or dinner on my mind. I help my son take his shoes and jacket off, and then the three of us sit on the couch to cuddle and talk. On the days I work, it’s the best part of my day!
Yes, set a schedule and define a space within your home for your work. But in establishing boundaries between your professional and family life, don’t shut out the world altogether! After all, the greatest benefit to working at home is the flexibility it gives you in finding ways to let in and make space for things other than your work, including those things that matter most to you: more time with your family, perhaps, or the pursuit of a dream.
How do you make connections and let in the world as you work — at home, or elsewhere?
Rachael is the work-at-home mother of a vivacious two-year-old boy. As a freelancer, she edits and writes educational materials for K–12 students and teaches online creative writing classes through The Writers Studio. She is also a poet who was foolish enough to have married an artist. Though Rachael never planned to do anything other than attachment parenting, her pre-motherhood self probably would be surprised to see her happily nursing a toddler — and in a family bed! She is grateful to have found an online community of others doing much the same. Rachael writes about making her way toward work-life balance in a family of artists at The Variegated Life.
Photo credits: Author
Photo credits: Author