Is it possible to work from home with kids?

katrob 3When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became more challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

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Now there’s just me and the cat while I work from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle the parenting responsibilities with your job?

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Should preschool be taught outdoors?

 

Letting my kids play and be kids.

Enjoying the great outdoors.

 

I love the idea of having kids outdoors more. In a story in The Atlantic called “The Perks of a Play-in-the-Mud Educational Philosophy” by Conor Williams, he asks “When did America decide preschool should be in a classroom?”

My own preschool years were spent outside (unless it was absolutely pouring rain.) We didn’t have school before kindergarten as a matter of fact. Of course, most moms stayed home—at least they did in Snohomish, my hometown. We played in a sandbox, rode bikes and trikes in the streets, picked dandelions in our backyard and stared at clouds.

As we got older, we moved out of town to the countryside. We built forts in the woods, picked bleeding heart flowers and fiddleheads and rode bikes to pick wild blackberries for our mom to bake us pies.

I’m glad someone has the concept that being outside is good for you.

Here’s some of the article:

Most American kids don’t spend large chunks of their day catching salamanders and poking sticks into piles of fox poop. In a nation moving toward greater standardization of its public-education system, programs centered around getting kids outside to explore aren’t normal.

But that’s precisely what students do at the Nature Preschool at Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. There, every day, dozens of children ages 3 to 5 come to have adventures on Irvine’s more than 200 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and meadows. These muddy explorers stand out at a moment when many American pre-K programs have become more and more similar to K–12 education: row after row of tiny kids, sitting at desks, drilling letter identification and counting.

Mention how anomalous this seems, though, and the teachers at the Nature Preschool can only express their wish that that weren’t the case: Why is it odd for 4-year-olds to spend the bulk of their time outside? When did America decide that preschool should be boring routines performed within classroom walls?

Today’s kids are growing up at a moment when American childhood—like much of American life—is increasingly indoors and technologically enhanced. Families spend more time indoors and on screens. Smartphones have warped the teenage experience. Perhaps as part of reaction to those trends, the United States is witnessing a budding movement to reintegrate childhood with the natural world. Nature preschools, outdoor pre-K, forest kindergartens—call them what you like: Early-education programs like these are starting in communities all over the country. The Natural Start Alliance, a group advocating for more outdoor experiences in early education, says that the number of “nature-based preschools” has grown at least 500 percent since 2012.

The ideas that underscore these programs trace back, in part, to a 2005 book by the journalist Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods. Louv argued that American childhood had become overly standardized, overly structured, and overly saturated with technology. He coined a term for the phenomenon: “nature-deficit disorder.” Published just a few years after the adoption of No Child Left Behind—the federal education law that ramped up the emphasis on standardized testing and incentivized schools to focus on math and reading—Last Child received dazzling reviews and was passed around public schools as samizdat. The book helped launch the Children and Nature Network, which describes itself as an “organization whose mission is to fuel the worldwide grassroots movement to reconnect children with nature.”

My own kids had lots of time outdoors in the summer months we spent at the beach. Besides playing in the waves, they spent hours building drip castles, digging holes and fighting over sand. As they got older, they boogie boarded, tried surfing, swam and collected sea glass. I can’t begin to say how wonderful those years spent outdoors were for my kids. They had to use their imaginations and were away from computers and the TV for most of the daytime.

As for preschool, they both went to one but only in the mornings. They spent a lot of time in the afternoons at the park (with me hovering closely) or at the city pool.10995700_10206245569881976_4214520029871361800_o1597031_10206245570241985_7630871641838507528_o

What do you think about preschools and learning being out of the classroom in nature?

Please Someone, Tell Me That It Will Get Better!

Disneyland 14 years ago. I remember a great mother-daughter day.

Disneyland 14 years ago. I remember a great mother-daughter day.

I was texting a friend whose life is pretty much on the same track as mine. We both have our youngest off to school–at the same university–and our oldest ones almost finished. We met at the University’s orientation last summer with our incoming freshman and went to many programs together. We realized we had met earlier in the spring at a high school swim meet.

A beach day with my daughter.

A beach day with my daughter.

My point is that our lives are eerily parallel. We both visited our youngest children this past weekend. We stayed in the same hotel and ran into each other a few times. My husband and I went to watch our daughter swim in two meets. They were there to spend time with their daughter and to celebrate a birthday.

I mentioned to this friend that I didn’t think I’d miss my daughter so much when it was time to leave. But, in reality it was worse this trip than on earlier ones. She said she felt the same way. I knew I’d be upset in August after we moved my daughter into the dorms and had to say good-bye. I wrote about that here. But, this was a close second in sadness. I had this awful lonely, empty heart. I sat in the airport with my husband feeling sorry for myself. I should have been feeling happy. My daughter is doing well in school, loves her team and has many friends.

Sailing in Santa Barbara with my daughter and friends.

Sailing in Santa Barbara with my daughter and friends.

Please someone, tell me that it will get better!

In about three weeks, I’m traveling to my daughter’s conference meet. It’s close by to my mom. I will enjoy and embrace sitting by my mom’s side in her assisted living facility. Despite the sour smell, the closed windows and her refusal to open the blinds. I’ll happily sit with her and watch all the reruns of Golden Girls that her heart desires. I hope I can make her day a little brighter. Just the way my daughter makes mine.

My mom and me. Before kids.

My mom and me. Before kids.

I Couldn’t Wait for the Kids to Come Home

imagesI was looking forward to Thanksgiving weekend so much! I couldn’t wait to have both my kids home, together. I cleaned their rooms, washed their sheets, polished their furniture.

I shopped for turkey, stuffing, potatoes and all the trimmings. I baked a pumpkin pie. I was so excited and the days dragged until the day before Thanksgiving finally arrived. First, my son came in at ten at night. He looked great! I fell asleep before the midnight flight that carried my daughter.

Thanksgiving day was a blast. I cooked a delicious dinner. We had grandpa over and after we ate, we laughed and talked as we walked around the neighborhood. My kids were in a great mood, and I loved being with them.IMG_2814

But, by Friday, I found myself constantly picking and cleaning up after them. I carried dishes and glasses from the kids’ bedrooms into the kitchen. The sink always had dishes stacked in it, no matter how often I loaded the dishwasher. My once lonely washing machine had a constant load.

I got tired. Wow! This taking care of family is a lot harder than I had remembered.

images-4My kids were busy. Not with me. My son had tons of reading and a paper to write. My daughter had homework to do also, but she was off every minute to visit friends.

My husband and I sat together, alone in the house.

I kind of felt like the cat. Olive is my daughter’s kitty. Olive was so excited to have her person home, she went on a wild spree of hunting, bringing in birds to my daughter’s bedroom. She even left her a bird in her suitcase. When Olive wasn’t hunting she was glued to my daughter’s side — when my daughter was home.

The weekend ended, the kids left. I sighed. My first Thanksgiving after three months of an empty nest was not what I expected. I am thankful for my family. But, I learned that it’s also nice to not have the day-to-day responsibility of cleaning and caring for kids.

And once again, Olive is content to hang out with me.IMG_6037

After the Whirlwind the Dust Begins to Settle in My Empty Nest

University of Utah

University of Utah

We were caught in a whirlwind of activities and travel, running away from our empty nest. We went to the beach, Mexico, Utah, Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and Utah in that order in the past two months. Wheew!!! It makes my head dizzy to think about it.

View from University of California Santa Barbara

View from University of California Santa Barbara

Now that we have stopped running, I’m anxious to start some big projects. Emptying out the guest room and redoing the bathroom and walls. The first part of this project means I have to go through boxes and closets and books and make decisions about what to toss and what to keep.

images-2We have an armoire with a BIG TV and VCR and drawers full of movies that entertained the kids for years. I feel somewhat sad about tossing out all the Disney classics, but they’re never going to be watched on a VCR again.

images-3I have shelves of books that have followed me from childhood. The complete set of Anne books and Narnia Chronicles I will keep. I still enjoy reading them.  I’m holding on to A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, too. I think my husband wants me to get rid of them all, but they are like dear friends that I cannot part with.

images-8images-7I keep avoiding this chore of going through the “guest room” which at one point in our 22 years here, was called the “computer room” because before kids in 1992 it was where my first Apple computer lived. Now I’m on about Apple number nine, wanting to return to work in my computer room. I’m coming full circle becoming the person that I was before. It’s a great feeling, but a little scary, too.

One of our earlier Apples.

One of our earlier Apples.

To Diet or Not to Diet — That is the Question

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When I was in college, my best friend and I went on crazy eating binges and diets. We actually put soy sauce on iceberg lettuce and called it a meal. We made shakes with nothing but ice, lettuce and sweet-n-low. Then we’d end the night eating a bag of Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels and undo our day of starvation.

imgres-1All that craziness never resulted in losing weight. It wasn’t until I got hit by truck — as a pedestrian crossing a street — that I had common sense knocked into my head.

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The week in the hospital made me realize how lucky I was to be alive. I was so thrilled when I could stand up and take a few steps with a walker — and go to the bathroom. That was so much more important to me than the goal of being five pounds lighter. Strangely, after I healed and returned to normal mobility — about six months later — I never had to diet again. I just ate what I wanted and liked. It was mostly seafood. I would choose a second helping of Dungeness crab or Ahi Sashimi over a piece of cake.

imgresBut, then something changed. Welcome to getting older. Weight has crept up on me the last couple years. I exercise every single day, yet ten to 15 pounds seemed to attach itself to my middle. (I guess that’s why they call it “Middle-Aged?”)

images-4I asked some friends that are also middle-aged — who look terrific — what their secret was. They told me about a high protein, low carb diet. I decided to try it, since my kids are off to college and I no longer have to feed two always hungry swimmers.

Five days later, I’m four pounds smaller. But, I am seriously craving a big bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce. And potato salad. 

Check back with me to see if I continue to diet — or not to diet.

Do you have any secrets to staying fit after 50?

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7 Things I Miss About My Daughter Now that She’s in College

Kat at Carpinteria State Beach

Kat at Carpinteria State Beach

We took our daughter to college two weeks ago. She looks really happy in the photos posted on FB and Instagram. She’s made new friends, is enjoying her team and coaches -and likes her classes.

My life is busy with new and old projects. But, I notice a quiet, a sort of waiting sense, that I didn’t feel before. It’s the little things about her that I miss.

Kat swmming

Kat swimming

I miss her cracking my back. She could give me hug, tell me to relax and say, “One, two..” and lift me up in the air before she said three. The result was cracking, popping relief.

I miss her making me laugh. Kat is funny. I love her little half smile when she knows she’s especially clever. And the crinkles around her eyes when she laughs out loud.

I miss her cleaning out my wallet and organizing it for me. She’d say, “Mom your purse is gateway hoarding.”

I miss her walking through the kitchen door after her morning workout asking me to make her eggs. I don’t have anyone to make eggs for right now — except my husband and I — and we rarely eat them.

I miss her cat Olive walking on the skinny end of her four poster bed while she watched Netflix on my laptop.

Baby Olive Bear

Baby Olive

I miss when she was very young and called yellow “lallo.”  And when we’d go to the beach and she’d strip naked as soon as her suit got wet. I used to bring a bag full of swimsuits for her.

Kat in a dry suit at the beach with big brother Robert.

Kat in a dry suit at the beach with big brother Robert.

I miss going to the pool and watching practice, chatting with the other swim parents. That was a luxury that I took for granted.

Yes, I miss her.

What do you miss most about your kids?

Kat making an entrance into the room.

Kat making an entrance into the room.