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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How to write and live: advice from Ray Bradbury

In honor of the great Ray Bradbury, I’m posting this story from five years ago.
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I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up
Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

imgresThat’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.images-1

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.images-3

My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. images-4

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing

Have You Read This “Life-Changing” Book?

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Me and my friend Cindy.

Four years ago my best friend Cindy gave me a present. It was a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It took me a while to open it up and dive in, but Cindy kept pushing and prodding, explaining how this book is magical and life changing.

Doesn’t that sound a little crazy to call a book “life changing?” It did to me. But Cindy told me stories about how the book changed a few of her friends’ lives. It led them on entirely different life and career paths that proved to be more satisfying and creative. At the time, I had quit working with my husband as a financial advisor and was facing my empty nest with both kids away at college. I learned the secrets the book offered—morning pages, prayer or meditation, and daily walks. I incorporated each into my daily life and Voila! I saw changes. I made a routine for myself—and best yet, I stuck with it.

Soon after starting my morning routine, I started this blog, submitted a story to SwimSwam.com, rewrote a mid-grade novel, began a project writing the history of Southern California Swimming with the website socalswimhistory.com. I also dove in and learned to swim myself and joined U.S. Masters Swimming.

Looking back on reading the book The Artist’s Way, it was life-changing for me. My writing projects have multiplied and my biggest problem right now, is not spreading myself too thin. Writing my morning pages, walking and praying keeps me grounded. On the rare occasion I have had to miss my morning routine, I feel at odds with myself — a little off like something isn’t quite right.

It dawned on me to buy another one of Cameron’s books and the title I chose was Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance. It’s more of the same, but pushing me further along my path as a writer. Then, I sent The Artist’s Way to both of my kids. I have no idea why it took me four years to share this gem with them. I just spent a week with my daughter, and we took our daly walks together and we sat at her dining room table writing in our journals.

My son called me this morning and said he had begun his morning pages today. The book says to write three pages every morning when you first wake up. It’s a brain dump of getting rid of all the little worries, fears and negativity that you’ve carried over into a new day. By eliminating all this garbage, or writing down what worries you—or even the tasks you need to get done—you become free. You’re free to see the creative forces and beauty around you. My son said although he found the spirituality in the book a little “90s” he thought the book had some really good stuff in it.

I’m sharing this with the hopes that whether you’re an artist or not, read The Artist’s Way. Give it a try and see how it changes your life.

Have you read The Artist’s Way and how did it change your daily life? I’d love to hear your story.

6 Tough Questions for Writers

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I write a lot about these two characters.

Have you heard of Authors.me? It’s a website for submissions where writers, agents, editors, publishers and new media can meet. I used it for the first time today and one of the first things I had to do was fill out a personal profile.

I started a new project yesterday that I’m really excited about. I’ll go more into depth about it at a later date. One of the agents I want to pitch my idea to, asks writers to submit their project through Authors.me website. It’s touted as “Your Story’s Future” and a “Smart, effective submissions and acquisitions management.”

I’m super energized about my new project, but filling out the profile surprised me. Here are some of the questions they asked:

Your writing is influenced by experience and personality. Tell your audience what you are made of.

Biography Write your bio as if you are a character in a book. Your life experiences are what make you and interesting person.

Writing Style Show some flare and tell us about your unique writing style.

What makes you special as a writer? More than just style, what makes you unique as a writer could be a lot of factors. Tell us.

Who or what inspires you to write? Show us you can not only inspire others, but that you can be inspired yourself.

What constitutes a great novel? There is no wrong answer, just something that moves you. Tell us.

What is your favorite part about the writing process?

I had fun with the first one–writing my bio as if I were a character in a book. (However I noticed a typo on their first question. Can you find it?) The most important things in my life, whether it’s people or events, became clear by answering this question. I recommend trying it yourself. The exercise asks you to limit the writing to 2000 characters or less. I managed to do that in less which was about 250 words. Even if you’re not a writer, it’s a fun exercise to try.

As for the second request, “Writing Style–Show some flare and tell us about your unique writing style,” I thought was a little strange. Am I supposed to show off or show some flare in my writing about my writing style? Can’t the people looking at my work get a “feel” for my style? I’m not much of a show off and I don’t know how to “flare” my writing about my writing. Plain weird. Also, the opening statement “Tell your audience what you are made of” seems a little over-the-top.

 

 

If you’ve used Author.me, I’d like to know what you think about it. Also, what do you think about these questions?

 

My Less than Perfect Persona

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Riding the chairlift at Deer Valley with my daughter a year ago. I was nervous without wearing skis, but my growth mindset took over and I tried something new.

I’m trying to decide what to name my fixed mindset persona. I’m talking about that person who shows up and is judgmental and makes me feel insecure. This person is a  perfectionist who sometimes thinks I’m not talented enough.

Where did I get this idea to name my fixed mindset persona? From the last chapter of Mindset: the new psychology of success by Carol S. Dweck. The last chapter, “Changing Mindsets” offers steps for the journey of achieving a growth mindset. Step one is to “embrace your fixed mindset.” Step two is to become aware of what “triggers” your fixed mindset. Step three is to name that persona. Step four is to educate your fixed mindset persona and take it with you on the journey to the other side.

From the mindset online website:

Every so often a truly groundbreaking idea comes along. This is one. Mindset explains:

• Why brains and talent don’t bring success

• How they can stand in the way of it

• Why praising brains and talent doesn’t foster self-esteem and accomplishment, but jeopardizes them

• How teaching a simple idea about the brain raises grades and productivity

• What all great CEOs, parents, teachers, athletes know

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. It enhances relationships. When you read Mindset, you’ll see how.

If you want to figure out what type of mindset you have, here’s a quick online quiz that will tell you.

One of the suggestions that Dweck has is to not put yourself down if you don’t live up to your expectations. She says change is hard and the old fixed mindset persona will raise her head from time to time. Bring her along for the ride, is one of her suggestions.

Like I said, I’m currently deciding on a name for my less than perfect persona who is a perfectionist and triggers self-doubt. One name that pops into my head is Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched. She’s the nosy neighbor who’s always seen peeking through curtains or windows to see what Samantha and Darrin are up to.

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Learning to dive off the blocks and entering a swim meet was a huge growth mindset moment for me.

What would you name your fixed mindset persona?

Good News Four Weeks Out: Hey, It’s Not That Bad!

 

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This view makes it okay.

 

The breakthrough news one month after surgery is I can hobble around the house and I get to ditch the crutches or walker! This may not sound like a big deal, but truly it’s  major to me right now. Mostly, I’ve been icing and elevating my leg and my few trips out in the world have been to my amazing PT and doctor. I did manage two lunches out with my dad, daughter and dear friend. That’s two lunches in four weeks, mind you.

Not that my home isn’t a perfectly lovely place to be housebound. I feel blessed every morning looking out at the mountain, palm trees, sunshine and citrus trees. But for the past four weeks, I’ve been bouncing between my bed, sofa and chaise lounge by the pool. (Well, maybe not exactly bouncing.) It’s gotten so hot the past two weeks, that I can’t sit in our backyard after 9 a.m. so that’s taken away one-third of my world.

Without crutches, I can actually carry my book, phone, water bottle—or anything else for that matter! The first two weeks, I had to wait for someone to bring me what I wanted. Then, after much teasing and joking by my husband, he suggested I rig up a bag to hang around my neck or walker. I laughed at the thought, but it actually worked!

Now, I’m free as a bird–a bird without wings and one broken leg. The doctor said I still must use crutches if I leave the house. But, I can’t tell you how much I’m going to enjoy carrying items in my hands while I walk around the house!

 

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I can’t wait to get back in the pool!

Even better news, I asked if I could return to the city pool. I want to walk once again in the handicapped lane at the shallow end of the pool using the steps and hanging onto the edge. The doctor said, “YES!” Oh boy! I’m through the worst of this adventure, I can feel it in my bones.

 

What have I been doing laying around post surgery? Not much. I’ve struggled to write because my leg aches and gets stiff after sitting for 30 minutes. I’ve done a little, but not as much as I wish. I have been reading and discovered some great books.

Here are five books I’ve read since surgery that I highly recommend:

Ann Patchett:
Taft
The Magician’s Assistant

Liane Moriarty:
What Alice Forgot
Big, Little, Lies (thank you, Linda, for sharing!)
The Hypnotist’s Love Story

 

 

What good books have you read lately that I might enjoy?

The difference between “needs” and “wants”

 

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My writing expert a few years ago.

When my kids were in Catholic elementary school, a teacher explained the difference between needs and wants to them. I remember being impressed with how the teacher brought this lesson down to their age level and it was something that I hadn’t thought about explaining to my kids. Yet, it’s such a crucial life lesson. When you’re raising kids, they often have a lot of things they “need.” They want to fit in with their peers and when one friend gets the latest whatever, they feel they need it, too.

When my kids told me they “needed” a colorful iPod mini or a deck of Pokemon cards I could answer smugly, “Is this something you need—or something you want?”

I pretty much think they still believed it was something they needed.

I had a conversation with my son yesterday about needs and wants. I was telling him how I’ve been struggling with a rewrite of a mid-grade novel but was beginning to have a break-through. I hired an editor to review my manuscript and the main thread of advice was to add depth to my main characters. I have a “good” protagonist and an “evil” antagonist. It’s a book about friendships and growth in character, yet my characters are pretty shallow and flimsy. My son—brilliant person that he is—suggested I look at their “needs” and “wants.”

Seriously? The child who “needed” so many material things is now lecturing me on “needs and wants?” Yes, he is and in literature, he explained, needs and wants take on a subtle but different meaning. I found a good article “What your character wants versus what they need” from the Novel Factory. Here’s an excerpt:

What your character wants
We all want something. Some of us crave power, others long for heaps of cash, others want five minutes of fame. Some of us dream of having a baby, or a picture perfect wedding. Then of course there are more specific goals, like to win Countdown, to meet David Attenborough or to bake the perfect flan.

At the outset of your novel, you need to establish what it is your character wants – what it is that they are pursuing? What do they believe will give them a feeling of satisfaction?

What your character needs
However, there is something else under the surface, and that is what your character needs.

There are very few things human beings actually need, in order to be happy, and most of the things we fixate on wanting only obscure the really important things.

The things we need can usually be distilled to one thing: love.

This bit of advice from my son was eye-opening. I truly love my kids and his interest and expertise as a Lit major have helped with the struggle I’ve faced for the past month or two.

 

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Back when needs and wants were simple.

Have you explained to your kids about needs and wants? If you’re a writer, how do you use needs and wants to enrich your characters?