Thoughts about working from home and raising kids

I wrote this long before the world was in a pandemic. People dropped their kids off at school and went to their jobs in person. Today, that’s all different. Most of us are working from home and our kids are not in school — while we shelter in place. That makes this story about how to juggle parenting and working from home valuable today

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?

Are you “overworking” from home?

I posted this story in January, one week before we had our first Coronavirus case in the United States. Little did I know that soon we’d all be working from home! With many parents working remotely and supervising their children’s educations, there’s a lot to balance.

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Back when I was working from home as a stay-at-home mom with my first-born child.

Working from home is something I’ve done for years. At first, I had what is now our guest room dedicated as my office for my sole proprietor public relations and marketing biz. That’s why the kids called it the “computer room” when they were little.  I had a desktop Apple IIc something computer and heavy-weight laser printer. Back then, I also had a fax machine and a separate phone line for my work.

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This looks like the very first Mac in my home office.

My downfall with that venture was not knowing when to stop. Even though I had a separate work space, I couldn’t stop working. I had a client who loved to call me after 6 p.m. and give me work that had to be done by morning — and they were my main client! Also, this was pre-email days and internet. I had to transfer files to the people who changed my files to film over a modem. Then the film had to be picked up from these mom and pop shops and I drove them to the printer. I’m talking newsletters, flyers, brochures and veloxes for newspaper ads. Can you imagine that?

I’d wake up throughout the night and to make sure the files transferred from my modem to the film person’s modem. Sometimes a newsletter or ad file would take six or seven hours to transfer.

How things have changed from the early 1990s! Prior to that it, was a Selectric IBM typewriter I used and hand delivered copy to a print shop who then had to retype it all into columns, lay it out with my photos or artwork, give me a rough copy and finally a blueline to proof before going to print. Things are so much easier these days.

I’m still working from home and everything is so much quicker and convenient with emails and the internet. But the question still remains, how do I guard my time and not work all the time?

If you have any tip’s to share on how not to overwork from home, please share them!

What’s a blueline you might ask if you weren’t alive back in the olden days? Here’s the definition I got from googling it from Dictionary.com:

blueline

bloo-lahyn ]SHOW IPA

nounPrinting.

a print made on light-sensitive paper and used as a proof for checking the position of stripped-up negatives or positives and copy prior to platemaking.
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What are your solutions for separating a life from working hours when you work from home?

 

Tips to Promote Creativity in Kids

With so many parents at home with their kids, I was thinking about how they must be looking for creative and fun things to do — besides getting the homework done. The Coronavirus may be causing uncertain times, but we do have more time. Perhaps parents can take advantage of the lack of extracurriculars — racing from the pool to ballet, etc. — and let the kids play. I think we may look back on these days as a time when we could breathe, relax and play. 

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I’d let my kids have a tub of large chalk and draw all over our patio. It drove my husband crazy to come home from work and see our kids and their friends drawing all over our back yard. It hosed off, though. Also, I’d buy a roll of butcher paper and let them paint or draw across the patio, hoping they’d keep it on the paper.

At the beach, they’d build villages with drip castles and loved to play chef at a restaurant. I’d patiently taste each creation (pile of wet sand) and tell them how delicious it was.

I remember taking my kids to a photographer for Christmas pictures. I had them all dressed up in their matching red and green Gymboree outfits. My daughter was a baby and my son three. My son moved all the chairs and benches into two rows all facing forward. We asked him what he was doing and he explained he was building an airplane (the two lines of furniture were the seats and aisle.) The photographer was extremely patient as I tried to put everything back in it’s place.

My mom was big on creativity and she allowed us to destroy our living room with forts of card tables and sheets, dig to China and build a pond for polliwogs. I remember making dozens of puppets with Woolite bottles as the heads and swatches of fabric for the outfits. Mom did get annoyed with me for chopping out a chunk of fabric from the center of all the yardage of fabric in her sewing room!

What exactly is creativity? Here’s a definition:

noun

  1. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.
    “firms are keen to encourage creativity”

 

Here’s an excerpt from Greater Good Magazine 7 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Kids by Christine Carter:

Many people assume that creativity is an inborn talent that their kids either do or do not have: just as all children are not equally intelligent, all children are not equally creative. But actually, creativity is more skill than inborn talent, and it is a skill parents can help their kids develop.

Because it is a key to success in nearly everything we do, creativity is a key component of health and happiness and a core skill to practice with kids. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression—it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence. Creative people are more flexible and better problem solvers, which makes them more able to adapt to technological advances and deal with change—as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. Toy and entertainment companies feed kids an endless stream of prefab characters, images, props and plot-lines that allow children to put their imaginations to rest. Children no longer need to imagine a stick is a sword in a game or story they’ve imagined: they can play Star Wars with a specific light-saber in costumes designed for the specific role they are playing.

Carter has a bunch of tips of things we can do to promote creativity that includes giving  kids space and resources for creative play. Also, she says it’s important to allow our kids to make mistakes and fail. If they’re afraid of failure their creativity will be stifled. Limiting screen and TV time will give kids a chance for art and reading. Another bit of advice is to not tell our kids what to do. For example, I made my daughter take piano lessons for years against her will. She would have been much better off following her own passions like making mosaics and painting. For years she made gifts for her friends by getting a few supplies from Michaels and using her creativity. For a complete list of her tips, read the article here

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Have You Ever Considered Homeschooling?

 

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More time for swimming.

In an article I read this morning, “PARENTING: Consider the benefits of homeschooling” by Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman in the Herald Tribune of Florida, it lists a number of benefits to homeschooling, from learning at an individual pace to not being bound by a school calendar.

Here are the first few paragraphs:

Have you thought about homeschooling your kids? Most people can easily make a list of reasons not to homeschool. That was Jody’s story when her oldest child asked to be homeschooled at the start of seventh grade. 

“I’m not a teacher,” she thought. “I have no idea how to homeschool and really no desire.” But her son was serious and, after great consideration, she and her husband chose to honor his heartfelt request.

Very soon, Jody realized that children are not containers that we can pour information into. They are more like hunter/gatherers of knowledge and understanding, picking and choosing from the world around them, learning at their own pace and in their own way.

Jody’s son did not return to school until college. He’s now approaching his 30th birthday. He and his wife are both attorneys in New England.

We often tell parents that if their intention is to simply bring school into their homes, they may want to reconsider. In many cases, school does it better. But if they are looking for something unique, if they want to give their child a different experience, a more customized and pervasive education, homeschooling can be a great choice.

For starters, it gives families the time to focus on teaching important life skills and grooming character traits that will help kids become successful adults who offer strong contributions to their communities.

Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman are mothers with nine children between them, from an attorney to a pre-schooler, and one on the autism spectrum. Together they host a nationally syndicated radio show, “POP Parenting.” They are also freelance writers and international speakers. Get more information on their website, jenniandjody.com.

I found this interesting because my oldest child, my son begged to be homeschooled and I didn’t have the confidence to do it. By the time he went to high school and our daughter was beginning the middle school years, I decided to homeschool my daughter. I knew several families on our swim team that homeschooled their children and they were exceptionally personable, smart, and the kids I enjoyed the most.

My daughter and I went to the Irvine Spectrum, an outdoor shopping mall, to meet with a person from Springs Charter School, which offers an academy and home school programs in So Cal, to get more information about their homeschooling program. We signed up that day and the next thing I did was research curriculum. I took my son, who had made it through middle school already to help me pick out materials at a CHEA convention in Long Beach, CA. I was shocked to see hundreds of vendors from Rosetta Stone to small book dealers. It was fun and overwhelming, but my son steered me through it–making sure the curriculum we selected was as rigorous as the one he had—or better. One my favorites was Beautiful Feet Books, history through literature.

What I discovered with Springs Charter school was that we were required to meet with credentialed education specialist each month, and had to turn in all work. She made sure we kept on track and we weren’t slacking. They also administered the same standardized tests as the public schools at a nearby University classroom. We went on several of the 75 field trips offered each year like whale watching in San Diego, a trip to Medieval Times and SeaWorld. I was shocked that SeaWorld and Medieval Times were filled up to capacity— completely by homeschoolers.

 

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We got to experience New Orleans complete with several trips to Cafe De Monde.

The benefits we experienced: my daughter and I grew closer together. I was able to teach her basic life skills like banking, auto care, cooking, etc. We got to travel with my husband on business trips—New Orleans was our favorite. She got to learn at her own pace and in her own way—history lessons out by the pool or reading in the tub! She met her swim coach at the high school track in the early am when there wasn’t swim practice and ran with her. She had more time to hang out with friends. She loved crafts and had time to explore mosaics and quilting. She could work on swimming without being too tired for schoolwork or falling asleep in class.

Another huge benefit was getting to visit any place in Southern California during the week and avoiding the big crowds and lines you find on weekends. After our three years homeschooling for middle school, I went to work with my husband and my daughter entered our local high school. Although we loved the three years, it was time for both of us to move on.

 

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Sailing in Santa Barbara during the homeschool years.

Have you ever considered homeschooling? What were your reasons for homeschooling or not homeschooling?

 

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