My husband is out of town on business this weekend, so during my daughter´s nap on Sunday I sat down for a marathon hour and a half of coupon clipping, menu planning, and Supernanny watching. As usual, the two stories I watched revolved around misbehaving children and defective discipline techniques; but I was surprised to find that both stories were about parents who both worked at home full time AND watched their children at home full time.
It doesn´t take a degree in math to figure out the problem here: 2 full-time jobs / 1 person = impossible.
The first story was about a father who took care of two sets of twins under the age of three while holding down a full time job from home. In the second story, the two girls were a bit older (still not old enough for school, though) and the mother spent most of her day on the computer or phone.
This is what parents might first believe about working from home: That they will sit at the home computer or receive phone calls throughout the day, between playing with the children and allowing the children to play some type of quiet activity nearby.
The reality is this: The phone rings and your child screams from the moment you pick it up until the minute you put it down. You sit down at the computer to type up a report and your child climbs into your lap and bangs on your keyboard. You try to input some numbers into Excel and your child disappears altogether, finding something to get into that he knows he isn´t supposed to get into because he is bored, unsupervised, and he wants his mother´s attention.
This isn´t saying anything bad about the fact that you want to stay at home and work, and it isn´t saying anything bad about your child´s behavior. Children want attention, and really, even those that start kindergarten are not old enough to take care of themselves for a long (or even short) period of time while you concentrate on work-related issues.
This isn´t to say that you can´t work from home; however, if you choose to do so, set realistic goals and expectations for both yourself and your child before you set up shop. This will relieve a lot of stress on your part from the very beginning, and it will create a more calm, happy mother as well.
First, schedule work time around your child´s day rather than scheduling time spent with your child around your work. It is only fair, and if you try to do the reverse, you will actually get less work done because you will spend the day putting out fires (quite literally!)
Understand that there are only so many hours in a day, and that if you want to work from home and stay at home, you may need to lessen the hours that you work or hire someone to come into the house and help you out. You can´t do both full time, and it is unfair to both you and your child to think that you can. By overextending yourself you will not only be pushing the limits during work time but you will also be too burned out during down time to actually enjoy the time that you spend with your child one on one.
Remember to change with your child. As a tiny baby, he might nap several times a day, sleep in long stretches throughout the night, and do little more than sit in a swing or lie on the floor for stomach time while watching the world through wide-eyes. You can take advantage of this by working a lot of hours. However, around the magical age of one your child will develop the strength and desire to walk and explore, and he will want to go play with you for longer stretches of time. At this point, your schedule needs to change. You also need flexibility for those other things that change a baby´s schedule, such as teething, colds, growth spurts, and separation anxiety. Rigidity in a schedule is not a good thing for a work at home mother; you need to expect to work odd hours and to change those odd hours as your child grows.
Expect to watch the sun rise and set while sitting behind a stack of papers.
Expect to have a house that isn´t quite sparkling, or if you can´t live with some toys on the floor, hire someone to clean it up.
Expect to get a lot of work done one day and nothing done the next. So use the time that you can get work done wisely.
And don´t be against hiring a mother´s helper to come in once a week for a few hours. This person can help alleviate some tension by playing with your child while you plug yourself into your job. It is amazing how much a mother can accomplish in just a few short hours of work-only time when she is used to dividing her time between work and family.