Monday, September 3, 2012

finding the right work from home balance

In my previous life as a corporate director of sales and marketing I worked out of a home based office. Or at least that is what my job description said. In reality, I was rarely in my home office. I was usually traveling Tuesday through Thursday, often away from home overnight, and when I was in my office I could almost always be found with the phone strapped to my ear on a conference call. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I frequently had calls that would last for 6 hours. Thank goodness for the mute button is all I'm saying... I was always working.

When I left that position I took a year off to stay home and help my new little one adjust to life in America, life in a family, life with a Mommy and Daddy. It was an unplanned year, as many of you know. I was supposed to take the position I have now but it was put on hold for a year. And while at the time it may have led to some panic at the thought of going from a corporate salary to no salary, it was, in fact, the best thing I could have done for my little family. As always, God had a plan and I just needed to let it happen. And while my little one is not yet quite where he needs to be, he is so much further along than he would have been had I been working that whole time.

So when I took this new position a few months ago I thought the transition would be easy, because I had already been working from home. I could not have been more wrong.

Now I am home for nearly 100% of my work life. I get out to visit our partners a few times a month, or to attend a networking event, but for the most part, I am here, in my office, every single day. Because of the nature of my work, and the fact that I work with families, the hours I work are quite varied.  I can work during the day, I can work in the evenings, I can work weekend and holidays. I can make a hot breakfast for my boys, and sit down and eat it with them. I drop the boys off at daycare and school every day, take my time, talk to their teachers, and still have time to work. I can pick up my boys after school, play with them, talk about their day, make dinner, eat it with them, and then, a few nights a week, pop back into my office for a few hours. Nice, right?

Sure, on paper it all looks great. But my boys get weird if they don't have what they consider to be "enough" time with their mommy. And their definition of "enough" is "all the time". If they are not in school or asleep then they just don't understand why they can't have my undivided attention.  They whine and cry when I head back upstairs to work, no matter how full I have filled their little attention buckets. (I LOVE Positive Parenting Solutions!). Sometimes it is like I am at the zoo, literally pushing small arms and legs out of the office so I can close, and lock, the door. Daddy takes them back downstairs and everyone, including me, is left in tears. Sigh.  So it's not as easy as it looks, and we have a long way to go to make it run more smoothly for our family. But the other day someone asked me for advice on working from home, so here it is, my advice:

  • Turn your workstation off every night. It takes a few minutes to power up and turn everything on, which I don't have in the morning as I am starting my day. If everything is already powered up then it is very easy for you to just pop into your office and check your email, plan your day... when you should be spending time with you family. Work time is work time and family time is family time. I can't just pop into my office in the morning on my way to the little one's crib - powering down reminds me to be fully focused on the matter at hand, my boys.
  • Plan your hours carefully so that you don't accidentally start working too early. I know, sounds crazy, but with no commute it is very easy to go straight to work. I find that if I go straight to my office after returning home from dropping off the boys then I run out of day and don't have enough time to do all the household management stuff that can easily get out of hand if not tended to every day. Many times I have walked into the kitchen for lunch only to see breakfast still sitting there, waiting to be cleaned up. How disheartening! With a little planning you can take the time you need to complete your morning routine without feeling guilty about not working. God, Family, Work, people. Always. I need to clean up breakfast, drink a cup of coffee while it is actually still hot, check my email, pray, start a load of laundry, and then I am ready to start my work day. Some people center themselves during their commute. I use 20 minutes before walking up the stairs.
  • Take your lunch break for you, not for your house. I have to force myself to do this and, I must admit, I don't always do it, but it is so important for your sanity to take your lunch break for yourself. If you were working in an office building across town you wouldn't be thinking about the housework that needs done while you ate your lunch. So don't think it about it now. Taking your lunch time to eat, take a walk, listen to music, play a computer game- whatever energizes you is what you have to do to make it through the rest of your day. Put that guilt away- it is helping no one!
  • Back to planning your hours- make sure you stop working in enough time so that you can focus on what needs done for your family. I set a timer and try very hard to finish my work on time so that I can walk away from my office and back into wife and mommy mode. Having an hour to myself before picking up the boys is invaluable. I can start dinner, set the table, tidy up the downstairs or make a quick pass through the upstairs. I have time to bring up the laundry I started in the morning and get it folded and into the boy's individual baskets for them to carry up to their rooms later. This way, when I pick up my boys, they are my only focus. They deserve my time.
  • Let your spouse help. Now I know that your idea of a clean living room doesn't include a few scattered toys or cups laying about. But imagine how messy it was before he helped the kids clean up! I want my sweet husband to help out around the house, but it drives me crazy when he doesn't do it the way I would. Or when he doesn't do it at all. So now I make lists. I feel this is nagging but he asked for it, literally, and it really has made a huge difference in our home. He wants to help. He wants me to work. He wants me to contribute to the financial stability of our family, yet he also understands the importance of my being here for our boys. You may have to remind your spouse of why you work where and when you do, but also help him along with a little list or two, if needed. My husband knows that if I am working in the evening I expect dinner to be cleaned up, (and NOT just stacked in the sink!), the boys to be bathed, and at least the tiny toddler in bed. If I need more from him, like the trash or recycling taken out, the dishwasher emptied, etc., then I have to tell him. And once I do tell him, I have to let go. He is an adult, he can handle it.
  • And speaking of letting go- you also have to let go of the childcare. There are moments, like earlier this morning, when I can hear total chaos happening downstairs. At times i can hear frustration in my husband's voice, or one of my boys crying. I can hear what sounds like elephants running through my kitchen - my boys play hard! I want to know what is happening down there- my heart aches thinking something is going wrong, or someone isn't happy. But my husband is not babysitting, he is parenting. And maybe he doesn't always parent the way I would, but these are his kids too and he needs the time to figure it out for himself.
  • Keep your office as your office. It's not the room where everything that doesn't have a home gets dumped. It is your sacred work space. Our home office is shared by my husband and myself,  and I learned a few years back that the only way this was going to work was with separate desks. My husband has an office to go to every day, and so his desk at home is cluttered with bills and papers from the on the side accounting work he does. Which is fine, he doesn't work there every day. But I do. I was finding my work papers moved, or scribbled on as my sweet husband searched for a piece of paper to write a note on. Matching smaller desks set up facing each other solved our shared space problem. My desk is now mine alone, and I feel as though I am walking into a real work space every day.
It is both  hard and easy, this working from home gig. I know it will get easier as my boys grow older and can amuse themselves. But right now, when they seem to think that I am their lifeline and that they simply can't live without me, it is hard. It is a struggle to maintain the proper work/life balance and to focus on what I need to focus on. If I am working when the boys are clamoring for my attention I feel guilty. If I am spending time with my boys when I know I have a ton of work to finish, I feel guilty. If I spend all my free time with my boys because of the aforementioned guilt then I feel guilty for the time not spent with my husband. Add in the adoption guilt we adoptive parents carry around and the "I want to be a 50's housewife but just can't do it all alone" guilt and some days I am surprised that there is room in my brain for anything else. I remember fondly the days we had outside help cleaning our home and think that this may be the way we need to go in the near future. I don't know. I certainly don't have all the answers. But I can tell you this. When I am working on a weekend and my tiny toddler has been settled into his crib for his nap by my sweet husband, I am reminded again of how much I value being able to have this amazing work/life balance. As I hear him sing himself to sleep through our shared wall, or name the members of his family, (something new he has just started doing, "Mommy, Zhao, Daddy, Mommy, Zhao, Daddy..."), my heart is so full. And that is why we all strive to find the balance, right?

1 comment:

  1. This is right that work from home has the advantage and disadvantage both. But as I think because you are a housewife then work from home is better for you can manage your home and work properly. This could be not beneficial for a man because if they do work from home then they will be seen as unemployed