For years I was a stay-at-home Mom. It was the right decision for our family at the time. We were new to the military lifestyle, living away from family for the first time, I was a new Mom, and my husband was serving his country in a war none of us knew much about. Fast forward a decade or so and our family dynamic has changed. With one child in middle school, a toddler who was NOT in the original life plan but who we are CRAZY about now, a husband who is only a few short years away from retirement, and with my own career goals in play… I have now joined the growing number of parents who have decided to have their cake and eat it too by working at home.
Cake. That sounds good. This is why there should never be cake in this house. Where were we?
I adore my job. We are fortunate with this duty station because my husband has not had to be gone very much over the past 2.5 years. Because of that I am able to work a non-traditional schedule, which works out perfectly because our online community here at Military Spouse do not simply engage during a 9-5 workday. So I do have a part-time Nannny that comes to the house on certain days of the week, but the rest of my work is done in the evenings, early mornings, naptimes, and even on the weekend.
If I am being completely honest some of it is also done at 3:00 am while a marathon of Friends fills the silence in the living room. There may, or may not be cake involved on occasion.
Working at home has been an adjustment, and one that I am always trying to tweak as the needs of our family ebb and flow. I have written articles on tips for the work at home parent. I even recently wrote a piece about the things I plan to improve upon in my own personal life during 2014. I can give advice all day long, and I am always trying to make things better here in my home office. BUT on days like today I feel guilty for ever trying to share helpful tips with anyone. Today is a ‘Nanny-free’ day and the toddler is finally down for a nap. And this Mom is grateful that the Kidz Bop dance-off has stopped for a bit. She is grateful that we didn’t read ‘Goodnight Moon’ for the 23rd time. She is grateful that no one is currently grumpy and throwing mandarin oranges on the floor. She is grateful that her smart, sweet, beautiful daughter is sleeping peacefully so that Mommy can get work done before that Friends marathon this evening.
On days like today, I realize that all of the advice in the world about this crazy venture of working at home is sometimes just wishful thinking advice. That the reality is much different… and occasionally pretty dang funny.
Remind me of that after reading ‘Goodnight Moon’ for the 53nd time today…
Wishful Thinking Advice: Have a dedicated office space. Working is so much easier when you have a space that is dedicated to your work. The family should know that when you are at your desk or in your office, that is work time and you should not be disturbed.
Reality: I can’t currently see my ‘desk’. It is covered with a pile of clean clothes that I started to hang in the closet when a thousand other things decided to distract me all at once. Also, from my ‘office’ which is also our bedroom (yeah for tiny base housing) I can hear a neighborhood dog barking loudly. It’s not so much that the noise distracts me, but my own thoughts concerning creative ways to avoid a housing war while still getting that dog to hush are not really conducive to great writing. So my trusty laptop and I have moved to the living room… where I am currently listening to that sweet toddler I thought was asleep laughing hysterically at her Minnie Mouse doll. Besides, it is much easier from here to go over and open the door for our dog who can’t decide if she wants to stay inside or go listen to that other dog barking across the way. Every. Three. Minutes.
Shhhhhh. Wait. I think she is finally actually asleep… oh, no. Now she is talking to Pooh.
Wishful Thinking Advice: Always get up and get dressed for your work day like you are going to an office. You will feel more productive and it will put you in the right frame of mind.
Reality: I am just gonna be completely honest here (I mean none of my colleagues are gonna ever read this, right?)… there are days (mostly on the one day a week that my daughter goes to the Nanny’s house) where I will work a full 10 hour day… and never once put on pants. It’s not that I don’t take pride in myself. But let’s face it… I am not going to waste 30 minutes of my precious Nanny time getting dressed, fixing my hair, putting on some makeup. I deal in essentials most days. Coffee and my To-Do list. Pants are not on that list. Besides, that just creates more laundry for me to wash and leave on my desk later.
Today I AM wearing pants. I decided that a pantless Kipz Bop dance-off in the playroom that does not have curtains was too much… even for me.
Wishful Thinking Advice: Have adequate childcare. You can’t do your job, and people won’t take you seriously if you have screaming children in the background. Always have dependable childcare.
Reality: Children get sick. Babysitters get sick. Things happen and you will at some point find yourself ‘working’ while your child is at home. I am much better about this now and on days like today I work early before she is awake, during naptime, and after dinner. She needs my attention when she is awake. I will also do everything I can to avoid calls while she is here and I have no care. But sometimes things happen. Mute on the phone is my best friend. That way no one on a conference call will ever be the wiser if your child decides today she will add a new word to her vocabulary and is so proud she wants to scream it all day. And that word is very clearly ‘poop’.
Am I losing my mind, or did I just hear that word coming from her room. She is quiet now. Maybe a little TOO quiet. I am scared folks…
Wishful Thinking Advice: Set your office hours and stick to them. Again, make sure your family is aware of them and respects those hours as your dedicated work time.
Reality: Oh how I adore my husband. But if I made you a list of all of the things he has asked me to do during HIS lunchtime during MY office hours… and no, they are not in ALL in THAT category. Okay, so a lot of them are. The point is… I am WORKING!! I once asked him what he would do if I came to his office in the middle of the day and propositioned him in a similar manner. Big mistake. I forgot he is a man, he is a Marine. He would probably get a new parking spot.
Things happen when you work from home and you can’t always ignore them. If your dishwasher decides to flood during office hours, well you are stopping to deal with maintenance. If your child calls from school with a headache you are probably going to be the one to put on pants and go pick her up. If your husband is having a terrible week at work and you can tell he is at a breaking point you might decide… well, to *ahem* make him a sandwich when he comes home for lunch.
Still quiet in there… cross your fingers for me…
Wishful Thinking Advice: Enjoy the freedom that working from home brings. There are so many advantages to working at home. Yes, there are some struggles but they pay off is worth it in the end.
Reality: Honestly… there are days when I am ready to pull my hair out. In fistfuls. While eating cake. This gig is HARD. That doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. That doesn’t mean I am not grateful for it. It doesn’t mean I think it is harder than what anyone else does. But it does mean that I have to be very aware of how not only my family is dealing with the work-at-home situation… but how I am dealing with it. For me that means being honest about what this is REALLY like. There are some days where I honestly wish I had to get up and leave the house and go to an office every day. There are some days when I wish I could leave it all at the office and then come home. There are days when I wonder if I have lost my mind deciding to make this small house the place where I also do all of my work.
And then there are days, like today, where I may have been frenzied worrying about her finally settling down for a nap… but I peek my head in and see that sweet little face sleeping soundly while hugging Minnie Mouse. There are moments, like right now, when the house is finally 100% quiet… and I get a piece written, check a ton of things off my to-do list, knowing that if someone needed me I could get it done at 3 am instead. Most days the perks, like wearing yoga pants (or no pants if I choose), to the office… are worth the trade-off of the sometimes crazy things that make me pull my hair out.
I wouldn’t trade my reality for anything in the world. I’ll continue to strive toward that wishful thinking advice, but won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t always turn out that way. Having my cake and eating it too is worth it.