working mom

5 Tips to Make Working from Home Easier

working from home with toddler

It's easy to think that working from home will be, well, easy. You're in the comfort of your own home. You can stay in your pajamas. You can eat a real breakfast, drink as much coffee as you want, lounge in bed as you look at spreadsheets. 

Reality sets in promptly the first time you try to work from home. At least for me. The moment I started working from home a lot (when I was pregnant with Forrest, primarily), it's like everything in my house became way more... distracting. I worked from home an average of 2 or 3 days a week when I was pregnant, thanks in part to exhaustion, preeclampsia, and morning sickness. There were days where it felt like I could not focus and, of course, days where I got everything I needed done completed so I could wallow in bed and try not to throw up again. 

I don't work from home anymore. Why? Well, working from home with a toddler is near impossible. (If you somehow achieve this, I need your secrets.) I do work from home if Forrest is at my mom's or daycare, like when I was sick in March. 

If you're thinking of starting to take some work from home days, these tips are for you. 

1. Have a "I'm working" spot. 

And I don't mean the desk where you normally charge your computer. I've always been a person who has a desk where I spend most of my evenings, but I know this is becoming less and less common. However, when I'm working from home, I clear another space in my house--usually the kitchen table--to be my "office." Having a clearly designated space, as if I was actually in my work office, helps me to stay focused. 

2. Use the same background noise that you use at work. 

If you listen to music, or podcasts, at work, do that at home too. When I first started working from home, I tried to use my "at home" background noise--the TV--and found it way too distracting. If I listen to music or a podcast, it's like my brain assumes I really am at work and I stay more focused. 

3. Use that familiar study tip: take 10 minute breaks every 30 minutes. 

Honestly, I do this at work (in the office) too. Every 30 minutes, stand up, stretch, walk around for 10 minutes. Then get back to work. Your brain will feel remarkably refreshed and you'll be better able to focus. 

4. If you can, turn off the Wifi. 

If you have the kind of job where you don't need a 24/7 connection to the internet, turn off your Wifi when you're really getting into a task. I often do this when I'm trying to write and getting distracted by Twitter notifications and everything the internet has to offer. 

5. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. 

Hey, if you try to work from home (to reduce commute costs or because you're sick), and it's just not working--hey, that's ok. It's not for everybody! Don't try to keep forcing it if you are aware that you aren't getting everything done or achieving the goals you want. It's possible that getting out of the house might help--working from a coffee shop or bookstore might work better for you. Or, maybe you're just an office kind of person. 

5 Things I've Learned as a Working Mom

Being a working mom is hard work. I've written before about being a working mom, but it's worth repeating. This isn't to say that stay-at-home moms have it easy; I honestly don't know how SAHMs do it sometimes. I'm in awe of them. Each mom's journey is totally unique and that's what makes motherhood so incredibly special. 

I find being a working mom incredibly fulfilling. While I don't believe in "having it all" (a concept that is both baffling and impossible-to-achieve), I think working and being home gives me the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. To have my cake and eat it too. 

Before June, I worked part-time. During the summer, I went back to full-time, leaving Danny at home with Forrest all day. (This was a little bit of a taste of what my maternity leave was like for him. The results were... amazing.) In September, I'll be returning to part-time hours, something that is both exciting and a little sad. I love my job: I love working in content marketing all day. I love being able to learn how to do new things. But I also want to be able to take Forrest to baby reading time at the library, to go on walks in the park, and more. I want those days with him, I really do. They're the best days, even if they are hard. 

Before my full-time working mom status comes to a close, I wanted to share a few things I've learned along the way. 

1. Every hour is valuable. 

I'm lucky to work a job with incredibly flexible hours. I leave every morning at 6:30am, which means I get to make Forrest his breakfast and maybe give him a few bites before I leave it to Danny and rush out the door. I'm home by 3pm, giving me time to play with Forrest for an hour, make dinner, feed him, and then play a little bit more before it's time to bed. He's asleep most days by 6-7pm, giving me time to clean up dinner, clean up the living room and kitchen, maybe do a few chores (laundry or picking up the house, nothing intense), and sit down to work on my blog or freelance work. Then it's time for bed and I'll do it all over the next day. Why am I telling you our schedule? I get an hour and a half of time with Forrest each work day. I have to make it count, so I do. 

2. It's incredibly stressful to relinquish control. 

Nothing stresses me out more than knowing something is wrong with Forrest (a bad rash, teething, a cold coming on) and not being the one taking care of him during the day. I want to be the one making sure to put on the diaper creams each diaper change; I want to be the one giving him saline and ibuprofen every 4 hours. I want to be in control so that I know it's done correctly. I'm Type A. What can I say? 

3. There's never enough time for me unless I let things fall to the side. 

One of those things, truthfully, is keeping my house immaculate. I love a clean house. I'd love to have time to clean my oven, to scrub my floors, to repaint spots that have been stained or chipped. Truth is, I do have time to do those things... but it would be at the loss of the few hours of me time I have every day. So I let it go. I'll have time for it someday. Forrest probably won't judge me for the unpatched spots on my walls. 

4. I'm really bad at prioritizing myself. 

Related to number 3: I'm very bad at putting myself first. Funny, since I had a good 26.5 years of doing it before hand. I've been meaning to buy myself new clothes and new make up (and new shoes) for ages. I've been meaning to clean out my closet and all my clothes in storage for ages. I have done neither of those things. Whenever I get a bit of spare money, I spend it on Forrest; he needs pajamas more than I need new jeans. He needs fall outfits more than I do. Those are complete lies, but it's what I tell myself. I feel guilty treating myself to the smallest of things--but I'll splurge big on a set of pajamas for him. 

5. No one understands how busy you are. 

Working moms: no one else knows the struggle quite as well as other working moms. Sometimes, my coworkers will set a meeting for 3pm and ask, "Oh can't you just stay an hour longer?" No. I can't stay an hour longer--that's the hour I get to sing and have music time, play, and read books. No, you can't have it. You get 8 hours of me a day. Use. Them. Wisely. No one quite gets the bedtime routines ("You can't meet for drinks at 6pm? Bring the baby! Why not?") or the hectic weekends or the mad dashes to the grocery store for formula. No one really gets it but other moms. That's ok, though. They'll get it someday. 

On Going Back to Work

I went back to work January 4, after about 14 weeks away. In those 14 weeks, I had had an emergency induction, had Forrest, spent at least 500 hours pumping (seriously, that's about 24 days in total), and had attempted to rapidly adjust to my life as a new mom. 

At first, I went back part-time and we settled into what I like to think as a Very Good routine. However, as Forrest got older, his sleep deteriorated and I was left feeling just as sleep-deprived and vulnerable as I had in the beginning... with the added bonus of being the sole content marketing team member at a promising startup (and wearing multiple hats, like Content Entry Specialist and Graphic Designer and Marketing Strategist/Analyst/Copywriter, etc.) After we decided to sleep train, things improved rapidly, though

The best part about Danny being a teacher is that he gets summers off. At the end of June, Danny started staying at home with Forrest full-time while I went to work. The role reversal has been eye opening for both of us. 

What Danny's Learned

I don't write this to call Danny out or anything, but he really didn't understand how difficult it was to stay home with Forrest all day, provide 100% of the care, and not get any help in the evenings. It's a really common attitude among men, especially new fathers (and even experienced fathers!). The logic Danny had was that he was at work, while I was at home pumping, feeding, and taking care of a baby--all while watching TV. Was it that hard? In the evenings, if I asked for help, Danny would often respond that he was 'tired' or he had had a 'long day.' Which very well might have been true--but I had long days with Forrest too. In fact, every day was a long day, even if there were fun parts. Cooking, cleaning, getting groceries with a newborn, pumping, feeding bottles, holding him for hours and hours of naps... it wasn't a walk in the park. 

I think to Danny, he really didn't think that taking care of Forrest all day would be difficult or tiring. In fact, I think he thought he would have all kinds of time for things. 

The first day though, the minute I walked into the house, Danny said, "I'm sorry I wasn't nicer to you." He genuinely meant it and, you know what? He wasn't nice to me during my maternity leave, or even when I was a part-time  stay-at-home-mom. He expected me to do the majority of the housework, the cooking, and all of the care for Forrest, just because he went to work. He didn't seem to understand that being a mom and dad are 24/7 jobs--even if you go to a "real" job the rest of the day. I forgive him, though, because everyone has to learn sometime. 

And I like to think I'm being nicer to him than he was to me. 

What I've Learned

I have a very difficult time finding balance in my life even at the best of times--but especially now. My day starts at 5am and I don't really stop working or taking care of Forrest until he goes to bed at 6pm. And then, once I have time for it, I find myself putting off housework. I bounce between work-Michelle, mom-Michelle, and rest-Michelle--without ever being able to stop and do the things I need to, like vacuum the house or make the bed or fold the laundry that's been sitting at the end of the bed for a week. 

Working full-time is a true challenge for me. But I also find myself being happier than I have been. I love being able to go to work, to succeed  in my career while also being a great mom. I find a lot of personal satisfaction from working and having a career--and as much as I love Forrest, I'm not totally willing to give up being both a competent mother and writer. Being both, however, is a real challenge. 

What We've All Learned

Every day, around 1:30, right as I'm starting to pack up my office... I get a text message that says, "Forrest misses you." From 6:30am to 1:30pm is about as long as Forrest can go without seeing me. I'm sure if he had his way, Forrest would be able to spend all day playing on me or near me, but that's not the world we live in, kiddo, sorry. 

A few other lessons include the fact that, when I let go of things, Danny is perfect capable. Danny has so far kept Forrest fed (both bottles and table food, although he's nervous about feeding him things other than Gerber puffs) and has kept him entertained. They've also done lots of fun stuff together, like read books, go on walks, and drive into town.

I worried when I went back full-time in late June that Danny wouldn't be able to handle things without me--but the reality is, it's harder for me than it is for him. 

An Ode to Working Moms

If you'd told me, 10 years ago, that when I had a baby there would be something called "mommy wars" on the internet, I would have said two things: 1) you're a liar because I'm not going to have kids, duh and 2) that sounds seriously stupid

Well, surprise 17-year-old Michelle, both those things are real.  

One of the many, many mommy wars (ugh) is the working moms and the stay at home moms. Those who participate in the (totally ridiculous) battles believe that, ultimately, they have it the hardest. The truth is, both working moms and stay at home moms struggle, just in different ways. 

I walk the line between being a stay at home mom and a working mom. When I go to work, I am at work: I have my work hat on, I try to dress in something other than sweatpants (a struggle), and I try not to think or talk about Forrest unless I'm asked.

It's easy to think that working moms just, you know, go back to work. They just get right back on the horse and work and go home and that's it, easy peasy. But it's just not so. Before I was one, I had a hard time conceptualizing why it was hard to be a working mom.

When you're a mom, the work doesn't really stop.

I get up everyday around 5am. I shower. I put on my makeup. I get dressed. By 6am, Forrest is starting to stir in his crib. I get him dressed, feed him a bottle if he hasn't had one for a while. I get him ready for the day before handing him off to Danny (if it's summer) or driving him to my mom's (if it's not). In the time I'm taking care of him, I get my coffee ready, put my breakfast and lunch in my lunch bag, and gather everything I need for the day. I go to work and when I get home, I keep working. I take care of Forrest, cook dinner, and feed him. I change diapers, play, and give him a bath. Once he is in bed, I clean the kitchen and living room and then do any freelance work I need to do. By 7 or 8pm, I might be able to sit down and watch a little TV, but I try to be in bed by 9pm at the latest. 

Spending all day away from your baby is awful.

The first few days I went to work, I cried the entire drive there. Some mornings, I still do. When Forrest has slept good and is in a great mood... I can't help but want to stay home! It's difficult to know that someone else is having fun with your baby while you're working, cuddling them, making sure they eat and sleep. It's hard for me to let go of the responsibility of being the primary caregiver. Since Forrest was born, I did most of the feedings. I got him to sleep for naps. I played with him and took his picture. Stepping away from that, and relinquishing control of his care is difficult for me. But it makes getting home to him even better. 

It's hard to feel like you're doing a good job at either thing. 

I sometimes feel like I rush through my days. I rush through my morning routine to try to get to work earlier. I rush through work to try and get home to Forrest. I rush through the evening to get to cleaning and to have everything ready for the next morning. In the end, I wonder how effective I am at being both a mom and an employee. I think about Forrest when I'm at work and I think about work (and all the things I didn't get to) when I'm with Forrest. It's stressful to try and do everything. 

Being a working mom is hard, it's true. But it can also be really fulfilling. I firmly believe that I need to work to remain happy in my life. I find fulfillment both in being a mom and in my career. I think it is absolutely possible to do both things--it just takes a little bit of sacrifice and finding what works. I'm getting better at balancing my work and my life. I'm getting better at reducing my stress outside (and inside) the office. 

But to all the other working moms out there: you aren't alone. We're all trundling along, doing the best we can. This is for you, you hardworking, professional ladies.