Do you remember the video that went viral of the man whose child burst into his office mid-televised interview and tried his best to maintain his professional dignity while the little girl just did her thing in the background? This was an actual depiction of what everyday life is like as a WAHM (Work at Home Mom).
The WAHM is a relatively newer category in the working motherhood world that is comprised of momprenuers, online business owners, social media influencers, and telecommuting employees such as yours truly. Up until 3 years ago when we moved to Arizona, I worked in the mystical land of corporate America complete with long commute times, business casual dress, and face to face interaction with adult co-workers.
There were times I would dream about an opportunity to work from home, especially on days where the time I spent with my kids was limited to waving to them as I ran out the door and sneaking in a quick kiss before they fell asleep at bedtime. Not because I didn’t love my job, but because finding work/life balance somewhere in a 40 hour work week along with 10+ hours of commuting, regular travel, and a spouse who worked weekends was hard. Really hard. Thus, when my company graciously agreed to let me work remotely from home when my husband’s job moved us west, I felt like I hit the professional jackpot. As a project manager, I am fortunate my job can be done from anywhere as long as I am close to major airport for travel and have phone/internet access.
So, I shopped for my home office (Hey Target!) and started mentally preparing for the transition. I had ideas of grandeur: I was going to shower/dress like I was going into the office every day, my clients would NEVER hear my children, and I would have clear work/home boundaries.
And as the story goes, those grand plans went right out the window within a few weeks of starting to work remotely. I can be found in my pajamas most days. Sometimes I make the transition to athleisure (aka: fancy pajamas) midday but I have no shame in rocking the business sleepwear-casual look. My hair is 90 percent dry shampoo by Friday and when I actually put makeup on, my kids assume I am traveling or have an onsite meeting (and usually, they are correct). Despite the fantastic efforts by our wonderful nanny and my husband, my clients most certainly do hear my children. I can recall one particularly eventful new client meeting early on in my tenure working from home where our middle daughter “escaped” from my husband’s care and burst into my office to ask me a question. While trying to maintain my composure and cover her up her 3 year old voice by loudly asking my client a question, I pushed her out of my office and abruptly closed the door in her face which resulted in her falling over in a fit of tears dramatically yelling, “Mommy! Why would you push me?” Whether or not my client heard her initial interruption, I don’t know, but they definitely heard the result of me trying to cover it up.
Working from home means that even though I am working, I am still more visible to my family and less visible to my company than I would be in an office setting. The pressure for what I “should” be able to do is greater though my workload is the same. I am home so I should be able to start dinner, throw a load of laundry in, tend to a household issue. I don’t commute so there should be time to take on extra tasks, adapt my schedule to client needs, innovate new ideas for process improvement.
Many times I find myself in the center of a multi-tasking tornado, working more because the office and my children are always around me. I have nursed/pumped during conference calls, often answer work emails while making dinner, and just in general have 1,000 tabs open in my mental browser at any given time. Don’t get me wrong…I take full advantage of the hours gained from not commuting – I have more meals with my children, I can volunteer to participate in school activities, I am able to prioritize going to the gym during my lunch hour many days. But the working mom guilt is not less – it is definitely different, but I still struggle when I have to say no to things both personally and professionally because of the duality to this role. And then come the days when I feel like I have lost a little piece of myself. There is something to be said for well-fitting clothes, heels, and a fresh blowout to make you feel relevant in the world. I also miss my co-workers. It is hard not to feel like I am out on an island most of the time and though technology affords many options for communication, I do miss out on impromptu meetings and just the social aspects of working in an office.
My stress is different now too. I no longer have to worry if traffic is going to make me late to pick up the kids again or worry about what is happening at home if they are sick. On the other hand, the stresses that I used to be able to leave at home (messes, whining children) are ever present now. It is a constant battle to not allow those outside factors distract me from work. Conversely, when I know I have work to get done for a project or feel like I need just a little more time to prepare for a meeting, my office is right there, calling out to me, reminding me that the door can be closed, but the work is always there.
All that considered, I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity. I often think back to my former life and wonder how I pulled it off most days. Then I look at my current life and sometimes wonder the same thing. If I could give some words of wisdom to any mom preparing to work from home it would be this: it isn’t harder or easier, it is just different. Like any aspect to parenting, you just have to navigate the waters with an open mind and figure out what works best for you.
Oh, and invest in a good lock for your office door because you never know who might try to make a conference call cameo. 😉