Achieving Balance as a Work-at-Home Parent


Parenthood and Working at Home: How to Balance The Two

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It’s never easy for parents to find balance in this hectic world, and work-at-home parents are no exception. Raising children is a rewarding but demanding job. And yet, the same could be said of many parents’ careers. It might seem that working at home could be the solution to this dilemma – that it can create a sweet equilibrium between our home lives and professional endeavors.

Certainly, that is true; it can happen that way. However, it does not happen without effort.

Working from home usually does allow more family time, but it brings its own work-life balance problems.

When you go out to a workplace every day, that automatically draws a line between your work and family lives. When you work at home, you must draw that line on your own.

To effectively balance the demands of a work life and a family life in the same place, parents must make conscious choices on a day-to-day basis. They need to examine some of the larger issues they face as work-at-home parents. Start with these four areas of potential conflict to balance.


Creating Ground Rules

Ground rules
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When you work at home, you need ground rules for everyone. There should be guidelines for the children and others in the household about how to behave when you are working. What merits an interruption during your work time should be clear to all, including adults. Kids tend to forget the rules, while adults may think they don't apply to them.

However, don’t stop there when crafting those work-at-home ground rules. Perhaps even more important are the rules you make for yourself. It takes self-discipline to be successful at working from home. Cranky babies and conference calls can now coexist in the same sphere, and it's up to you to keep your worlds from colliding.

Telecommuters must be as productive as their office counterparts. Home business owners and freelancers’ earnings depend on the time and energy they spend on their professional commitments. Learning to avoid distractions – whether they are the laundry piling up, kids who need homework help, or social media memes you’re just dying to share – is the key to success.

Your ground rules, though, shouldn’t just cover how you spend your work time, but also how much time you spend working. This one cuts both ways: Distractions can reduce work time, but in an age of 24/7 connectivity, telecommuters can easily work too much. Just because you can work at any time of the day or night does not mean you should be expected to. Set ground rules and schedules that help you safeguard your personal time.


The Time Dilemma: Quality Versus Quantity

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Whether parents should aim for quality time or quantity of time with their children is an age-old debate fraught with all sorts of layers and even judgments about others’ life choices. So let’s not go there!

Instead, let us each examine quality versus quantity through the lens of our own life because this is a trade-off that everyone experiences at times. When you work at home, you may have the opportunity to better balance the two if you make choices in a mindful way.

As a work-at-home parent, you likely have the good fortune of being with your child for longer and/or more frequent stretches of time. Much of that time together, though, may be spoken for by your employer or the needs of your business. Understand that actually being physically present is not the same as spending time together. However, this proximity gives you the opportunity to take breaks during the workday and focus on your children, rather than multitasking and giving them half your attention while you are doing something else.

Work at home parents (and all parents) absolutely have to multitask at times, but they should multitask wisely and sparingly.

Do it when neither your job nor your child will suffer from it. Make clear choices about when you are working and when you are not. Children will wait longer and more patiently for your attention if they trust that they will actually be getting your full attention.


The Family Schedule and Kids’ Activities

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When kids are little, parents have more control over the amount of time they spend together. Parents can get in some quality time by carving out a few minutes to get down on the floor and play or reading a book together. As children grow and enter school, the constraints on family time come from both directions: parents’ and kids’ schedules.

Yet the burden of those busy schedules falls more squarely on the parents. In particular, the parent who works at home can often become the one responsible for maintaining their children’s schedules and delivering people to their various activities. These parents can easily find themselves taking phone calls and checking emails between carpool stops or working late at night to catch up. Perhaps this is workable for some work-at-home parents, but in other households it will cause a strain.

Either way, all families need to be conscious of how their family schedule comes to be and what the trade-offs are. Telecommuters who are ensnared by a family schedule that demands too much of them are potentially putting their jobs, or at least telecommuting privileges, at risk. Home business owners may be cutting into their profitability. Yet, even those who can manage both the family and professional demands on their time should make informed choices when choosing kids’ activities. That sense of control you gain by knowing what conscious choices your family has made and why helps ease the stress of a very full schedule.


Right Amount of Volunteering and Fundraising

Girl (4-6) being comforted by mother and teacher at school sports day
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When you work at home, people expect things of you that they don’t expect of people who go into an office. Maybe they figure you have an endlessly flexible schedule or nothing to do. Neighbors will call and ask for favors; coworkers will request that you work at odd hours. Telecommuters must learn to deal with these kinds of requests. 

On top of that, parents must deal with numerous requests to volunteer, fundraise or attend daytime events. These requests and unrealistic expectations about the flexibility of schedules of parents who work from home can compound the problem. 

That being the case, it is even more important for parents make more conscious choices about giving of their time. The parent who works outside the home may commute a long distance, and so it really may not be possible for them to swing by the school to attend a weekday event or to help out in the classroom as a room parent. A work-at-home parent is much more likely close by and may well have the ability to set their own schedule. That does not mean, however, that they have any more time to give.

Work-at-home parents, like everyone else, need to work within the bounds of their own lives and be careful not to overextend themselves.

Yet, volunteering sets a great example for children and can be an important part of why someone might choose to work from home.

If you plan to volunteer, carefully think out a volunteer commitment. Know what you are getting into by asking questions before you agree. And be prepared to say no to some requests and to set boundaries.

School and sports fundraising requests pose another kind of challenge to work-at-home parents. Few parents are thrilled about participating in school fundraising, but without a network of office mates to sell to (and buy from), work-at-home parents have fewer options. Though social media can help parents spread the word about fundraisers, sometimes it might just be better to make a donation to the organization.

Just like choosing activities for your child's schedule presents a potential trade-off, so does volunteering and fundraising. Be sure you know what both the costs and the benefits are. 

If these four issues have given you some things to think about in terms of making conscious choices about what you can and cannot do when you work at home, next take a look at these concrete steps towards maintaining balance when you work at home.

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