The days of summer are waning, and I’m poring over a spreadsheet that’s planning for fall. My “baby” heads off to kindergarten, which means I’ll have a lot more time on my hands. And so I’m trying to figure out what, exactly, that will mean for my work schedule.
At the time, I had enough freelance work cobbled together to make it work. That first summer was magical – I did all of the fun summer activities with my kids and basically felt like I was on a permanent vacation. After being obligated to a real job for all of my adult life, it felt free.
And I still love it. I still feel free. But now that I’ve been working from home for over two years, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t also admit that it’s hard.
I’d heard before that working from home is the best of both worlds, and the worst of both worlds. But as a mom who worked outside the home full-time, I idolized the best and thought the worst was an exaggeration.
Turns out, it’s not. It’s amazing and freeing and so, so hard. So if you’re a mom who’s dreaming of working from home in order to strike the perfect work-life balance, here’s what you need to know.
Not All Work-at-Home Jobs Are Created Equal. There are some jobs where you’re basically a full-time employee for a company and you’re working normal business hours, minus a commute. There are a lot of great things about these types of jobs, but they’re not super flexible; you are expected to be available and working between certain hours. Other jobs (like freelance or self-employment) allow you the flexibility to work when you want, but lack the income stability or benefits that come with having a regular, permanent position. Before considering a work-from-home position, it’s important to assess the reasons you want one and choose one that fits the bill.
You Never Leave Your Workplace. When you work at home, all your work is always there. Your household chores are staring you in the face all day long, and your professional work is always beckoning you on your laptop. It can be tough to ignore the call of one if you’re supposed to be working on the other.
You Have Great Flexibility… One of the best parts about working from home (if you have the right position) is the incredible flexibility you have. Need an extra hour of sleep because the baby was up all night? No problem. Want to go on vacation with your family? No need to get approval from your boss. Hoping to volunteer in your kid’s class? You can.
…But You’ll Pay for It Later. If you’re self-employed, you don’t have back-up. If you want to take time off, you don’t have sick or vacation time. If you need the income – or need to meet client expectations – you’ll be working double before you head out on vacay, or pulling double duty the week after your bout with the flu. The work’s gotta get done, and you’re the one who has to do it.
You Need Good Boundaries. If you don’t have good boundaries, you’ll drive yourself mad. Make yourself a clear work schedule – with work times, chore times, and family times – and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself pulled to work during family time, and pulled toward the house during work time. You’ll never feel like you’re 100% dedicated to whatever task you’re focused on, unless you’ve committed that specific time to it.
Parenting Will Feel Like a Distraction From Work, and Work Will Feel Like A Distraction From Parenting. Never before have I felt so incredibly inconvenienced. By everything. And it puts me on edge and irritates me to no end. I really have to keep my emotions in check because it’s really easy to get angry when I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions all the time and that everyone and everything are distracting me from whatever I’m doing – be it family, housework, or job tasks.
You Need A Clear Plan. When I worked outside the home, I knew I had to have my act together if I was going to get everything done. Laundry, housework, grocery shopping, cooking. And I did it all, because I planned meticulously. When I started working from home I had the illusion of all this time, but the truth is that I have obligations. Working from home requires the same amount of planning as working outside it.
You’ll Always Have Guilt. Let me tell you this now: There is no perfect work-life balance. Some weeks (even months) may feel like you’ve got it mastered, but then something will happen that throws everything off again. If you’re seeking a work-at-home position for that elusive “balance,” know that it’s not guaranteed. You really really need to work at it – just like if you were working outside of the home.
You Might Still Need Childcare. One of the biggest draws of working from home when you have small kids is the idea that you won’t need childcare. And if you’ve got a baby that naps several hours a day or a child who’s in preschool five days a week, this might be the case. But depending on how many hours per week you plan to work, you might find childcare helpful – for your productivity, your sanity, and your mom guilt. Otherwise you’ll feel pulled in multiple directions, struggle with guilt over using the TV as a babysitter, and wonder why a task that should take you 30 minutes takes an hour and a half. Be realistic before you decide that working from home will eliminate your need for outside help with childcare.
Your Spouse Might Not Understand Your Workload. You’re working, but you’re also home all day. Your spouse may not realize how rigid your schedule is and ask you to do things, pick something up at the store, or run a random errand. You’ll need to communicate well with your spouse about your availability – and if you’re not able to do all of the things, you’ll need to learn to handle the guilt.
Remember Your Time Is Worth Something. If you are going from zero income to a work-at-home income, it may all seem like gravy. After all, the money you’re earning is more than the “no money” you were earning before. But if you’re freelancing or self-employed, remember that your time is worth something. Take into account that you will be paying 100% of your income taxes, will need to put away your own retirement contribution without any employer match, will still need to pay for your health care out-of-pocket, and will have expenses related to your self-employment. These may be minimal (like high-speed internet access or a monthly software subscription), or they may be significant (if you’re producing products for an Etsy business and have to buy supplies, or if you need to pay for regular travel or training). It’s easy to feel like you’re earning money, but when you take everything into account you’re actually earning $5 an hour or less.
This can also be the case if your productivity is affected by your kids at home, so you’re taking more time to complete a project than you should. Make sure you keep an eye on the financial side of things and that you realistically track the time you’re spending on work in order to determine that what you’re actually earning per hour is worth it. If you’re selling products or setting your rate for clients, make sure you’re charging accordingly.
When you take into account the stress on yourself and the effect on your family, sometimes it may not be worth it if your actual earnings are low.
It’s Freeing. Despite the challenges, I love my current setup. At one point in my motherhood I was commuting three hours per day. Now I love the extra time I get with my kids, I love that I can volunteer in their classrooms at school, and I love that I don’t have to deal with the absolute pain of summer scheduling and other childcare arrangements.
There are good and bad points to working from home, and for me the good outweigh the bad. But it’s been a process of adjustment, and it’s definitely not all unicorns and roses.
My house is still messy. I still can’t make it to all the school events. I can’t always get dinner on the table. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I dream of having a “real” job where I can leave at the end of the day and focus, undistracted, on my family and household obligations until I return the next morning.
But for me, the benefits are worth the challenges.
If you’re dreaming of work-at-home motherhood, I encourage you to take some time to think about it realistically. Here are some things you may want to consider doing to help you decide whether it’s really the best path for you.
- Evaluate the reasons why. Think hard about whether working from home will help meet those needs, or if you’re really just idealizing what life will look like.
- Realistically assess how many hours you have available for work (if you don’t plan to utilize traditional childcare).
- Make up a mock schedule of what your day-to-day will be like. See if you can meet the needs of your family while carving out time for work.
- Communicate with your spouse. If you’ve been a stay-at-home mom and want to add work to your daily life, it will change your family dynamics. If you’ve worked outside the home and want to start working from home, it may affect your income or your spouse’s perception of your availability. Speak openly with your spouse about what this will look like, and discuss together whether you think this will work for your family.
- Draw up a sample budget to see if a work-at-home job will work for your family. If you’re giving up a traditional income, take into account extra expenses you may incur for things like health insurance. Also consider working in childcare costs.
- Evaluate your personality and lifestyle. Can you set clear boundaries? Do you get stressed out when you have too many competing priorities? Do you feel a need to be around other adults every day? Do you work well independently, and are self-motivated to complete tasks? These are things to consider that may affect your level of satisfaction (and success) with work-at-home employment.
- Assess your comfort level with technology. Nearly all work-from-home jobs use technology. You don’t necessarily have to know how to write code, but you do need to be able to use technology comfortably and not panic when things go awry. You need to know how to research and trouble-shoot the occasional technical issue, and be solution-focused when things aren’t working properly.
Where to Find Work-From-Home Jobs
If you’re looking for a job you can do from the comfort of your home, it’s important to make sure the work you’re doing is legit. In general, avoid jobs that require you to front some sort of money for a position, or who use a payment method that feels uncomfortable to you. It’s always a good idea to thoroughly research and read reviews for any companies you’re considering – and take negative reviews, especially ones about fraudulent payment practices, seriously.
Some places to look for work if you’re serious about working from home:
- The Penny Hoarder has a great starter list
- UpWork – freelance jobs for various skillsets and a secure, verified payment process. Free and subscription membership levels.
- Etsy – are you super crafty? Start an etsy store!
- FlexJobs – specializes in remote, part-time, flexible, and freelance positions
- Woman’s Day – has some out-of-the box ideas
- 150 Ideas!!! – from the Work at Home Wife
- 79 Freelance Sites – if you want freelance work, Forbes has 79 places you can start looking