Being a full-time mother is the most difficult job I’ve had — by far.
It’s safe to assume most work-at-home moms (WAHMs) had different plans when first they embarked upon career-hood. My plans involved working 12-hour shifts in DC as a devoted political staffer.
My reality, however, decided otherwise. First, I had a career in education, then a couple moves and a couple kids. And now, here I sit: typing at the kitchen table amongst half-eaten eggs, toast crumbs, and a leaking sippy cup. But the makeshift table/desk is hardly the biggest hurdle. I'm a work-at-home mom.
As any WAHM can attest, the challenges of getting much accomplished are multifold. To solve them, I’ve consulted myself, and — for your benefit — several wiser friends and professionals.
1. Ditch the pajamas. In his 2014 commencement address, Admiral William H. McRaven advised, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” The crowd giggled, but he wasn’t joking. Small accomplishments are little symbols of our ability to do stuff. Symbols are important.
I’m not saying don a blazer and power heels. Why would you when the day will likely involve spilled juice and spit up? Just get out of your sweatpants. It will be a signal — even if it's only to yourself — you are to be taken seriously.
2. Set aside a designated workspace. This came up in every interview with fellow WAHMs. Having a separate area solely for your working self reminds you that you are in professional mode now.
3. Fight the isolation. One of the hardest aspects of WAHMing is that you’re alone most of the time. Your children may or may not be great company (mine are . . . usually). But they can’t substitute for adult interaction.
One girlfriend recommended joining a trade organization. The events are infrequent enough that you’ll be able to plan attending in advance. And not only will you get some grown-up time, you can also use it to network. Win-win, my friends.
4. Embrace your inner early bird or night owl. Normal sleep hours may have to take a hiatus. If you can stay awake past the kiddos’ bedtime, and possess the self-control to forgo HBO On Demand (I’m looking at you, Silicon Valley), then brew the coffee and go for it.
Sunrises more your thing? Set the alarm. Either way, sleeping children are, by far, the least disruptive sort. Take advantage any way you can. And when you need daytime free...
5. Beg, steal, borrow, coerce, bribe, guilt . . . and if all else fails, pay for help. This was the number one tip from a friend of mine who works remote in hotel sales. Certain tasks cannot be done if little ones are around (conference calls, for example). Even if you are the whole of your organization, creative, and technical work requires sustained focus. Quality assistance with baby watching is a must here.
6. Dig the pom-poms out of the costume closet. It’s time to be your own biggest fan.
Society at large has some serious contempt for SAHMs. People in general — especially childless adults — have little interest in the daytime routines of mom-kid interaction (I’m guilty myself). When a middle-aged man recently asked what I did for a living, it was with self-deprecating shame that I replied, “Oh, I’m just a stay-at-home mom right now.” He promptly dropped the conversation. My reply disappointed me, not least because I also work from home. But even if I didn’t, what kind of piss-poor answer is that? Being a full-time mother is the most difficult job I’ve had — by far. This includes working 60-hour weeks as a lifeguard-cum-janitor one summer as well as one semester in which I taught 180+ high school students.
Don't forget to get aggressive about how awesome you are. And give the proverbial middle finger to anyone who suggests otherwise.