Possibly the hardest part about living, schooling, and working from home as a mother is establishing boundaries, even as they fold into one another. I am a perpetual student learning the balance. And yet balance isn’t exactly the right word––treating time as though it were a tray of poured wine glasses, a balance beam, or a ball tottering on a seal’s nose. Time is more abstract than any of those things. It is more like water, shifting in matter and motion based on its context, possibly a mountain river, a misty cloud, or an unmoved glacier. The ideal of cupping time into some sort balanced measure can feel defeating. In my experience, shifting between roles at home requires intuition, patience, and a bit of planning ahead.
We recently emptied our garage to transform it into a studio space for Mark and my brother-in-law’s creative work, and eventually a space for our family to enjoy. We found this desk in the process and set it near the window in our bedroom. I have been writing there often lately, enjoying the change of place and view. Mark spends the morning with our children, working through morning chores and math and logic lessons (thanks, Babe!) while I write blog posts/editorials, edit photos, or develop my Beautycounter business. I typically try to get out of the house to work, as I can grow easily distracted by the conversations and questions and activity of the house, and even at times, by the house’s care-taking itself. It’s never-ending, yes? But at heart, I am a homebody. I leave for the joy of returning. So it is a gift to have this little space right now, tucked in my bedroom with plenty of light and cozy privacy. Although the shifting roles in marriage, motherhood, and self-paced work can be challenging at times, it is a gift to live with my family, to learn and work here alongside one another. And ultimately, I am relentless in tweaking routines in various seasons to make it work.
I know there are many women who work from home, and others who are interested to try. So I wrote out a brief list of lessons I’ve learned over the years of my own journey, often learned through making mistakes. Wink. Here’s a few big ones that might apply regardless of the type of work itself.
Set and Honor Work Hours / Blocking specific hours for personal work at home is imperative. Home can be a haven for work life, but it can also distract your focus when you’re trying to manage too many things at once. I know it can be humdrum to think of life in terms of hours, especially when children are involved and the days can feel different each day, but setting aside a specific time for the work you want to accomplish, whether it is starting your own business or making room for a hobby, is important. When I first began blogging, I set aside hours I knew my young children would be occupied: rest time, early morning, or after their early bedtime. Currently with Mark’s help, I am now able to work in the morning most weekdays. Yet I still have to be disciplined about honoring my allotted work hours. When time is up, I get up and walk away for the day, having to release all that is unfinished (because regularly something is unfinished).
Create a Designated Work Space / For a long time I worked at our desktop computer in the kitchen. As my children grew and our homeschool days shifted, it was helpful for me to be able to write, edit images, or email while also keeping an eye and ear on the home. In years where I have had a babysitter or now Mark’s help, I try to leave the house and set up at coffee shop corner. But I prefer the quiet, small spot in my bedroom right now.
Create Realistic, Contextual Goals / Set goals based on your personal context. Are you needing to make a certain amount of income? What time do you have available? How long will specific, regular work tasks take you? I learned many of these lessons the hard way. For instance, for months at a time, I would try to write out an editorial calendar for this space. I have always had plenty of ideas and images I want to share, but I always underestimated the amount of time it took to put it all together. I would find myself frustrated at not meeting my own agenda, but I was planning content for a pace I wasn’t able to contribute at that point. I had young children at home with me, needing my attention and eventually longer stretches of lessons and read aloud. What I needed was to keep a list of ideas and work through them at a more flexible pace. At some points, I am able to work through the list quickly, and other times I seem to move at snail pace. Part of this process is learning to receive all seasons of work and home life: the quiet, slow winter and the burgeoning spring alike.
Say No, or Protect What You Value / This is still the hardest for me. I am a yes person, a pleaser and accommodate-r, so saying no is extremely difficult. But learning to turn down opportunities (even good ones) or even limit the expectations I put on myself has been the most powerful and beneficial lesson for my work and home life. Motherhood is a gift, and having my children at home is truly only for such a short period of time. I have to protect time that I want with them, even at times when it costs me income-producing work. These are ongoing conversations in our home and will vary home to home based on what your family values. Again, trial and error have taught me so much. Sigh. But the better I am able to estimate the time it takes for various work, whether writing an editorial article, taking a call, or running an errand, the better I am about saying no and prioritizing. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend reading Essentialism––one of my favorite books of all time.
Be Patient / If you’re starting a new business from home, whether it is a blog, an online shop, direct sales or something else altogether, be patient with yourself, as you make space for it in the sphere of family and home. Some days will work smoothly and as planned, and other days will feel futile. It’s okay. Tomorrow is always fresh waiting for you again.
Ask for Help / Whether hiring a babysitter for blocks of time, getting help from a family member, or swapping childcare with a friend, ask for help as your business grows. There will be seasons where you can work during a nap-time, and other years without naps. For the latter, have a plan that fits your family budget and needs.
Let Go of the Working-Mother Shame / I recently was re-reading a section of Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Girls and noticed this passage I had previously underlined, “Mothering is a sacred profession that has, in our day and age, been relegated to a sub-profession; hence, mothers live today in an unavoidable tension, a juggling of selves, and at times, a kind of shame.” I love my husband and family deeply, and sometimes, my work costs them something, too. There can be a shame that all mothers carry in some form, that they are not enough, whether they work outside of the home or not. Mothering is full-time work, and if that is where you are–give it your all! But for those who also work in other ways to bring in income to your home, do not receive the shame that might creep in with it. I know the mothering years of small children are short, and so I look to make sure when I am with my children, I am really with them.
Make Space for Rest and Play / In the toggle between roles, it seems there is always something to do. Make sure you set aside time each week to rest and play. Although for those of you motivated by efficiency and productivity, this will feel of lesser importance, it is the glue that holds all the roles together. This is the place where connection (to self and family, spiritual and natural) is fed and grown. If you are not taking time to rest or enjoy life, you will quickly burn out.
Thanks so much for sharing! It’s always so encouraging to hear from someone else traveling down a similar path.
My husband and I live in a small country town in the mountains of NC. I work from home 20-30 hours a week (depending on the time of year). We are heading down the path of homeschooling, but as our oldest is 4.5, we are still in the very early stages. :) I too have to block off hours strictly for work, usually 5-9 am, where my husband is in charge of the kids. He feeds them breakfast, they do their morning chores, take care of all the animals, and often have a bit of play time before I wrap up with work for the day. Then he usually leaves for the office, and I leave work behind, whether I’m at a good stopping point or not (that’s been a struggle)! It’s my goal to be fully present with the kids during the days, and not constantly checking in/thinking about work-related projects. We’ve been doing this for 4 years now, and each new season brings changes that need to be made to our schedule, so flexibility is key! Thanks again for your post – I enjoy your writing style and your thoughts so much!
Yes, I think it’s the letting work go and not checking in on it during my time with the kids that is the hardest in discipline, and yet the most rewarding when I am diligent about it. I love that your husband is able to help with morning routine for you to do this. We tell the kids all the time how fortunate they are to have two parents around all the time. Thank you so much for sharing, Mandy.
Thank you so much for sharing this ideas and your experiences. My husband and I live on a farm in Maryland in our 1825 farmhouse with our four girls. I homeschool. Work full-time from home and I’m working on a side-hustle as well as a photographer and social media consultant. So I read this with a bit of a sigh of relief hearing from someone else in very similar shoes as my own. Thanks for your words, thoughts and inspiration. xo.
I find it so comforting to hear when others are juggling similar things, too. It reminds us we’re not alone, and I think it also diffuses the temptation to believe the grass-is-greener elsewhere. I’m grateful this was an encouragement to you, Molly. Thank you for sharing. x
Thank you for these tips and sharing your experience! I am a mama of young kids, starting to homeschool, and working on some business ideas. It seems crazy to want to do all these things, and yet, necessary to stay open to the opportunities. We’ll see where it all goes, one day at a time! All the best to you and your family!
It’s funny, but somehow the simultaneous journeys have often encouraged one another. Slow steady growth in one area, encourages the other. There’s a gift in the overlap, I think, even if it feels like a crazy whirl at times. ;)