I was always a very calculated career driven and self-involved person. But when I abruptly learned of my pregnancy via ultrasound at three months, I was gob smacked and teary eyed – and perhaps speechless for the first time in my life. Here was this little life that had already claimed a place in the world; he was kicking away feverishly as if he was planning on just swimming away. He was here. He was real. And I knew in that instance I could never drag him out of bed at a God-awful early hour, tear him from sleep, toss him in a cold car and drop him off with a stranger for the better part of the day. My child would have a home and he’d have his mother. There was one small little detail…reality.
I still had to make a living and the best way I knew how was in content development and new media marketing. So I launched a business during my pregnancy, which itself was a very slow process in between lots of sleep requirements, nausea and an insane round of gestational diabetes. Still it needed to be done and so I did it. Reagan is now just over a year old and here’s what I’ve learned in that very short time.
1. Give Yourself Time to Adjust to Motherhood
No matter how strong you are or how determined you are to do everything, you’ve just popped a baby out of you…if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you’ve had a C-section and had the child ripped from. You now have a baby and a war wound. Accept it.
I don’t just mean understand the situation, I mean accept it. Accept that you’re broken and bruised, torn and mentally bound to live in baby land for the first month to two months at least. Take the time to heal and to relish your new baby. You’re going to be exhausted in every way possible. If you’ve never had a child, imagine being a Stockholm Syndrome P.O.W. Life is hell but you love it and the last thing you need or want on your plate is anything else that doesn’t revolve around the “sun” that is your new child.
Put work on hold. Make the arrangements to transfer responsibility. Don’t take on new assignments until you’re ready to be your best again. I made the mistake of not taking this advice simply because I didn’t know any better and thought I could do it all. I couldn’t and my work suffered. It took me eight months to be myself again.
2. Finding the Right Company
Find a company that accepts telecommuters without unnecessary in person meetings. Find someone that trusts you to do what you do best and leaves you to it. Find a company that can help you with the tools you need and is willing to work collaboratively when needed. I cannot thank my blessing enough to have found Benchmark. Not enough good words can be said about them.
3. Learning More
One of the biggest bonuses in working for yourself is that you end up doing and learning a lot more. I’ve learned more in just these past two years than I did at any job or in school over ten years combined. And I’m motivated daily to learn more.
Learning trends, networking socially and reading up on news, opinions and developments in any industry is part of your job. Take it one step further and start following a few more related industries. You’ll be surprised by how many connections you start making, which makes you a more informed analyst and an on-the-ball trend spotter. Plus, it helps boost neuron activity to feed different kinds of ideas and information, making you a smarter, faster and more creative thinker.
If you can afford it or save up for it, get the right tech tools – a Kindle, iPad, iMac, a great camera to create your own images and the right programs like Adobe Photoshop. You’re going to need it and it’ll make you a more valuable asset. You don’t have to wait for a boss to approve it, or to have a boss waste your time with monkey work. What you do and how far you go depends entirely on you; and people who are driven will take advantage of this opportunity.
4. Learning the Art of Time Management
Any half-decent mom will excel in time management after having her first child. But work from home moms transform into highly skilled ring leaders capable of anything. We’re master managers juggling multiple streams of information that would make the Matrix look like DOS. There’s one nemesis though and that’s time.
This point is called “Learning the Art of Time Management,” but that’s a load of hogwash. There’s no such thing. Time cannot be managed. Rather, you learn to manage yourself better by wading through the chaos that’s now your life. (See Embracing the Chaos, below.) Grab fifteen minutes wherever you can and you’ll be surprised how much you can do in just the 15 minutes that your child is amused by grabbing fistfuls of spaghetti and sticking it up in the air with the zealous enthusiasm of a savage hunter who’s just experienced a prized kill. So there’s spaghetti everywhere. It’ll get cleaned up and you’ll get over it. The kid can be dumped in the tub, clothes and all where that mess can be cleaned up and he can spend the next 30 minutes splashing running water while you finish your email. Make that 45 minutes.
Managing yourself and your baby is one thing. First, learn what works for you best, and work around your baby’s schedule. I wake up early and stay up super late if I’m not too tired. Reagan wakes up at 10 (thank God), and from 10 am to 2 pm, I’m committed to playing with him, feeding and bathing him. From there on, it’s back to work and here and there work tending to Reagan’s needs.
5. Explaining What You Do
People don’t understand what working from home means. They think it means you wake up late, watch a lot of TV, play with the baby and are free for them to drop in whenever you want and stay however long they want. Don’t try explaining it because no one understands it unless they’ve lived through it or see a week in your life.
Managing other people’s respect for your time is quite another. I don’t allow idle visitors or phone calls during the work week. I’m very very strict about that and you’ll have to be too. Whenever possible, meet visitors outside your home because God knows you need to get out of the house; plus it’s a lot easier to leave because it’s his “nap” time or some other made up excuse than to ask your guest to leave – which comes across as rude no matter how polite you try to be.
Work-from-home moms will also frequently find themselves chugging away through the weekend. It’s not an ideal situation but it’s a sacrifice you have to make at least a part of the time in exchange for getting to be home with your kid. Don’t expect people to be understanding though. Social visits get cut short because you have work to do. Family time with everyone over means you may be on your computer half that time. The people who love you will come to understand it.
6. Knowing When to Get Help
As much as you’ll try to do it all, you simply can’t. And if you can’t, you’re burnt out. So make the smart move and get a babysitter or some trusted high school kid to come play with your child a few hours a day – keeping him busy and played with and giving you some free time.
Or try getting a maid once a week so you’re not wasting 5 hours a week on manual labor. If you try doing it all yourself, something will suffer and most likely it’ll be your sanity and your once good looks.
Do not rely on family and friends because then you’ll just end up entertaining them afterward or they won’t understand that you’re working. You simply won’t get anything done and you’re now babysitting two people instead of one.
7. Getting Out
Make sure you and your child leave the house once every day for at least a half hour. If you treat yourself like a prisoner you’ll soon start hating your prison – and your child will hate you.
Don’t take on any social engagements, play dates or actual outings during the week as it sucks up way too much time away from your work schedule. That’s what the weekends are for.
8. Keeping Your Kid Busy
If your baby is 0 to six months, get a swing. I didn’t do this and I suffered for it. Make sure your home environment is very stimulating to a child. Lots of toys, bright colors, a garden and pockets of interest especially near your desk.
In one stroke of genius, I finally made some space for Reagan on my desk recently where I gave him an outdated Blackberry and a kiddy laptop. He loves being with me and now he’s at my desk and satisfied, rather than clamoring at my lap for me to pick him up so he can see my computer and then randomly wage war on various keys.
9. Embrace Chaos
If you were a once neat and tidy person, forget it. Your home will look like a crime scene and you’ll learn to function around it. Don’t waste your time trying to make everything perfect. Perfect is a happy kid who’s had you the whole day, and happy clients.
10. Respecting Your Role
If you’re lucky enough to be able to work at home, then respect it. You’ve got to respect your colleagues, go above and beyond expectations and work harder than you ever would in a traditional office.