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Sound Business Practices

Working at Home: A Blessing or Nightmare?


By Sandy Hershelman

Across America, cottage industries thrive. Myriad businesses are operated out of the home. Many of us have spent years walking a tightrope, trying to balance work and family.

Working at home can be wonderful! We all know that. It can also be the absolute pits, especially if you have small children at home.

Over the last 15 years, some things haven't changed. Most mornings I just put the blinders on and forge ahead. I've gotten pretty good at getting a cup of coffee without even seeing the stacks of dirty dishes from the night before.

Carefully sidestepping the vacuum cleaner, without spilling a drop of coffee, I meander down the hall. It's tough, though, to climb over the mountain of dirty laundry because the hamper is right outside of my office door. Oh well, throw a load in.

Ten years ago, it was a whole different story. I was married, and my two kids were 8 and 12. Working at home was ideal for me. I could work and yet still be there for the kids. Then again, maybe I should say: I could work in spite of being there for them.

It felt good—like I was really in control—when someone asked how many hours I worked; and I'd say, "Oh, it's directly related to what else is going on in my life." They'd just eat it up!

Ryan wanted me to go on his school field trip. Great. Heidi had a gymnastics meet. Fine. I'll often take a few photos at those outings and write an article for the newspaper. Their friends loved the attention. And heck, I got paid for being the good mom.

Writing requires a certain amount of concentration, which was easily undermined by the kids' fighting, doorbells ringing, and the zillion "Can Heidi come play?" phone calls I answered in any given week.

Life was wonderful when there are no half days or holidays from school that week, my ex wasn't on one of his clean-the-house kicks, and we'd been invited out to dinner or there were leftovers to zap.

Things went along pretty well during the school year. I tried to write during school hours. I felt productive. Once the kids got home, Mom's Taxi was usually on the move.

Summer, on the other hand, was hell . . . writing-wise, at least. While nothing is more important to me than the kids, that need to write does somersaults inside me if it's not let out.

So, for three months, the sun was out (occasionally) and the kids were happy to be out of school. I just did what I could and tried to keep my frustrations to a minimum. My mantra was: They're only young once, they're only young once . . .

Don't knock unless you're bleeding

I told myself it'd get easier as the kids got older—and it did. Heidi was about 9, before I felt reasonably comfortable that Ryan wouldn't kill her if I escaped for a short interview. I'd often come home to tears . . . usually hers.

The "Don't Knock Unless You're Bleeding" sign on my office door had little effect. With a sliding glass door onto the deck, Mom was fair game for faces through the window.

I usually write when it's quiet, so noise is distracting. When I filled in in the newsroom, I got used to noise. Once back home, though, I soon needed quiet again.

Face it. Kids equal noise. Earplugs helped drown out Heidi's TV and Ryan's guitar practice, but nothing buffered their fighting. And nothing got me more uptight—it still does. And they know it.

Working at home is the ultimate in flextime. But, for me, it began out of necessity, rather than desire. If I got up at 5 a.m, I could put a full day in before Ryan got home at 2. "If" was the operative word here.
No matter how much you work, it never seems like you're doing enough. When I started logging my time, it amazed me. I thought I worked a fraction of the time I actually do. I've always gotten down on myself for the days when I have four billable hours, yet manage to ignore the 12-hour days.

I chuckle when I think about using a webcam through my computer. Fortunately, none of my clients have ever asked to speak to me that way.

I try to picture how professional I'd look, in my jammies, frantically waving my arms and throwing empty film canisters at my squabbling children, while interviewing the governor. Her Honor may be envisioning me in a suit and heels, but we know better, don't we?

You know, writing is a weird occupation for a people person. You take someone, who loves talking and meeting people, and stick her in a tiny room with a computer—often for 12 hours at a time, if deadlines are involved. No wonder I sometimes go batty.

Discipline: the "D" word. Under a deadline, I thrive. I often take on more than I should. But, I meet those deadlines! Without a deadline, I wallow. That probably explains why all of those Great American Novels I have conjured up are still in my head, and not on paper . . . yet.

Tips from a work-at-home mom

Working at home for 15 years, many with small children, has tested my sanity—and taught me a lot. I've seen the following work for friends or me.

  • Ignore the dishes and dirty house during working hours.
  • Cook large meals that reheat well as leftovers.
  • Schedule time so intense tasks may be done with no interruptions.
  • If you're not a kid person, admit it. Get a babysitter when you need to focus.
  • Maximize your efforts. Can your product be resold?
  • Get a lock for your office door.
  • Buy earplugs.
  • Get each of the kids a TV. I'm sure I'll hear it for this one, but if you have to work, they need to be occupied. (I'm not talking 8 hours a day here!)
  • Watch how your child acts when certain little friends come over. Do they play quietly? You hardly know they're there? BINGO! They are the ones to invite over when you're working. Save the ones who need volume-control knobs for nonworking hours.
  • Let the answering machine screen your calls.
  • Don't kick yourself for not getting a lot done, if you have toddlers. Allow your business to grow as they do.
  • As a writer, there wasn't much my kids could do to help me, but if there's something yours can do to help in your occupation, let 'em.

More business management articles. . .

© 1995 & 2005 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.



Date Last Modified:5/28/05
Copyright © 1999-2005 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.