Those two words have always felt redundant to me. Of course, all mothers are working mothers. Unless your a Kardashian and you can hire all the help in the world to raise your kids!
Be it, stay-at-home full-time mommas and mommas who have some level of outside work, we are ALL working moms. And as we all know, the job of “Mom” doesn’t come with paid time off, substitute teachers or even a paycheck. We don’t simply clock out after our 40 hours, it’s a 24-7 gig.
Assuming we agree that the harder part of the equation of “working mom” is the “mom” part, the “working” part of the equation is no walk in the park either.
Up until about 2 years ago, I was able to focus all my energies inside my home. During that time, I spent many days exploring childhood with my kids and was even able to help build a school. My attentions weren’t very divided. I dedicated much time and resource to the raising and nurturing of their minds and souls. I will forever be grateful for that time.
But seasons change, and in this new season of life, I’m learning how to build a business AND I’m striving to continue raising my kids with the same amount of intention. They’re growing too, and their needs are changing. We are out of diapers and naps, and my kids can fix meals for themselves, and generally care for their own daily needs. In the case of a zombie apocalypse, they could survive without me for a time. (Maybe not well, but survive nonetheless. But that’s a different post for a different time! :))
No matter what age of children you have, or what stage of your freelancing business you are in these principles can help you. We don’t have to have identical circumstances, for these principles to apply and be helpful.
I have not arrived. I am not a working-mom extraordinaire. There are many out there who have more years, more experience, and can speak better to this subject than I can. But along the way, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that have guided me through the ups and downs of being a working mom.
Lesson 1: Remember your most important work
Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.
Life is full of distractions, and maybe even more so when you are working at home.
New or seasoned work-at-home mom, I challenge you to make a conscious choice about how you are going to view your children when there is work to be done.
Are you going to get upset when they distract you from your ‘real’ work? Are you going to sigh loudly when they burst through your office door? Or are you going to moment-by-moment lovingly train them and point them to the truth?
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t train them to understand your working boundaries. But there is work to be done, and a healthy vision of a diligent, hard-working mom, is a good picture to implant in their minds early on. I’m thankful that my kids are seeing my struggle of balancing work and them. I want to be honest with them about the joy I find in my work, but I never want them to feel they are in second place in my list of priorities.
I want to show my daughters that a work-at-home mom can find much delight and satisfaction in ordering her loves…God, husband, kids and then work.
I want to show my son that a good woman/wife is self-controlled and industrious. She diligently looks after the ways of her household.
There are some things I’ve had to make non-negotiable in my own heart and mind about how I will view my children when I’m working.
Often I remind myself of C.S. Lewis’s quote and tell myself my children are not a distraction, they are my most important work. I repeat. My children are not a distraction, they are my most important work.
If I ignore them in the name of my business, I might lose both their hearts and my motivation to bless them through my work.
At the same time, I’m all for training them to understand boundaries and to respect the work that I do.
Establishing my work times, and sharing with them how much I plan to work. This holds me accountable to not work more than I should.
Structuring their time. This means setting limits for TV and establishing what my expectations are for them while I’m working. For example, I need you to spend 30 min to an hour reading a book of your choice, unload and reload the dishwasher, and then go outside and play.
Allowing them time to be bored. It’s ok to not structure all their time. Often the greatest creations and imagination comes from children being given time to be bored!
Set rules for how to disturb me. If my office door is closed, please knock quietly before coming in. If I’m on a phone call, do not come ask me for a snack!
Speaking of snacks…make snacks that are approved by me and easy to reach. My kids know they don’t have to ask me to eat baby carrots, but if they want something sugary, they must ask!
This may seem dramatic, but remind yourself that no one on their deathbed wishes they spent more time working, but they often lament not being more present in their children’s lives. Settle this matter in your heart; your children are your greatest work.
Lesson 2: Determine your work rhythm and limit distractions
Ok, since we know our children aren’t distractions, we do know they can be distracting. There is a difference. Our job is to mitigate those distractions as best we can.
That might mean you have to work…
Before they wake up / after they go to sleep
While they nap
When they’re at school
During the weekends
For our family, I have 2 ½ days where all 4 of my kids are at school at the same time. Those are my work days. I squeeze in time on weekends, or when the kids watch some TV.
So once you’ve established when you’re going to work, you’ve gotta maximize your efficiency.
If possible, try to establish a good 2-4 hour block of time to work. During this time, silence your phone, and turn off your notifications.
As creatives, we need time to truly be creative. It might mean you need to set aside time to write, plan, create and even dream. But you can’t get much done when you’re stopping and chasing squirrels all day long.
There are some great tools online that can help you be more efficient when you have those golden hours of opportunity.
Pausing your email is a good way to work more efficiently. I use Google Boomerang. This is a free extension I added to my Gmail. It allows you to pause incoming messages for a certain amount of time, even allowing you to make exceptions to your own rules. It also allows you to reschedule emails to reappear in your inbox so that you can follow up on them at other times.
Remember to give yourself grace.
It takes time to find a rhythm that works for you. I hate to say it, but don’t get locked into your rhythm once you find it, because it’s bound to change. If we’ve learned anything about motherhood (and life) it’s that we need to be flexible with our methods and stubborn with our goals.
Lesson 3: Have a dedicated workspace
Building on the idea of working more productively, and minimizing distractions, having a space dedicated to your work can be life-changing. It was for me.
Last summer we invested about $1,000 to enclose our loft. It was open to the downstairs living room, where I heard all the theme songs to all.things.Disney.
Second, to the kitchen remodel we did, this was the best investment we made in our home. I wish we had done it years earlier. In addition to helping me work better, it technically added another bedroom to the home and will help our valuation when it comes time to resell. Win.win.
The best part? My door!
I can close it off and have some ‘mostly’ undisturbed time in there.
I try to be physically and mentally present with my kids at home (which is not always easy). But, I pull-away during my allotted work-time hours to work guilt free.
This has proved to be a true sanity-saver for me. If possible, make every effort to establish your “work zone” and own it like a boss.
Lesson 4: Become friends with your schedule!
As freelancers, we love our freedom. As a group, we are often not friendly with the idea of traditional work environments, and therefore, like the freedom and flexibility to go with the flow.
Freedom is great, as long as it’s not license to be lazy.
Having a schedule actually represents freedom to me. It provides structure to my week and helps me be as productive as possible. And when I’m productive, I’m happier.
Your schedule probably looks very different from mine. I have a few clients that need a few things from me almost on a daily basis. But in general, this is the structure I strive for.
Mondays: Full throttle–client work! Start writing personal blog post
Tuesdays: Homeschool (work an hour or two after 2 pm)
Wednesdays: Full throttle day-(client work, personal projects, finish blog post)
Thursdays: Homeschool (work from 2-4pm)
Fridays: Client work, publish blog (pick up kids at noon)
Weekends: Social Media creation and planning. Map out my upcoming week.
As you can see, I’m definitely not a full-time copywriter. So the temptation to expect to do as much as a full-timer is a recipe for disaster. My part-time-ness helps me carefully weigh pros/cons when I desire to work on new projects or get new clients.
Schedules are great and all, but be sure to schedule some time to recharge. For me, I need Pilates and yoga. It’s a few hours a week that I give to myself. Find out what refuels your soul and make it a priority.
Lesson 5: Learn to say “No”
Innovation is saying “no” to a thousand things. Steve Jobs
Oh, this one is hard for us people pleasers. We want to be all things to all people. But we have to learn to say no to a lot of good things.
There is no shortage of ‘good’ opportunities out there for our kids. I think part of our American psyche is that we want to provide our kids with everything we didn’t have or to open up new and exciting opportunities for them. But with every opportunity comes a cost, both financially, but maybe even more importantly, in time.
The same is true in business. Sometimes you’ve just gotta say ‘No’ to…
Freebies for friends and family
Jobs that pay better, but that you don’t enjoy
Collaborations that you want to be a part of, but require too much time
Extra travel (even for good things)
There is rare pleasure in saying “no”. Often we’re saying no to something ‘good’ in hopes to say ‘yes’ to something better.
For example, there is the dreamy writing conference I’ve been wanting to attend for 2 years now. The only problem? Well, if you want to call it a problem…it’s in Italy. That’s part of the attraction for me. It would probably be a life-changing, business-altering experience. But, it’s just not my season for this sort of “continuing education.” Maybe someday, I’ll get to go. But for now, I’ll enjoy daydreaming about it.
Working mommas out there I get you now more than ever. It’s a balancing act of epic proportions. Family commitments and business endeavors don’t have to be at odds with each other. Let’s encourage and cheer one another on in this awesome task.
“She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”
P.S. Share your lessons learned on balancing life and motherhood in the comment section below!