Today I’m at The HerStories Project talking about my struggles and joys with working and writing from home.
It’s a hard balance, one that it is in many ways unachievable. Balance is impossible, but sanity is.
In our culture we often think that our stories are intensely individual, personal stories of coping and resilience, fulfillment, or dissatisfaction. And of course they are. But there’s also an element that many of us don’t emphasize enough when we write about family/work issues and how they impact our lives.
When Lisa Belkin, the original writer of the 2003 “Opt Out Revolution” article, wrote yesterday about her observations 10 years after her piece, she described three lessons from these women who “opted out” and now want back in.
- First, don’t walk away completely. Find some connection to the professional world.
- Opting out isn’t just for women anymore. Men want balance and flexibility too.
- The workplace needs dramatic, deep change. Most women don’t have the privilege of working at a job with flexible scheduling. For many families, sick time, parental leave, personal time, health care insurance are all.
Keeping this in mind — that there is also a “public” aspect to our personal lives — I do think it’s important to talk about both aspects (the personal and the political) of work/life balance.
To that end, here are seven tips based on what I have learned about being a work-at-home mother, one who is just beginning a new professional journey as a writer:
1. First, I would remind work-at-moms again that the personal is the political. Don’t check out of citizenship; be politically engaged. We are in dire need of supportive institutions and policies for working families in this country. Even if you’re home alone all day, with no one to talk about the latest state congressional race or a voting referendum in your own, stay knowledgeable about local and national political conversations. Research candidates and vote for the ones that reflect your family’s values about supporting families.
2. Don’t neglect your relationships, especially your marriage. Since I started working at home, my time with friends and my husband away my son has decreased dramatically. It’s so easy as a work-at-home trap to fall into the trap that any “free” time should be spent on your work. But I’m starting to realize that relationships have to be cultivated or they don’t grow — just like professional success — and the calmness and recharging that come from talking and thinking about something other than your work or your children are priceless.
3. When you have an important work-at-home obligation — a conference call, a meeting, a deadline — always make a backup plan to your first child care option. I’ve had several important phone calls that became extremely frustrating because my son was home sick from preschool, and I had no Plan B.
4. Create a (flexible) schedule for yourself. Know when the best times for you are to work — do you work best at night? early morning? — and be realistic about how much you can accomplish during those blocks. Don’t set yourself up for failure and frustration by expecting to get too much done during short chunks of time. Keep track of your short-term (daily) and long-term (weekly and monthly) goals. And when you have those blocks of time, focus. Again, focus. This means turning off Facebook and your e-mail account if those things distract you.
5. Do not become a full-time housekeeper. When you’re home all day, it’s easy to fall into the trap and finding every conceivable household project to distract you. (For instance, suddenly, when I first started writing my dissertation, I couldn’t stand the sight of dust in any corner of the house. I would start to write and suddenly I would have a dust mop in my hand, attacking shelves and corners.) Negotiate a division of household labor in your house that makes sense to you. Adjust your standards as much as you can. (I wrote about my struggle with this in my piece, “In Praise of Filth: My Housework Manifesto.”
6. Find a work space and set boundaries. For me, I like to work on the dining room table. I keep my notes, books, and computer on the dining room cabinet. No one is allowed to touch my stuff. Ever. For most people, I think finding a quiet space in your house — an office, a desk in a bedroom — works best. Be vigilant about protecting your space and your time when you’re working.
7. Finally, find times to “turn off.” Unplug. Unwind. In every sense of word. No Facebook, no Twitter, no phone, no e-mail, no texting. Find time, even it’s five minutes a day, to do something — anything, from yoga to a walk to cooking a meal — that doesn’t involve communication or social media.
For parents who work at home, or do part of their work at home, what have I missed? What are your words of wisdom for stay-at-home moms?