“Oh! You get to work at home! That’s so amazing! Set your own hours, be there for your family all the time, and take breaks whenever you want!”
Theoretically, this is all true. I mean, I DO work at home where my main companion is my 19 month old son and my husband (after 5pm). I plan for the inevitable interruptions that come with a toddler and electronics, and I have VERY much learned to never, EV-ER take a meeting before 10am. My uniform is yoga pants, a shelf tank top (sans bra) and a messy bun, and other than washing my face, hopefully brushing my teeth, and sipping that glorious first cup of coffee after wresting my son out of pajamas and into real clothes (one of us should wear them at least), I have no requirement to do more than get on the computer and finish my work. Pretty chill. Pretty easy. Pretty ideal.
There’s this thing that happens nearly every morning. My son wakes up at 7am and refuses to go back to sleep if I don’t need to work until 10 or later, and sleeps in until 9:30 if I have to get to work or have a meeting at 8:30. We have an argument about whether he’ll eat the eggs he loves so much when he FINALLY takes a damn bite, and the cup of goldfish I mistakenly forgot to put in the cupboard out of sight (yes, I actually argue with my 19 month old son). Do I take 30 minutes and play with him? Nope. He wants nothing to do with me. So I get on the computer and suddenly I’m the missing piece to all the happiness and toys in the world. Mom is checking Facebook, be totally silent and actually play…OMG!!! She’s dialing a phone number! Demand her attention in a high pitched whiny voice immediately! Cease only when she tries to pick you up and then run away!
On a daily basis, there is this constant struggle between when I should get on my computer, and how much TV I let my son watch before I enter the “bad mom” category. Nap time is a mix between lunch break, coffee break, phone meetings, conference calls, emails, project updates, social media (and not the fun cat videos and casino games either) and fitting absolutely as much work as frantically possible in two hours. Often times I have to throw in wife obligations as well: dishes, laundry, getting dinner ready, finally cleaning the toilets…
My entire evening’s schedule is solely dependent upon how long my beautiful boy sleeps…or not. Most days the house is severely neglected, showers are taken with the baby after dinner (for the obligatory bath time), take out, pizza or frozen really-bad-for-you food is dinner, laundry only happens when we run out of underwear, and running errands causes a stress far outside of simply needing to tote a toddler with me. Yet, even with all this chaos, deadlines still need to be met, clients still need their projects, and edits still need to be made.
Years ago, when I first started my graphic design business, my husband would get SO mad at me for staying up until 2 or 3 am. “Deadline or not, I could do it tomorrow,” he would say. When I first had my son, not too much changed. I would simply wear him while working, or place him in the swing he loved so much for a bit. When I had really big projects, I had a sitter a few nights a week to help. It was great because I could go back to work immediately, and yet not leave him. But as he got older, more active, more mobile…and more talkative, suddenly the 3 am bedtimes became standard. Unlike before where I was just totally in the zone and would lose track of time, now it was because if I wanted to actually SEE my husband, then my hours had to shift from day light to midnight. I’ve had countless all-nighters when the only reprimand I got from my husband was, “Why haven’t you gone to get coffee?”
Then there’s the confusion of others that I really do work, I just don’t LEAVE to work. My husband (bless him and his unbelievably supportive ways), my mom, my mother-in-law, my friends, my clients. I hear it all:
You’re home all day, so why isn’t the house actually clean? Why can’t you just come get your nails done with me? You’re eating out, AGAIN? Why can’t you just come visit tomorrow, you don’t have to get time off…? Why do your work hours not start until 11am? Why can’t I just randomly pick up the phone and talk about that super important 15th edit? Why don’t you get a “real” job? Do people actually pay you for this? You mean you’re serious about the schedule you have set? And my favorite… Why are you always on the computer?
I’m hearing what you’re saying: “Why not just have a sitter or nanny a few days a week and actually have a schedule?!” See, the problem is, when you work at home chances are you own your own business, unless you’re one of those blessed and super lucky people to work virtually FOR a company. The ebb and flow of income can sometimes be maddening. I got a nanny because in one month I will have 60 hours a week of work, but then I had to let my nanny go because I couldn’t justify having her when I had no clients the next month. Anyone who needs to pay bills can’t have that lack of security (trust me!), so teenagers always work great. Except during the school year. Because of this conundrum, I thankfully stumbled upon WeVillage drop in “play care”. It CAN be part/full time, or it can be only when you need it. It’s amazing for me because my extrovert son gets to play and enjoy being around people, I camp out at Starbucks and get more than two hours of solid work, and it’s there when I HAVE to go to work with no interruptions. The other reason, however, is because I may not have clients next month but it’s because I don’t want them. After pushing and pushing for hours and weeks on end, I’m fried. It’s hard for me to understand the newest Black List, let alone carry on intelligent conversation. This is also, unfortunately, pretty standard for the freelance graphic artist. How do you tell a nanny that depends on your paycheck to her, “Sorry. I just don’t want to work this month. See you in three weeks!” ?!
But to go all the way back to the beginning: with all the stress, all the unsure income, all the demanding clients, all the all-nighters, the lack of makeup, real clothes, real food, real sleep, or social life…I wouldn’t change it. Because ultimately they are right. I DO get to choose. Today my son was sick with a slight fever. He’s clingy, tired, cranky, and his nose is running like a faucet, but instead of calling a boss to beg for the day off with the possibility of not getting it, I called my clients and told them I simply wouldn’t be working today. I can schedule date nights, park dates, and vacations around deadlines, and I can take my work with me when we drive the 6 hours back to Idaho to visit my husband’s family. I can go see my husband for lunch, bring my son to the Children’s Museum, wander Target just so I’m out of the house, and randomly go get coffee because I want a treat.
Is it all bunnies and rainbows and unicorns? Hell. To The. No.
But the best thing about working at home is if I don’t like my job, my boss, my client or my schedule…I just change it.