The boundary is also blurred in that because I am at home it often falls upon me to organize (not necessarily cook) what’s for dinner, do the shopping that may need to be done, do and hang out the washing, try and get the kitchen clean, floors swept etc. I sometimes resent the totally unfounded assumption that just because I’m at home my work can be put on hold to do this, but this is generally only on bad days. It’s common sense. I’m here, the jobs need to be done. It’s a matter of making things fit.
I’ll still do some work on the weekend if I have to, my wife will often take the kids out for the morning or afternoon to give me peace and quiet. This is one way I manage peak workloads. I have also found that outsourcing some of the basic work is an option for me. It takes a few tries to find contractors of a suitable quality but they have come in handy. Apart from this it really is a matter of trying to manufacture time; emails or calls can be responded to while waiting for the school pick up, plans for the next day are made the night before, accepting the house will look like a bomb site for another day.
Even with these measures there are times when work butts up against family demands, especially now with the two eldest involved in out of school work or activities. It’s a mix of which demand wins. P has to be at work to start on time and there’s no way there but via car. However sometimes I’ve missed afternoon coffees with friends or outings with the family because a client has a deadline that cannot be moved. I would love to be able to say family always comes first but any working parent will tell you this just isn’t possible. I believe though that working from home has given me far greater opportunity to be involved with the kids and that so far I have to accept I’ve done the best I can with juggling work/family demands.
I’ve mentioned before that my partner helps a lot on the weekend if I need more work time but as she works office hours during the week it really is up to me when it comes to child activity tasks during the week. Anything from dropping off forgotten lunches to making sure P is at work at time. I know she would like to be more involved and she envies me to a certain extent. I also know that whenever I need her help it’s there, all I have to do is ask. I don’t think I could run my business without her support, not unless the kids could be locked in a cupboard when not at school.
We don’t have much family close, mine is in the country and my partner has just her mum and brother nearby. That being said, my mother in law has been a godsend. Not only does her Thursday help give me a free day to work she has stepped in at other times when I couldn’t plan meetings or trips around other care. I don’t like to ask her for help, she has a busy enough life as it is, but knowing there is that back up in case of emergencies makes work so much easier. I don’t use any community resources as such, although I am looking at building a network of workers who work from home so that may change in the near future.
The biggest advantages from working at home when you have children for me is undoubtedly the time I have been able to spend with them. I’ve been able to watch them grow up, able to be there on their first day of school, been able to take them on trips to the zoo, got to know that H doesn’t like fish and K takes an eternity to eat lunch and that A won’t, for love or money, eat green apples put in his lunch box. This is priceless and I can now see why my old boss told me he envied what I was going to do.
Disadvantages though are the restrictions on time. This, hopefully, won’t be such an issue with all kids at school next year but the constant juggling of work and kids demands can be draining. Understanding clients will, in the end, only understand so far and being self-employed you can’t afford to disappoint clients. I should make it clear I’ve never resented having the kids at home, just some days it would have been a lot happier for everyone if Mary Poppins had have blown in on the hot northerlies that hit our back door.
The kids have never directly expressed frustration at me having to work, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve explained to them in ways they can understand that dad has to work sometimes. I think it’s more likely that we have three who are happy to play together and that twins have someone else to play with when A is at school. I’ve seen disappointment in their eyes when I tell them I’ll look at their latest Lego creation, or come shop at their toy store, and it hits hard. I always try to make sure I follow up when I say ‘in a minute’, I just hope that in the future they remember I did turn up. If I’m not flat out I will stop and have a chat, look at what they have to show me and I can see they love this.
If you’re considering working at home with kids what would I suggest? Well, the following have worked for me.
- Make sure you have a space that can be shut off from the world. You’ll need it.
- If you can, set up a regular time where you won’t need to be looking after the kids. You will need to make long calls, go see people, or just concentrate like mad. The expense of paying for someone to help is worth it in the end.
- Talk to your clients. Let them know you have kids, let them know if you won’t be available at school pick up time. If they don’t understand then you probably don’t want to work with them.
- Talk to your wife/husband/partner when you need help. Kathy has pointed out every self-employed person will get snowed under at times and you will need someone’s support.
- If you can, try and switch off after a given time. I’d love to be able to do this but, for me, it just doesn’t work.
- Get a separate phone for business. Every freelancer will have a story of the phone going off at stupid o’clock.
- For me the ages of 2-4 were the toughest, but it was only two years. I kept my biggest clients happy and held on. So far, so good.
- Above all don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. It will be better for you and for your kids.
Thank you so much, Tony, for sharing your wisdom! Next week, the final profile in this series - I'm interrogating my own self this time :-)