One of the reasons that I chose my current profession (being a college professor) is because I loved the schedule. Sure, I’m a researching freak who loves interacting with those pesky students, but not-so-secretly, I chose this path for the 9-month academic year and the flexible weekly hours. Then, I took things one step further and I found a university that perfectly aligned with my work habits, which mainly consist of spending huge blocks of time sequestered in my home office, happily working on data and articles. My teaching and research are equally valued here and I have the freedom to structure my classes as I see fit. In other words, this job is pretty close to perfect for a hermit like me.
It’s also the type of job that adapts well to having small children (if you are a self motivated person). During the school year, I’m only on campus 10 hours a week and my husband has the ability to flex his schedule so that we only need a sitter for Lexi for 4 hours a week. With all that said, being a ‘work from home’ parent is kind of like burning the candle at both ends. It’s a hard balance to manage and Lord knows there are days when I want to pull my hair out and either quit my job (not going to happen) or flee to the office full-time (also not going to happen). Here’s the breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly of trying to be both a great parent and a great worker.
1. I am solely in charge of the raising of this child for the first 2 years of life. Even with Parker (when I had a traditional 40-hour a week job), I worked from home until he was 18 months old. While there are some absolutely amazing nannies, sitters and daycares out there, no one loves my child like I do. Plus, it’s a 1:1 ratio here – if she has a need (dirty diaper, hunger, cuddling), I’m readily available.
2. Compared to the astronomical cost of having a child in full-time daycare, this way is much easier on our finances. Needing a sitter just 4 hours a week will allow us to only have one child in a paid pre-school at a time. We will get a one year reprieve in 2012 (when Parker starts kindergarten and Lexi is still home with me), and then she will be the one in pre-school.
3. Speaking of finances, I’m still bringing in my full salary, which is an obvious bonus.
4. I don’t have to miss any milestones. Her first babbles, words, steps, etc… are all done with me here. That’s a pretty big deal to me since, as you guys know, they go from toddling to running in like 3 days!
5. If she’s sick, I’m already home to deal with it. The Irishman and I don’t need to juggle who will stay home with her and as an added bonus, she will probably be sick a lot less than if she went straight to daycare.
6. She is no farther than 10 feet from me at all times, which means that I can focus on work because I know she is okay. This might sound silly, but I have moments of irrational panic when Parker is at school, like what if he’s choking on a carrot right now or what if he flies off the swing! For a paranoid and protective parent like myself, it is much harder to allow the kiddos to roam freely in the world without my watchful eye. Seriously, I’m getting panicky just typing this!
1. I am guaranteed to be interrupted at a minimum of every two hours. This is definitely not good for my productivity because when I’m writing, I get into the zone and sometimes can stay focused and productive for 6 hours at a time. This is guaranteed to not happen at home.
2. I feel guilty. Constantly. I don’t have the freedom to be a true stay at home mom and do whatever needs doing around the house or taking a full hour to just cuddle the baby as I’d like to. At the same time, when I do take time for that hour-long cuddle, I feel guilty that I’m not finishing up revisions on an article or looking up projects for my students to do. When you work from home, the lines are blurred and it’s virtually impossible to separate the time you spend working from the time you spend parenting. This will be so much worse when Lexi is walking and talking. I will probably start going into the office one weekend day when that happens because toddlers need more of your hands-on time and undivided attention.
3. There is a definite lack of adult interaction that I crave. I’m not a social person by nature, but I definitely need the intellectual stimulation that I get at work. Working from home is incredibly isolating because I can’t join the mommy groups that would fill that need nor can I take the baby into the office on a regular basis.
4. I can’t snooze on the job. Some days, I would head into the office and literally get nothing done. Either I wasn’t motivated or I had writers block or I was just tired and nothing would get done. And you know what? It was okay to have days like that. Working from home, I have to be productive when the baby naps and when the baby isn’t napping, I can’t just kick up my legs and call it a day. As all parents can attest, having a kiddo is exhausting regardless of whether you work as a stay at home mom, a work from home mom, or a work out of the home mom.
5. When something needs doing (taking kids to the doctor’s office, mailing a package, meeting the pest control guy at the house), it always falls on me simply because I don’t need to take sick days or vacation days to get things done. The problem with this is that I still have deadlines and course preps and meetings regardless of my apparent availability to pick up the slack. That’s to say nothing of having dinner ready for the boys, letting the dogs out to potty and doing the 30 other things that keep a house running. Frankly, this is a difficult concept to explain to a spouse who works outside of the house in a suit and tie. Just because I’m in yoga pants and barefoot, doesn’t mean that I’m not working. It just means that I’m more comfortable than you.
6. There is no margin for error and my entire schedule is like a house of cards. If the baby doesn’t nap or takes an abbreviated nap, I’m screwed in the work department because at the end of the day, she will always take priority over whatever else needs to get done. Period. This just means that I will probably spend a couple of the wee hours of the morning playing catch up and I’ve gotten pretty good at building in a cushion for my deadlines to allow for these things. Still, it’s a precarious balance and once I think I’ve mastered it, I’m again challenged to “get it all done” without turning into a lunatic. As the Irishman told Parker last night (as they were playing a game of monster chase), “You should have your mommy play the monster next. She is very convincing.” Ha! He’s absolutely right.
With all that said, I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I have my work to fulfill me intellectually and I have my family to fill my heart. It’s safe to say that I never feel empty and I never feel bored. When work feels overwhelming, I just pick up that sweet girl and remind myself that as long as everyone is safe and healthy, all is right in the world. It’s also worth mentioning that the Irishman is a very hands-on dad and he appreciates my need to disappear for a two-hour run on a Saturday morning when I feel a bit too “full” of life. As I gear up for the upcoming school year that starts in just over 4 weeks, I know that it’s going to be a crazy couple of years, filled with joy and sorrow, stress and elation, but I also know that they will go by so incredibly fast. And in the event that I disappear for a while, you’ll be able to find me curled under my desk in the fetal position, singing kumbaya.