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Evolved Mommy | April 24, 2014

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How to: Be a work-at-home mom (WAHM) - Evolved Mommy

Guest post by Shannon Magsam. 

When I went on maternity leave from the newspaper where I was a reporter, I wasn’t sure if I would go back to work or stay home with my new daughter.

I left the door open. Then, after she was born, it closed tight. As a writer, I figured I could cobble together a decent annual salary with freelance work.

After my three-month leave, my first stop for work-at-home job options was the newspaper I had just resigned from. It felt a little weird, but they were gracious and said they were glad to have me. I happily continued writing a weekly lifestyle piece where I interviewed local married couples about how they met. I also picked up other work for the paper, including a food feature and profiling our region’s version of the rich and famous.

Later, I added work for a local PR firm (which my newspaper friends joked was “the dark side”) and started writing press releases for a large retailer.

Some months, the different revenue streams seemed more like trickles, but I felt fortunate to be staying at home with my daughter while continuing to work with words (and grown-ups).

Mom as entrepreneur

When the kidlet started kindergarten, I considered going back to work full time. My husband was banking (literally banking!) on this. But a few months after Laynie went to school – near the end of 2007 — I had an idea to start a new business. It would be a website catering to Northwest Arkansas mamas and would generate income through display advertising for mom-friendly businesses. It was one of the scariest, most exhilarating adventures I’d ever considered, motherhood the exception.

My husband (always my biggest supporter) took the news well and encouraged me to go for it. My first real step was to call a fellow mom and writer extraordinaire I had met a few years back. I invited her to join me in publishing an online magazine just for local moms that would update every single day (even Sundays). Lucky for me, she said yes.

Together, Gwen Rockwood and I started meeting and planning our new website, nwaMotherlode.com. We launched the site nearly four years ago in April 2008 and it has been one fabulous ride so far. We write, edit, seek out new ideas/giveaways, work with guest writers/mom bloggers and meet with potential advertisers. Our top priority, though, is to create a place that moms will love to visit.

I also kept my PR job and some monthly writing assignments, so it’s safe to say I work full time from home.

Whoa! It’s been a decade!

A few weeks ago, my daughter turned 10 and I realized that meant I’d been doing this work-at-home-mom gig for a decade. Today, I’m joined by millions of moms across the country who are part of the work-at-home workforce, including those who work from home a few days a week as part of their corporate job. Like Gwen and me, many moms are creating their own businesses.

For those of you who are new to the journey, I thought I’d share my Baker’s Dozen for Workin’ It at Home:

  1. De-clutter. If your kids are anything like mine, they have a ridiculous amount of toys/art supplies/stuffed animals/etc., so they won’t miss them when you pack a few strategic boxes and put them in the garage. When you need to be on a conference call, power through a project or make an important phone call, pull out one of the boxes. Since the kids won’t have seen these particular goodies in a while, it should help keep them occupied long enough to see you through. Also consider stocking up on inexpensive Dollar Store trinkets that may just buy you some time. (And never, ever underestimate the power of a Popsicle or lollipop to keep little mouths quiet.)
  2. Trade off child care with another mom who works from home. You keep her kids for a few hours on Mondays and she keeps yours for the same amount of time on Wednesdays (or just the occasional swap based on work load or when you’ve got an out-of-the-house meeting).
  3. Schedule regular “daddy/kid dates” (maybe one or two hours a few nights a week) so you can finish up that project you inevitably didn’t have time to tackle during the day. They can watch a fave show together, go out for ice cream or just do bedtime routines. Of course, you can also work after the kids go to bed, but that can interfere with mommy/daddy date time, which I don’t recommend forgoing on a daily basis. (One of those hard-earned truths. Listen to me, mamas).
  4. Office hours. If you don’t work full time from home, pick some set “office hours” at least two or three days a week when you let family and friends know you’ll be knee-deep in projects. That way they’ll know in advance why you didn’t answer the phone (or the door, if need be). I can’t tell you how many times a phone call has totally derailed my work day.
  5. No. Which leads me to my next point: Avoid like the plague that whole “Oh you work from home? Then doesn’t that mean you can take care of my sick kid who can’t go to school/pick up my dry cleaning while I’m working at my office?” no, No, NO. Boundaries. Get to know them and share them – nicely, but firmly – with friends and family. Treat your home office like it’s a regular office when there’s work to be done.
  6. That said, be flexible. There will be days when your child is sick and can’t go to school or your baby is extra fussy and you need to have realistic expectations about what you can get done. One those days, remember WHY you are working from home. Isn’t it so you can be there for your babies? Of course, if you have a deadline or MUST get something finished, consider desperate measures for your desperate times. Ask your husband to take a sick day, for example. Being flexible will keep you from going crazy. I think the idea that you’ll always be BALANCED is unreasonable. Sometimes the kids will need more of your time and work will get the short end of the stick. Sometimes you’ll need to get a project finished and the kids will have to entertain themselves (something they need to learn anyway).
  7. Take breaks. Don’t feel like you have to constantly keep your nose to the grindstone out of some sort of “guilt” that you’re at home. At a normal office, you get a lunch break, time to chat with your coworkers around the water cooler and vacations. Also, you’re at home to spend time with your kids. If you work in a creative job, you need down time to percolate and recharge anyway. Go do some of those things you wouldn’t be able to enjoy if you were working a 9-to-5. Feed your creative brain.
  8. Set work/home boundaries. When you’re home, you obviously switch from worker bee to mom to wife depending on the moment, but set a schedule (with work hours AND off-the-clock hours) and try to stick to it. When you own your own business it can become an obsession. My computer is in my kitchen, so work is always calling to me. But it can’t always be the priority. I have to literally turn off my computer so I won’t sit down and “just do a little bit”. A little bit always ends up being a little bit more. And more.
  9. Hire a baby wrangler. Before my daughter started school, I hired a neighborhood teenager a few hours a week to come over and play with her/do crafts with her/etc. while I was working in my office. That way, I could work without guilt.
  10. Suit up and show up. I know you technically CAN wear your pajamas to work, but it’s hard to shift into getting-work-done mode when you’re that relaxed. There definitely are days when I need to get started immediately and jump right in without changing out of my night clothes (meaning the sweat pants I added to my t-shirt), but I’m more productive when I wash my face, brush my hair and get dressed for the day.
  11. Shhhhh… Teach your kids a special “sign” that means you’re on a business phone call and can NOT be interrupted unless there’s blood involved. (My signal to Laynie usually involves an exaggerated pointing to the phone and a big “NO NO” head shake. Ha!) My daughter knows that when I’m on the phone or talking to a grown-up that she can let me know she needs something by placing her hand (gently!) on my arm.  That’s her signal to me that she really needs to talk.
  12. Leave the dishes alone. As a work-at-home mom, you are surrounded by housework that you COULD be doing. Don’t fall into that trap or you’ll never get any actual work-work done. Instead, try to figure out a little system and let those dust bunnies pile up if you must. If you were at an off-site office you wouldn’t be throwing in another load of laundry, would you? Well, take your own work that seriously. Since I work from the kitchen table, I feel your pain. It helps me to make a quick, clean sweep of the house before I sit down at my computer in the morning. I’ll throw dishes in the dishwasher, put the pillows back on the couch and generally “right” things. Then I can focus on work. When the kids are at home, you might as well forget about keeping things clean anyway, true?

BONUS Baker’s Dozen TIP: Do NOT be envious of another mother’s success. We all define success differently and you have to figure out what your version is. Take that envy and use it as a kick in the booty to make your OWN individual dreams come true, if you must, but don’t dwell on what you’re not doing or haven’t accomplished. Focus on what you’ve been able to do and be proud that you’re able to make some money, use your talents and enjoy your kids while you’re at it. You rock!

Shannon Magsam NWAMotherlodeShannon is co-owner of NWAMotherlode.com, which is a regional website for moms in the Northwest Arkansas area (home of Walmart). She also works freelance as a public relations writer for a national ad agency. 


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