How Not To Work From Home With Children

14/08/2014 17:01 | Updated 20 May 2015

My work-from-home lifestyle began by accident and sheer luck: at the point when I had finished my master's degree and was looking for full-time office work, I discovered I was three months pregnant and couldn't in good faith take a permanent position so I started accepting freelance assignments.

Conveniently, my spiritual home was the couch and all I needed to complete my picture of idyllic bliss - and call myself 'self-employed' - was a laptop. And my snugly bulldog puppy.

Happily, two children and almost four years later, I am still doing the work-from-home, stay-at-home juggling act. And it's working. Most of the time.

I love that I can do all the stay-at-home stuff: the nursery drop-offs and pick-ups, the long walks with the dog in the morning, the trips to the playground and library, and the cuddling-with-the-girls days, when we all snuggle up in bed and read every book we have about princesses, witches and pirates.

I also love to write.

This doesn't mean I don't go through phases of struggling to balance it all (and somehow stay sane in the process).

Everyone has to make their own decisions about how to raise their children and whether work can fit into that framework and how big a role it will play.

For me, working from home makes sense and suits me for a variety of reasons, but there is an unpredictable element involved in being a freelancer: some months I have a ton of work on, other months are dry spells, which means I always feel a bit unstable, whether I'm working lots (financially good, but strange to have less time with the girls), or only a little (amazing family-wise, but a stress in terms of income, or lack of).

But I've become so accustomed to my home office that I don't think I would feel entirely comfortable sitting in a real one, not dressed in my PJs and snacking on *insert unhealthy food choice here.

My at-home work ambience - to put it euphemistically - is also chaotic, considering my workspace is in the corner of our sitting room, which is on the other side of our open plan kitchen/dining room set-up in our not-very-large flat. Which means that work and motherhood are constantly intertwined, and my work moments are interspersed with imaginary role play and nappy changes.

Of course, this is at once a benefit and a drawback. I love that I can see the girls all day long, but it's also important - and vastly more productive - to occasionally separate the mother identity from the worker, to avoid situations where I'm manically typing away and trying to focus while also pretending to be a wicked witch who's put a spell on a princess and is making gurgling noises at the baby on the other side. I'm also trying to ignore the pile of dishes that need to be washed, the dinner that needs to be prepared and the laundry hanging up that needs to be put away...

So, that's my first mistake, I think: I need a room of my own. Or at least to be working behind a closed door.

The other thing I struggle with when working from home is that my work life and my home life are constantly bleeding into one another. I can always go back to my work at night, when the girls are in bed, or wake up early to make a deadline. But it feels like I always take my work home with me, because I'm always home.

I also think it's easy for people (ie, my darling husband) to forget sometimes that just because I'm at home doesn't mean I'm rotting on the couch all day. Or even for 10 minutes. Those days are over.

Mums who work from home are doing about 14 different jobs, often without a support system (like the kind you get from colleagues in an office). And their days might not have started with a long commute, but probably involved a spill, a costume change (or four), a tantrum, a cranky, teething toddler that was up for a substantial part of the night, a last-minute deadline they're scrambling to make, a guilt trip about something or other (there's always something to beat yourself up about, isn't there?), a stubborn pet that's refusing to walk and a toilet that won't flush... all before 9:00am.

But just like motherhood is a learning curve for me, so is negotiating the work-life balance. Which is working when the girls are happy, the husband isn't complaining (too much!) and I'm keeping all my balls in the air - mostly.

I've learned that it's OK if I drop one every now and again.

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