Work-at-home mothers appear to have the life many mothers dream of. They have a satisfying career, are making money and can stay home with their children. But it’s not always easy to separate home and work when your office is your kitchen. Unrealistic expectations, procrastination, toddlers and unsupportive husbands can make working from home a challenge. But moms who do it say that with the right strategies it’s possible to overcome the challenges and reap the rewards.
By Kim Mordecai
While the roles of stay-at-home mother and businesswoman have long been considered mutually exclusive, a growing number of women are showing the world that they can have careers and stay at home with their children.
They are WAHM’s, Work-at-Home Mothers, who have discovered that balancing work and home is a lot more challenging when your office is your kitchen.
Many mothers would love to work and be at home with their children, but few know how to do it. Cheryl Demas, author of It’s a Jungle Out There and a Zoo in Here – Run Your Home Business without Letting It Overrun You, says that one of the keys to being a work-at-home mom is having realistic expectations.
“Have you seen those commercials where there’s a woman sitting in her bunny slippers on a conference call to Europe while her daughters are playing quietly next to her?Well that just doesn’t happen,” says Demas, 43, a resident of Folsom and founder of WAHM.com, a Web site for work-at-home moms.
“The key is to have to have a realistic attitude. Taking care of your home and family really is a full-time job; add a business and something has to give.”
And, Demas says, it is that give that is the key to everything – in order to be a successful WAHM you have to make compromises and let go of perfectionism.
“If you’re one of those people that needs to have a clean house all the time, don’t even bother,” Demas says, explaining that WAHMs have to give up the ideal of being successful businesswomen and perfect mothers.
Support and Perspective
A consistently neat home is not the only thing work-at-home moms sacrifice.
“You get into it with the idea that you want to take care of your kids,” says Heike Boehnke-Sharp, a work-at-home mother who makes T-shirts and sells them on her Web site goddessinthegroove.com.“There were days I thought, ‘I wish I could just go to work.’ There’s no security, no insurance and you have no idea if you’re going to make money or not.”
Support from other WAHMs can make a difference. Boehnke-Sharp also is a board member and volunteer for the Mothers’ Support Network Resource Center in the Carmichael area, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating and providing resources for parents. The mother of a 6-year-old and an 18-month-old, Boehnke-Sharp says she works with the Mothers’ Support Network because it’s her dream to support people interested in truly raising and nurturing their own children.
“We advocate that people can raise their own children and work from home,” she says.Through classes, events, play groups and other social events, the network assists any parents interested in improving their relationship with their children. And while Boehnke-Sharp acknowledges the great challenges of being a WAHM, she says it’s important to keep the right perspective.
“My best advice is to keep your priorities straight,” she says.“Remember why you’re doing it.Don’t overexert yourself. Set limits. It’s easy to let the business take over your life.”
Setting Work Hours
Boehnke-Sharp says that a prime way to control business at home without letting it control you is to set strict work hours, a big challenge for a WAHM.
“I do a lot of work between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.,” she says. “There’s not much time for sleep, but you get used to it.”
Julie Thompson, a Newcastle resident who is a consultant for Creative Memories, a company that teaches scrap booking and sells supplies, is the mother of Meridian, 3, and Cambria, 2 months. She oversees 20 other consultants, most of whom are also WAHMs.
“It’s challenging to work at home,” Thompson says. “It’s easy to get sidetracked so I try to help them stay focused and work every day.”
Julie says she refers to author Tom Barrett and his philosophy that you have to find time to work in the ‘nooks and crannies’ of life.
“When I only had one child I used naptimes as my work hours, but now with two, I work 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there. I also do a lot of work after-hours.”
Thompson says she also recommends that WAHMs identify what work they have to do during the day and what can wait until the evening.
“When I’m working at midnight I can’t call my clients, so when I have a free moment at noon, rather than checking my e-mail I make those calls.I can check e-mail anytime.”
Toddlers and Procrastination
Most WAHMs agree that their biggest challenges come when their children are small.Infants and toddlers aren’t willing to let you have just five minutes on the phone and are with you 24-hours a day. Demas says that once her children were in school, school hours became her work hours.
And while children are obviously the biggest obstacles to successfully working out of the home, many women who work from home say they can be their own worst enemy.
“Procrastination is a huge problem for me,” Demas says in her book. “In fact, I was going to write a whole chapter about procrastination for this book, butI never got around to it.It doesn’t matter what it is that I have to do; I will find something, anything, to do instead.”
This is a common problem for WAHMs, one that Demas says can be combated with lists and schedules. She says that really structuring time and prioritizing family and work events helps WAHMs keep perspective and sanity.
“Trying to stay focused is my biggest challenge,” agrees Thompson.“There is no one there, saying, ‘you know, you’re taking an awfully long lunch today.’ There’s no boss looking over your shoulder. You have to self-motivate.”
Demas says work can seep into every moment of your home life if you don’t set a schedule and stick to it.
“My best advice to women who want to work at home is don’t try to be a superwoman, be more gentle,” she says.“Those commercials are a fantasy.”
The Spouse Factor
Another key to working from home is a supportive and understanding husband, but not everyone has one.
If husbands don’t understand what a challenge it is to be a businesswoman and full-time mother at home, Boehnke-Sharp and Thompson suggest baptism by fire.
“Recently my husband had to stay home with both kids for the day,” Thompson says.“When I got home he said to me, ‘I have so much respect for what you do’.”
“Just leave them home for a day or two with the kids and they’ll figure it out,” says Boehnke-Sharp. “They get bombarded with all the work and you can say, ‘welcome to my world’.”
Alethea Anderson, creator of SuccessfulMom.com, a Web site offering resources, support and information for WAHMs and all parents, says it was a struggle to find common ground with her husband after she quit her job to become a WAHM.
“We had a few battles,” she says.“He had to understand that I was really working, not eating bonbons.People generally don’t understand that if you’re a stay-at-home mom and you work, your job is harder than any other.”
And while kids and spouses and our own idle natures can get in the way of successfully working from home, in the end all WAHMs agree that the late hours and hectic schedule are more than worth it.
“One of the biggest benefits for me is the flexibility,” Thompson says.“Not only can I work more to make extra money when I need it, but if something gets in the way I can work less.”
Thompson explains that recently she had a week set aside to prepare for a big event and when her grandfather passed away suddenly she was able to cancel her plans to support her mother.
“I spent the week helping my mom and Friday I crammed for the event.If I had a regular job they would’ve said, ‘you need to be here’.”
And while not having a boss and having a flexible schedule are perks, the overwhelming reason all WAHMs give for fighting the fight is summed up in one word: children.
“Unquestionably the best part is the extra time I’ve had with my kids,” Demas says.“There are those little moments you have with them and you never know when they will come.My kids might’ve been fine if I’d gone back to work, but I would’ve missed so much.”
It’s a Jungle Out There and a Zoo in Here – Run Your Home Business without Letting It Overrun You by Cheryl Demas, Warner Books, 2003.
Mompreneurs: A Mother’s Practical Step-By-Step Guide to Work-At-Home Success by Ellen H. Parlapiano and Patricia Cobe, Perigree, 2002.
The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century: The Inside Information You Need to Know to Select a Home-Based Business That’s Right for You by Paul Edwards and Sarah Edwards, J.P. Tarcer, 1999.
The Stay-At-Home Mom’s Guide to Making Money: How to Create the Business That’s Right for You Using the Skills and Interests You Already Have by Liz Folger, Prima Lifestyles, 2000.
The Work-At-Home Mom’s Guide to Home Business: Stay at Home and Make Money With Wahm.com by Cheryl Demas, Sasquatch Books, 2000
On the Web
www.drlaura.com – Dr. Laura is a WAHM advocate and on her Web site under “stay-at-home” there is a question and answer section by “work-at-home experts.”
www.slowlane.com– A great resource for work-at-home dads.
WAHM.com – An endless and invaluable wealth of information for work-at-home moms or wanna-be work-at-home moms.
www.wahmnetwork.com – Work at Home Mom’s Network: a good site for business resources, information and ideas.
14 Keys to Making Work-at-Home Work for You
Kim Mordecai of Orangevale CA is a freelance writer, mother and WAHM.