Thursday, July 1, 2010

Balancing Work and Home When You Work at Home

Today's technology and constantly changing economy offer more opportunities for parents to work from home, whether for themselves or for an employer. I write these words in one state, send them to an editor in another state to review, make the changes she requests, and then publish them to this Web site without ever leaving my home office. Sound pretty great? It is; but I still face many of the same juggling tasks that work-outside-the-home parents do, plus a few more unique to at-home workers.
I talked to Lesley Spencer Pyle, the founder and president of Home-Based Working Moms (HBWM) and the author of The Work-at-Home Workbook, to find out what she's learned about balancing work, kids, home, and more.
Scholastic Parents: When and why did you found HBWM?Lesley Spencer Pyle: I started HBWM in 1995 — I had an infant, my first child, and I didn't want to go back to work full-time in an office. I wanted to find a flexible way to work from home. My employer wasn't open to that, so I began trying to get some freelance work going doing public relations, communications, and desktop publishing. Within about 6 months I realized it wasn't easy as I thought it would be. I wanted to talk to other moms about how they were making it work — how were they networking, marketing, doing their accounting? When I didn't find anything I knew there had to be a need. That's when I started the association. Within a year or two my focus went solely to running the organization.
SP: What should people know upfront about balancing work and family? It sounds so ideal to be able to work from home, but there are still sacrifices to be made.Pyle: I do think there is a misconception that if you are a home-based working mom you don't have to worry about child care, that you can do it all — mom duties, wife duties, business duties. In the beginning you may be able to work without help — maybe 10 hours a week with a napping infant. In my case, once my baby and business started growing I found it impossible and stressful to try to do everything. It wasn't fair to my business or my child to juggle both constantly. Moms need to go into it with open eyes. If you will be working more than about 10 hours a week, you need to look at what child care options are available.
SP: How do you manage your time?Pyle: I prefer to work doing school hours only (my children are in 4th and 6th grades, and I'm expecting my third baby). When I realize I am working more hours, I start thinking about what I can outsource, give up, say no to. So I advise self-employed moms to keep an open eye on where you are spending time, and always be willing to reevaluate.
You also need to set those boundaries with others. I try to work a set schedule and make it clear to friends and family, so they understand and respect it. Flexibility is great, but you don't want people to take advantage. You — and your friends and family — need to understand that it's a real business and you need to focus on it. Explain that you're busy now, but let them know when you can do some fun things.
SP: What about at school? Teachers might assume that a work-at-home parent is readily available to volunteer.Pyle: I saw that as an advantage. When my kids first started school I was able to be a room mom and be there for their class parties, because I set my own schedule.
Still, there are times when I can't make it to a school event because of something else that's already been scheduled. My son's playoff baseball game has gotten rained out two days — but tonight I have to give a speech and I can't cancel it. There are bummers too, but my son understands because I never miss a game.
SP: In your book you talk about the need for home-based working parents to identify "pinch-hitters" for both work and family needs.Pyle: It's been very helpful for me to have a pool of moms that I can turn to at any time when I need to outsource work: what can I take off my plate and at the same time help another mom?
Do you dream of working at home — or do you already, but still need help balancing work and family commitments? Post a question on our message board. Feeling good about your balancing act? Share your tips and success stories too!

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