Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Being a Work-at-Home Mom with Morning Sickness

There’s a reason why I haven’t been writing much on this blog lately. It’s not just this blog. All of my blogs have been neglected. I’ve been feeling, to some degree, unwell for the past few months. First trimester pregnancy was difficult for me the first time around, and the trend repeated. Here I am, out of the first trimester and 15 weeks pregnant, and I still had to take a “sick” day today (for a work-at-home self-employed entrepreneur, this meant I did the bare minimum and tried to ignore my growing inbox while I vegged on the couch). Feeling unwell for months meant I needed to drop things, many things, so I could get done what I needed to do to survive. Blogging was one of those things.

I was a mostly-work-at-home employee for another company when I was pregnant two years ago. I remember waking up minutes before weekly morning video telecons, dressing in a good top, putting on make-up, slicking back my hair, and pretending I was just fine when I was really exhausted, sick, and struggling. Thankfully, I could lounge around the house and take naps during most days. I remember being so thankful I worked at home because I wasn’t sure if I could get through a standard 9-to-5 office job with pregnancy taking such a toll. I certainly wouldn’t be able to hide my pregnancy if I was in and out of an office bathroom several times a day every day. At home, I was grateful for privacy.

Pregnancy #2 finds me working at home on my own company and caring for an energetic little tornado – I mean toddler. I can’t take time off, but I can sleep in when she lets me and occasionally snooze during her naps. No matter how rotten I feel, I must get up every day and make sure my daughter is fed, cleaned, changed regularly, entertained, loved, and kept out of the mortal danger she continuously tries to put herself in. She’s usually displeased when I need to pause her needs to race off and be sick, but thankfully she’s independent enough to be alone for short times. Not that we have much choice.

Being an entrepreneur means working under my own expectations and deadlines (unless a client specifies otherwise), but it also means I’ve got ambitious plans and am constantly pushing myself to do more. I can work long hours of the day and night, even weekends, if I’m really into a project. I’m a night owl and work best in the late hours when my husband, toddler, and much of the United States are asleep. But during the first few months of pregnancy, I just couldn’t. I was exhausted all the time. I went to bed early (for me), slept in, and still craved naps. The extra time I usually had to be productive, those late night hours, were gone. I couldn’t physically work those hours anymore, even when I wanted to. I had to temporarily give up several productive hours of my day every day in order to allow my body to focus on growing a baby. Only last week did I find my ability to stay up late return again.

For me, morning sickness isn’t just about throwing up. I feel as if I’m going to vomit all day long, regardless if I was just sick. It’s a nearly daily occurrence every day of my first trimester, starting around the time I discover I’m pregnant. It lessens but doesn’t stop after my first trimester, either. Today I was sick in the late morning, then felt sick for the entire rest of the day, including now. Feeling constantly sick destroys my motivation and concentration. On days like today, when it’s really bad, I give up all hope of accomplishing anything important and instead feel satisfied with surviving. Tomorrow is another day.

An ambitious, driven career woman such as myself finds it very hard to accept less than what I’m capable of. I know how much I can accomplish when I put my mind to it. But pregnancy is more than just my mind. My body and the body of another human being must be taken into account. There are physical changes that are beyond my control. The hardest part for me is accepting these physical changes and adjusting for them without guilt. Yes, I may need to work at a reduced productivity rate for a few months. Yes, it may take me a little longer to accomplish my goals. But I’m growing a human. Right now, I’m doing more important work within my womb than outside of it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

When a WAHM Needs Daycare: Leaving My Toddler

Somehow, Josephine made it to 15 months with two working parents (one full time, one part time) without experiencing daycare. While so many women agonize over needing to put their children in the care of strangers so young, I've been fortunate to be able to stay home with her while I build my own business. At the beginning of my WAHM experience, I was convinced I'd need to hire an occasional sitter or daycare so I'd be able to get some uninterrupted work done. But as I recently wrote, being a WAHM has gotten surprisingly easier with time.

Fifteen months have gone by. I'm thankful my husband's job is flexible as well. He works best from the office, but he's allowed a day or two of remote working per week. When I really need to get out of the house for a business meeting or event, he takes over as a work-at-home dad or just takes the day off. Our work flexibility is a luxury that has allowed us to avoid daycare for this long.

Early on, baby Josephine was much more portable. Carrying her around in my wrap was easy and unobstrusive. But the transition to toddlerhood has brought mobility and energy that can't be contained. A few weeks ago, I made the mistake of bringing her to a business breakfast, a casual 30 minute conversation at a diner. It did not go well. She fussed, threw food, and insisted on being out of the highchair. When I let her loose, she tried to wander the floor. Confined to the booth, she took items out of my purse and threw them on the floor. I lost my wallet for 24 hours when she dropped it under the table. That distraction was not helpful in business conversations.

When a potential new client visited town and wanted to meet over breakfast on Monday, I knew I couldn't take Josephine with me. To be taken seriously in my profession, I need to be focused and undistracted by a noisy, squirmy, curious ball of energy on legs. But my husband had to be in the office that day. I needed another option.

Part-time daycare is very difficult to find in the United States. Most daycare facilities want full-time commitments and full-time pay for five days per week, every week. Because we're new to the area and haven't used a sitter yet, we didn't know of anyone who could come over to watch her that morning. Plus finding a babysitter for 8:30 AM sounded like a challenge.

By asking around, I found a solution: drop-off supervised play facilities. Some churches offered this service, but not at convenient hours. After quite a bit of searching, I found a stand-alone drop-off play facility with convenient hours. It's a half hour drive, but worth it.

I convinced my colleague to meet for breakfast on Monday across the street from the drop-off daycare, just in case something went wrong. I was the first parent at their door when they opened. Registration was easy. Josephine went right for the toys on the shelves, not even noticing me slipping out the door.

An hour and a half later, I returned to the sounds of my child crying. My heart fell. I had been so proud of taking this step of letting her go and encouraging her to become independent of me. But she missed me. The lady at the front desk said Josephine didn't even realize I was gone for the first 40 minutes (ha!), but cried on and off after that. Separating is hard to do.

My heart was heavy as I drove home, expecting to return again on Wednesday to separate from my child for even longer – 4 hours! My husband had to be in the office that day. I had a lunch meeting followed by a related business meeting in the city, an hour drive away. I expected to be gone for half the day and I absolutely could not bring a toddler with me. If my little girl missed me that badly when I was gone for 90 minutes, how would she handle 240 minutes without me?

As it turned out, my poor husband was sick on Wednesday and stayed home. I felt a little guilty leaving him to care for Josephine when he really needed to rest, but if I can do it, so can he. (I've had multiple colds this winter, and there are no sick days in motherhood.) I attended my meetings in the city without having to face the inevitable hours-long daycare drop-off. For now.

My future schedule is clear of in-person business commitments. I have no need to utilize daycare services for the foreseeable future. But I never know when a meeting or event will pop up that I just can't miss. I was a daycare baby, so I know kids in daycare are raised just fine. I know this in the abstract. But it's different when it's your kid. It's so much harder.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Day in the Life of a WAHM with a 14-Month-Old

I recently wrote about a surprising discovery in my one-year-and-counting of being a work-at-home mom (WAHM): It got easier with time. But what do I actually do all day? How do I fit in caring for an almost 15-month-old toddler and working on my own business? It's not easy! It takes a lot of juggling. I still haven't figured out how to do everything I want to do. But, I do the best I can, and I learn along the way.

Here's how today went:

8:30 AM
I wake up. Usually I like to wake up closer to 7:30, but Josephine has been sleeping very poorly since I increased my efforts to wean her. So with multiple middle-of-the-night wake-ups, I sleep in. I read email and news on my phone from bed.

8:45 AM
Josephine, cuddled up next to me, wakes up. I'd prefer not to co-sleep with her at this age, but with her inability to stay asleep for long at night these days, I'd rather hold her when she wakes in the middle of the night. I breastfeed her for a short while in bed. I'm in the process of weaning her and have her down to two feedings per day.

8:45 – 9:15 AM
I change her diaper and clothes, do my morning routine, and all that jazz. Josephine is (temporarily?) not fond of baths, so lately she has been showering with me, though not every day.

9:15 AM – 10:00 AM
I relocate to the living room, the only truly baby-proof area of the house. This area also doubles as my home office. I work on the sofa with my laptop. I put Netflix cartoons on and let Josephine run around and play with her toys. I continually feed her snacks throughout the day: banana, pretzels, Ritz crackers, Goldfish crackers, raisins, popcorn, baby carrots, cereal, whatever keeps her happy. I also make sure multiple sippy cups are full of water. If at any point she wants me, I stop what I'm doing and spend some time with her. I read aloud to her daily, usually whatever I'm reading such as daily scripture or an article related to my industry, sometimes one of her books.

10:00 AM – 10:25 AM
I leave Josephine alone to enjoy her toys and cartoons. I go to a quieter area of the house to take a 25 minute business call with a new client. I prepare some newly cleaned cloth diapers while I'm on the phone.

10:25 – 10:40 AM
I return to the living room to work and hang out with Josephine, who's happily watching her cartoons, playing with her toys, and eating her snacks.

10:40 – 10:50 AM
I take a call from a reporter to be interviewed for an article. This isn't commonly part of my day, so I'm excited. Josephine doesn't even seem to notice I've left the room again.

10:50 – 11:10 AM
I return to the living room and work.

11:10 – 11:30 AM
My husband is home sick today. He has been alternatively napping and watching Josephine or doing his own thing. He suggests we go out to our local fast food restaurant for lunch. I put make-up on, change Josephine's diaper, and get us both ready for the cold outdoors. While waiting for my husband to get ready, I follow Josephine around the house, cleaning up after her as she goes.

11:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Usually I eat lunch at home, but since my husband wants to go out, we go out. I follow Josephine around the restaurant making sure she doesn't get into anything, stopping her when she tries to grab someone else's food off their table. We laugh as Josephine eats her chicken nuggets and dips her straw in ketchup. We didn't make too much of a mess this time out; just a few pieces of chicken nuggets and fries under her highchair. I let her run around some more while my husband is in the bathroom before we leave to go home.

12:00 – 2:00 PM
I work. Josephine plays and eats her snacks. I'm surprised she hasn't had a nap yet.

2:00-ish – 3:10 PM
Josephine finally falls asleep at some point. These days, she takes either one or two naps, depending on how sleepy she is. I take this opportunity to work in my home lab (where she's not allowed). I don't get as much done as I'd like before I hear her waking up.

3:10 – 6:30 PM
On nice days, I'd take Josephine out to the community tennis court with me to hit balls around sometime in the late afternoon. But this week is exceptionally cold, so I'm temporarily hibernating. Instead, I work. Also, my husband can't find his keys, so we search the whole house for them. We finally find them inside the living room TV subwoofer. Toddlers! While we have the couches temporarily moved, we take the opportunity to vacuum the floor.

6:30 PM
I pause for dinner: left-over pulled pork and mashed potatoes from yesterday's big meal. I give Josephine smaller portions of whatever I eat.

6:30 – 10:00 PM
Family time. I put the laptop away (for the most part). My husband and I hang out, chat, play with Josephine, and watch anything but cartoons. Somewhere in this time I clean up after dinner, put clean dishes from the dishwasher away, and run another load of dishes. Josephine runs around the house as I clean the kitchen. At some point later in the night, I breastfeed Josephine. Husband usually starts his bedtime preparations around 9:00, but he has already decided to take tomorrow off too, so he stays up until 10:00.

10:00 – 10:30 PM
Josephine watches cartoons and plays with toys for a little while, then cuddles up on the sofa with me and falls asleep. She usually falls asleep between 10:30 and 11:30, but because she only had one nap today, she tired early.

10:30 PM – 2:45 AM
I watch my own TV shows, browse the internet, and work. This is the best time to work! So peaceful. Usually I go to bed between 12:30 – 1:30 AM, but tonight I was inspired to write. Josephine has been sleeping poorly lately (since I stopped breastfeeding on demand in the middle of the night) so she wakes up approximately every-other-hour for a few seconds at a time. As long as she's cuddled with me, she goes right back to sleep. Sometimes. Last night she screamed for several minutes multiple times throughout the night, so I'm sort of dreading how the rest of this night will go.

There you have it, and fairly typical work-at-home-with-toddler day. It's hard to calculate how many hours I actually work because I pause very frequently to attend to my child or take care of something around the house. Occasionally, I'll take Josephine out for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to attend a playgroup. She's still too young to take to library story-time and other activities that require her to sit still. Occasionally I'll go out and my husband will watch her. He's staying home tomorrow, so I have plans to meet a colleague for a lunch meeting. Generally, our schedule is very flexible and fluid, just the way we like it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

One Year of Being a Work-At-Home Mom WAHM

I've been a work-at-home mom (WAHM) for over a year now (approximately 14 months!). When I began, I didn't know if I could do it. Honestly, I doubted I could. I searched the internet for personal stories and blogs of professional women who carried on their careers while working from home caring for a child. I found very few examples. That was my main motivation for starting this blog.

My biggest surprise: being a professional WAHM became a lot easier as time went on! I thought it would get harder. I was convinced that I'd only be able to pull off being a WAHM for a little while, but then I'd need to hire part-time childcare. I was wrong. I have yet to need to leave my child in the care of anyone aside from my husband while I work. In fact, next week will be the first time I'll need to drop her off somewhere for a couple of hours while I attend a breakfast meeting.

The newborn days were a difficult adjustment as a new mom. But even in the hospital a few hours after birth, I was catching up with industry news on my phone. Because the little one was so tiny and content to cluster-feed on me, I found it easy to balance my arms on a pillow and type away on my laptop while she fed or slept on my chest and lap. I even took her to an industry networking event early in her life when she was happy to stay wrapped to me, feeding or sleeping away while I networked.

Being a WAHM doesn't mean I was always at home. When she was 5 weeks old, my husband watched her while I attended a local two-day workshop. A couple months later, I left the baby with my husband and attended a two-day event out of town overnight. A few months after that, I took the baby with me to attend a multi-day conference out-of-state. If my husband couldn't watch the baby for in-person business meetings, I'd take her with me. She came with me for two university campus visits, a local conference, and a few business dinners.

My WAHM life transitioned when she became mobile. Even with babyproofing, I worried that she'd harm herself, go after the cats and get scratched, or get into something I hadn't even thought of. But with proper planning and experience, those fears went away. Except for the cats. It took her a long while to learn not to pull cat tails.

Once she learned how to play independently, around the same time she started taking her first steps, WAHM life eased considerably. She became more aware of her toys and how to use them. She became fascinated by everything and less reliant on me to entertain her. She discovered her love of rattles and music-making. She practiced her steps. She enjoyed boxes. As long as I was in the same room with her, I could work for hours with few interruptions. She kept herself busy.

Sometime around her first birthday, she started getting really into movies and TV programs. Curious George was her first love. I could put any of the Curious George movies on and she would watch them in awe. She'll watch TV on and off all day long, while playing with toys and wandering around the living room. Netflix in particular has given me the freedom to work all day at home and be very productive as shows play one episode after another. I can even leave the room for up to an hour to take a business call and know that she'll be just fine when I return – a luxury I didn't have previously!

But even to this day, my most productive time is when the toddler is asleep. I particularly love nighttime, from around 10 PM to 1 AM, when the house is asleep, I'm not getting emails, and I can work uninterrupted. Naptimes are similarly good times to work, but my daughter is not a long napper. With as independent as she is now, it almost doesn't matter whether she's napping or awake. With enough food, entertainment, and love, she's a happy little girl content to play mostly by herself day in and day out.

I primarily work from the living room couch where it's easiest to watch my daughter and where I'm most comfortable. Some people really need an office space with a desk to feel productive, but I'm not like that. I can work from pretty much anywhere. I've worked from bed when I've been sick. I've even taken business calls from the tennis court while out hitting balls with my little girl chasing after them.

I've also seen advice advocating business hours while working from home. I don't find that necessarily, either. I love the flexibility of being my own boss on my own schedule. I take the time during the middle of the day for personal appointments, playdates, and the occasional lunch out with my husband. I like the blend my personal life during traditional business hours, so it's natural for me to blend my professional life during traditional personal hours. I'm a night owl, so evening work sessions are convenient for me. The only time I cut myself off is during family time: meals, outings, or even just hanging out as a family at home. Because I love my career, I don't mind working on projects during the weekend if I have the time and motivation.

One piece of advice I do follow is to dress properly every day. I always make sure I shower every morning, even if it's late morning. I may not wear a bra at home, but I'll always be in some clothing I could answer the door wearing. I try to wear a little make-up every day, though I don't always succeed. I may work from my sofa, but I don't lounge around in pajamas all day.

Working from home isn't for everyone. Even before I was married, I knew that I worked very well at home. Before I created my own company, I worked for a company that rarely required me to go into the office. Working from home without and with a kid is very different, but because I was successful with the former, I hoped I would be successful with the latter. And so far, I have been.

Situations change. My daughter is a very easy child. Perhaps she'll become more needy as she grows, more talkative and demanding, or develop a medical condition that requires more of my attention. Perhaps adding a new infant in the mix will make things much more difficult. Perhaps I'll land a client that requires me to leave the house more often. But for right now, this is working for me and my family. And I'm grateful.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When Breastfeeding Goes Right as a WAHM

I entered motherhood with expectations. Society gives us a long list of what to expect when caring for a baby, and since I had no experience, I read all of it and took it to heart. But just as with pregnancy, I let go of those expectations when they failed to become my reality. Not all women get crazy food cravings and wild mood swings. And not all women have difficulty breastfeeding.

Some women, perhaps the majority of women, do have breastfeeding complications. Many of my friends tried to the point of exhaustion and had to switch to formula for the health of their child and their own sanity. Breastfeeding support groups are promoted everywhere. The hospital where I gave birth had a lactation nurse on call at all times. I'm not discounting the difficulties a lot of mothers have with breastfeeding. But that wasn't my reality. Perhaps you can relate.

I don't recall seeing women breastfeed as a child. It wasn't what I was exposed to. Babies drank from bottles. The two were as linked in my mind just as much as babies and diapers are. It's a puzzle to me why my childhood lacked exposure to human mothers feeding babies the way all mammals do. But as an adult, I knew breastfeeding was an option that I wanted to try first. Even so, I bought bottles and formula just in case.

“You have perfect textbook nipples,” the nurse commented during one of my early prenatal appointments. I was startled and didn't know how to respond. Was that a compliment? It certainly wasn't sexy; any comment including the word “textbook” could never be sexy. I think I stammered out a “thank you” and changed the topic. Little did I know that textbook nipples would be a gift that began my breastfeeding journey with ease.

Friends with babies passed down nipples shields and cooling pads, just in case I needed them. I looked up various nipple creams and wondered if I should put them on my baby registry. In the end, I decided it was a bit much to ask friends and family to buy such intimate items. Good thing I waited.

I don't even remember when my newborn daughter first latched. I gave birth drug-free, but I was so out of it, I felt as though I was drugged. I don't have a clear memory of labor until around 15 minutes after birth. Somewhere in that blurry time, a nurse put my tiny crying baby on my chest and she fed. That was it. It was so hassle-free, I don't even remember it happening.

Those nipple shields and cooling pads went unused. Nipple cream was unneeded. I never cracked nor bled. I never engorged. I never had any complications at all. There were times when her suckling felt uncomfortable to tears, and in those moments I felt a small connection to those who struggled, but it was always so temporary. I have been very fortunate.

From the very start, I never let breastfeeding keep me from going out in public. I invented a wrap style (or perhaps it already existed and I simply figured it out) that completely hid my baby behind cloth when she fed. Outsiders couldn't tell if my baby was feeding or asleep. More than one person thought it was an arm sling, not even realizing a baby was attached to my bare breast underneath. Buying a wrap was one of my best purchases during my nesting “what will I really need for this baby” phase.

With my wrap, I took my newborn out to our local sports bar when she was just 3 days old. I nursed her at church. I took her to social outings and work events. I dragged her along to conferences, listened to talks, and conversed with colleagues with her feeding and sleeping on my boob. I was both mother and professional, progressing my career and growing my child at the same time. To this day, I can hardly believe how well it worked out!

As my baby grew, my ability to feed her discretely in the wrap declined. I've since transitioned to using a simple blanket over the shoulder when I need to breastfeed her in public, which is rare. At nearly a year old, she delights in the diversity of solid food and only nurses for comfort and sleep now. It won't be long until she is weened. I am thankful that my breastfeeding experience with my firstborn has been complication-free. Motherhood has enough challenges!

Now, getting her to sleep, on the other hand, is my daily thorn...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Are You Buying Into Sexism This Holiday Season?

From the moment I began building my baby registry, I knew that I would encounter widespread sexism in the baby and children’s toy and clothing industry. For a supposedly advanced and equal society, sexism promoted by manufacturers and marketers is everywhere and overwhelming. Parents, even well-meaning parents, buy into the sexist stereotypes without thinking about it. Girl aisles are blindingly pink and princessy and the phrase “boys will be boys” is thrown about like it means something. And those are very minor examples.

As a woman who works in a male-dominated industry who fights sexism in my own career and sees sexism harm other women in their careers, I’m angered by it all. Babies aren’t born knowing sexism. Adults teach it to them at a very young age. You wouldn’t know it from the horrible trend of “gender” reveal parties (actually sex reveal), but babies aren’t pink or blue in the womb. Pink and blue aren’t even traditional colors for girls and boys, they’re a modern invention by advertisers. Yet we accept, without question, that my daughter needs to be covered in pink and pastel bows while little boys are dynamic and rough.

I was gifted with so many baby clothes by generous friends and family that I hadn’t needed to buy much for my daughter. But I decided to take advantage of sales this weekend. I browsed my nearest OshKosh B’Gosh and Carter’s store, excited by the 50% off store-wide sale. I was immediately hit with gendered everything. One side of the store was “boys” and the other side “girls” and there was little overlap, as if baby and toddler clothing manufacturers decided that one-year-old boys and girls must be dressed very differently.

My stomach, already turned, dropped further when I saw the graphic t-shirts in the boys section. One proclaimed “Chick Magnet” as if sexualizing toddler boys was appropriate. A graphic “girls” t-shirt proclaimed she was too cute to sleep, whatever that means. Surely I can’t be the only person disturbed by giving toddlers post-pubescent characteristics. It’s meant to be funny, but it’s not.

As far as I could tell, there was no difference between “boys” jeans and “girls” jeans because – mind blown –  toddler girls don’t have womanly curves yet. But that didn’t stop OshKosh marketers from developing “super skinny” girl jeans that the boys section didn’t have. Why in the world would I want to put super skinny jeans on a squirmy toddler who already dislikes pants?

Shopping in a gendered store was very difficult. It took me twice as long to find what I was looking for. In the end, I bought both “boy” and “girl” clothes for my almost-one-year-old daughter. And I’m strongly considering never shopping in a gendered store like that again.

It’s bad enough when marketers box in our children. It’s worse when other parents do it! Parents are the most valuable teachers, and sadly many children learn sexism from their parents. They learn what is and isn’t acceptable in their family according to their genitalia, regardless of their actual interests and abilities. They are held down or kept in a box not because society tells them what they can or can’t do, but because of their own upbringing.

I came across one such example yesterday. I follow many momblogs, and occasionally read suggestions shared by friends. One such momblog article appeared on my Twitter feed yesterday, shared by someone I follow. This momblog was promoting the concept that there are “boys” toys, that “boys play hard,” and that we should look at her suggested “boy” gifts for other boys. Immediately I was struck by the unnecessary gender separation. I responded that I was not comfortable by it.

This mother, instead of being open minded, insisted that her boys love these gifts, as do her daughters, and that there was nothing wrong with her gendering in her article. She was oblivious and outright hostile to the idea that other boys who are not her sons might be offended by the notion that they must like these gift items because they are male, and that girls might be offended by the notion that these gift items are not for them because they are female. Not only was she hostile, but trolls got involved (almost inevitable on Twitter) and responded rudely to my polite challenge to her point of view.

What is more harmful: the sexist momblog article that very few will read, or the sexist mindset that mother and her defenders exhibited? Are their sons comfortable being open with their interests, rejecting stereotypical “boy” activities if it’s not true to who they are? Are their daughters comfortable being open with expressing interest in stereotypical “boy” activities if it is true to who they are? I honestly cannot say. Neither can those parents. Only the kids can truly answer.

Are we as modern, feminist parents open to challenging sexist viewpoints even when attacked for doing so? I should hope so! I will not be silenced. I speak for the children who maybe aren’t comfortable with the boxes society and family puts them in.

Are you with me? Follow the campaigns of Let Toys Be Toys, Let Clothes Be Clothes, and Dad Marketing to combat sexism in our culture. Together, we can change society and make it a more inclusive place for our children’s generation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Working at Home with a Noisy Toddler

In my months of silence on this blog, I've moved out of state again, and am preparing to move once again. Once again, I'm in temporary housing, this time a two-bedroom apartment. We move into our new home in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've been struggling to work from home in an enclosed area with an energetic toddler who loves to climb on and off the couch and babble loudly in her foreign-sounding language.

My work assignment involves a lot of phone interviews these days. I set a time with one or two other people on the call and I ask questions and take notes. Sometimes I can mute myself during the conversation, but never for long. I need to be present to the other person on the line. I need to be focused. I need to hear, and I need to be heard.

An excited talkative toddler shrieking and telling stories in her own language in the background is not helpful during my calls. Naptime is an ideal time to take a business call, but naptime doesn't always correspond to my call schedule. Last week, one call was scheduled for 11:00. Sometimes I can keep my toddler awake in the mornings so she'll sleep sounding during a late morning nap. But on this particular morning, despite my stimulating efforts, she fell asleep at 10:00 and was up playing at 11:00.

During that same day, I had another call scheduled for 2:30. Toddler fell asleep at 2:15. Perfect! Fifteen minutes into her nap was plenty of time for her to fall deep into sleep and not wake for my business call. Slowly and silently I distanced myself from her so my voice wouldn't wake her. I wandered into the next room, proud of myself. But the minute my call started, I peeked in and noticed her stirring and sitting up. Then she screamed as loud as death! There was an awkward pause on the other line and I knew I had been busted.

I previously wrote some tips on how to combat noisy baby background noise. As she outgrows many things, my toddler has outgrown these tips. Food and new toys no longer silences her as they used to. Naps are no longer a guarantee of quiet time. Nursing is too short to promise quiet for long.

Distancing myself has been the biggest failure of a tip as my toddler has developed separation anxiety. In this temporary apartment, I don't have many places I can work. When I absolutely need quiet, I hide in the spare bedroom. There are two layers of boundaries between me and her there: the living room/hallway baby gate and the bedroom door. I mute my phone to return to the living room to check on her, then return to the quiet sanctuary to talk again. But every time I run away from her sight, she throws a fit. Leaving the room even for a moment seems to be the ultimate abandonment in her eyes.

What's a working mom to do? I've gathered some suggestions I hope to try this coming week when I return to the phone. They are:

  • Use the TV babysitter. My husband and I have noticed that when we watch TV, she'll watch with us. She's sometimes captivated by it. In moments of desperation, I don't care about limiting screen time. I do what I have to do.

  • Distraction bags. This is an evolution of my distracting toy concept. Instead of just one toy, I distract her with a new activity or bag of toys. I probably need to wait until we move into our new home to have the room to handle distraction toys that I can store for when I'm not on the phone.

  • Find childcare. This has been on my list of things to do for months but we keep moving. In two weeks, we'll finally be settled into a new home for good, and I'll look into an occasional babysitter or drop-in daycare.

That's all the tips I have so far. More would be appreciated! I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Trapped! When Being a WAHM is Overwhelming

Not everyone is so fortunate to find a career they love. Long before I ever met my husband, I fell in love with and began studying and working in my industry. I knew that I would never give it up, even after having kids.

When my baby was born in December, I was surprised at how much I loved being home with her. My previous position ended right before she was born, so I took a natural pause in my career. But not for long! By the end of January, I formed my own consulting company and set out to find clients.

In July, I took on my main client. It's not strictly a full-time job, nor is it hourly. I'm an independent contractor paid a flat fee per month for services. The whole company is made up of independent contractors based in home offices around the world. Many of them are also parents who work while caring for their children. It seemed to be a perfect fit!

I was surprised and honored to be assigned leader on my first project immediately. As most projects go, it started out slow as I climbed the learning curve of a new job and a new project. Hours aren't clocked and my boss is in a time zone six hours ahead of me, so I did my work in my spare time.

It just so happened that I was starting a new job during a tumultuous time in my life. Coincidentally, my husband also got a new job that required us to move. In a very short period of time, we had to prepare our house for sale, move our belongings and pets, live in a hotel, sell our house, and buy a new house, and move in. Those life events became a full-time job, necessitating my contracted job be pushed aside to do whenever I could.

Finally, we moved into our new home. Everything was in boxes. We weren't settled at all. But I had a deadline. My job wanted me to complete my report draft within a week of moving into our new home! Of course, it wasn't their fault I was moving. They set the date months prior. But circumstances arose to make my life completely chaotic right near a deadline.

I was too busy to keep track of how many hours I worked. I barely unpacked the essentials to live in my new home. At times, I was too busy to even shower for the day. I worked days, evenings, nights, weekends, and the Labor Day holiday. I wished I had childcare but was too busy to really look into it. When I finally took the time to reach out to a neighborhood in-home childcare, she was booked. At that time, being a work-at-home mom really wasn't working for me.

I relied heavily on my baby learning independent play in the baby-safe playroom while I worked during the days. In the evenings, I relied on my husband to watch her for hours at a time in the evenings and weekends. I worked late into the night when both were asleep. The work wasn't good enough for my boss so the deadline kept getting pushed back as they demanded more and more content from me. For 3 weeks I worked myself into exhaustion. I felt like a poor employee, a poor mother, and a poor wife.

Finally, it was over. I breathed a sigh of relief, took half a day off, and tried to pick up the pieces. I was so behind on everything (and still so very behind on email) that it was hard to know where to begin. But at least I could enjoy life again. At least I could pay attention to my child again. At least I could try to settle into a better WAHM lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the chaos is only on pause. My husband's career is moving us again. On Friday and Saturday, I'll drive 9 hours with the baby to meet with my husband who is driving down today. We'll stay in a temporary apartment until we find a new home. Two more moves and another house hunt. I'm not looking forward to being uprooted again.

As if that wasn't enough, I was assigned a new project to lead at work. They gave me two days to catch my breath, and then popped my work-life balance bubble. I've since convinced them to change the deadline from December to January, but the work won't be any less.

I'm slowly admitting to myself that this isn't the WAHM-friendly job I was lead to believe. Twice this week I've been frustrated to tears with poor management and unrealistic expectations. But with my husband's career unsettled at the moment and some big debts to pay off, I'll stick with this contract as long as I can for the income it provides. I need to set better boundaries and not allow work to take over my life as it did. 

Meanwhile, I've resolved to continue my side business with whatever time I can squeeze. Being my own boss, doing work I love, pursuing my dream – that's what I envisioned when I decided to become an independent consultant. I have so many big ideas and dreams. I need to make the time to make them happen, or they never will. If I can make enough in my "side" business to be my own boss, it would be ideal.

In the future, I resolve to:
  • Work more consistently, even when tasks seem lax.
  • Take "baby breaks" when I get stressed from work to keep perspective.
  • Hire part-time childcare when work gets tough.
  • Keep my working hours to half-time (4 hours per day) unless near a deadline.
  • Work at night when the baby is asleep, but not too late.
  • Ask for help when I need it.
With these guidelines, hopefully I won't repeat the same stressful mistakes. Here's to balancing my WAHM life!

Friday, August 26, 2016

New City, New Mom Friends

Nearly a month has passed since we moved. We're still living in a hotel, so we're far from settled. Everything still seems new and temporary. But I'm trying to familiarize myself with the area and allow myself to ease into our new home town.

I'm a social extrovert. I love meeting and connecting with people! When we made the decision to move, one of the very first things I did was browse local groups to connect with: church-related, profession-related, and mom-related. After a few weeks of attending church- and profession-related events and not getting a chance to meet any other moms of babies, I decided to focus on that particular need.

Where I moved from, I also felt deficient in the area of mom friends. I would say I had one good mom friend whose baby appeared in this world 5 months before mine did. She helped guide me through my pregnancy and first months of motherhood. We grew close and it hurt to move away from her.

I tried to remain friends with the women I took birth classes with through our doula, but they didn't seem to want anything to do with me after classes were over. I tried to connect with other moms through a church group supporting breastfeeding women, but the group only met monthly and none of the moms were ever receptive to my invitations to hang out outside the group. I attended a moms group at a hospital once but the nurses who ran it focused on health-related Q&A and discouraged group socialization. I connected with two local moms groups on Meetup but was turned off by their policies. I mostly gave up trying.

Here, in a new town, I could reinvent myself and build a new circle of friends from the ground up. I decided it was worth it to pay a $25 membership fee to join the local MOMS Club. They seemed to have plenty of members with lots of activity. I also liked that the club is divided into tiny regions, so activities were likely to be very close and any mom friends made were also likely to be close. Convenient travel times makes it easier on everyone.

This morning, I attended my first playdate at a local playground. When I first arrived, I was surprised at how many moms and kids were present. I soon learned that none of them were part of the MOMS Club; they simply liked to visit the park at 10 AM on a sunny Friday morning. Josephine is still rather young for playgrounds, but she did enjoy being pushed in the baby swing. I struck up a conversation with the mom next to me pushing her toddler in the swing. It was pleasant.

After a few minutes, a mom approached me and introduced herself as the president of the club. We chatted as I sat on the grass with my little grass-eater. Josephine is a rapid crawler, but surrounded by so many people, she preferred to sit still, observe, and occasionally stick a freshly picked blade in her mouth. Another member of the club approached and made small talk. I didn't have an immediate BFF-at-first-sight with any of these women, but it was nice. I was laying the foundations.

Then, I got an unexpected urgent call which forced me away from the playground after only around 15 minutes of play. So goes life. I will try again another time.

Will I made any close friends through this group? I hope so.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Business Calls with Baby Background Noise

The cat and I will be quiet, Mommy. Promise!

What are the odds a baby will stay quiet? Being a work-at-home mom in a position that requires professional calling, while I care for my infant, has been one of my tougher challenges. Babies are unpredictable. She could be perfectly content to play quietly as I work. She could silently nurse while I chat. Best of all: she could nap. But there's no guarantee she'll stay asleep for my entire call. She's a noise bomb with an unknown timer!

What's a working mom to do? Honestly, I haven't mastered this yet. I've had a few calls per week for the past five weeks in this new position, usually 30 to 60 minutes in length. So, I've had some practice. But I'm still learning how to handle this and I don't always get it right.

My calls take two forms: internal and external. Internal calls are by far easier. I'm very fortunate to work for a company that is family-friendly. So grateful! Many of my coworkers are also stay-at-home parents and can empathize. When my little one woke from a nap during a conference call with two coworkers, she made herself known. She squealed and blew raspberries. She was entirely cute and unknowingly inappropriate.

Right now, I live and work in a hotel room. I tried to put some distance between me and the noise-maker, but she followed me. 'Mommy! I'm coming!' she conveyed in baby talk as she crawled after me. Wherever I was, she came making noise. My coworkers didn't comment. I hope they didn't mind.

External calls are a lot harder. The people I communicate with outside of my company don't know I'm a work-at-home mom and expect the professionalism of an office environment. I was quite embarrassed when my baby woke up from a nap and began to cry as I was wrapping up an interview. Thankfully, the call was winding down, but her screams encouraged me to hang up pretty fast. I have no way to know if the colleague on the other line was irked or understanding.

My baby is eight months old. She doesn't understand phone calls, words such as “hush,” or even the concept of quiet. Her instinctual need to communicate with me in any way often requires sound. She also enjoys testing and discovering her voice with singing, buzzing, and baby talking. I enjoy her happy noise-making and don't want to discourage it.

Here are some tips I've learned to help minimize background noise on calls:

  • Use the mute button. Best when on conference calls or when the person on the other line is monologuing.

  • Distract her. My baby is often quieter when given a new object to study. This doesn't work for long, but sometimes it's long enough.

  • Feed her milk. If she's in the mood, she'll nurse silently for a long time. She's often content to silently play with my top, my necklace, or my face while she suckles. Or she'll just stare into my eyes. If I'm very lucky, she'll drift off to sleep. If I'm unlucky, she'll grab at my phone or my laptop. If she was bottle fed, same principle.

  • Feed her snacks. My eight-month-old has an insatiable appetite for solid food. If I continue to stuff her mouth with small bits of whatever food I have on hand, she'll keep consuming it. If I give her something she can hold onto such as a baby carrot or a celery stick, she'll keep chomping on it with her two little teeth so long as I keep picking it up and handing it to her when she drops it.

  • Stuff her mouth with non-food. Teething toys are good mouth-stuffers, but she'll lose interest after a few minutes. She used to suck on blankets and plush toys. She especially loves ripping up paper and putting it in her mouth, but I have to take care that she doesn't actually swallow much of it.

  • Distance myself. This is difficult when stuck in one room, but even a few feet can make a difference. When desperate, I've left the room to talk in the hallway for a few minutes at a time, knowing she's safe in a blocked-off baby-proofed area of the room. In the future when we're settled into our new house, I'm considering creating a closed baby-safe playroom with a video baby monitor to observe her from another room while I'm on calls.

  • Get back-up. Rarely is my husband home when I'm on a business call, but when he is, he can watch her while I slip away. I haven't yet hired childcare while I work, but I am considering it.

How do you handle calls with a baby in the background? Any tips?