Monday, August 13, 2018

Deciding To Homeschool While Working From Home

When my 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in April, it came as no surprise to me. She had been showing signs since 18 months or so. I already had her in the state's early intervention program getting combination speech and play therapy and occupational therapy. The official diagnosis only helped to reassure me that I was correct in my assessment and I wasn't crazy.

We are a neurodiversity-friendly family. My husband is autistic. I love and accept him for who he is. Autism makes parts of his life more challenging but also gives him gifts of looking at and thinking about the world differently.

We feel the same way about our daughter. We love her unconditionally. We want to assist her with her challenges while also supporting and accepting her differences. For example, she is mostly nonverbal. We want to encourage her speech while also giving her the options to use gestures, sign language, picture cards, an iPad AAC app, or even learning to spell words as equally valid forms of communication.

My husband and I have been talking about homeschooling for years, since our daughter was a baby or perhaps even earlier. Both of us believe we would have been better educated for our careers if we could have stayed home and pursued our own interests. We are both highly educated professionals. My husband felt that school was mostly babysitting and often taught himself out of his own books in classes. I felt that school was a lot of busywork, especially subjects I had little interest in. I had to wait until university to take a class in my profession.

Schools are also full of bullying. My husband got the worst of it, but I didn't escape it either. Kids can be cruel and the teachers did little to nothing to stop it. Fitting in and peer pressure are difficult for neurotypical kids, and even more difficult for kids who are different than the norm.

Fitting in and being normal are not values I want to pass on to my children, not to my presumably neurotypical baby son and definitely not to my autistic daughter. The more I researched applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a common autism therapy, the more disturbed I was on its emphasis of discouraging odd behaviors and reinforcing "normal" behaviors.

None of my daughter's behaviors are bad (except for the typical troubles of most curious and energetic toddlers). My daughter is a gift to us and to the world. Why would I want to change her to be someone she isn't? Instead, I strive to love her fully and completely for who she is.

Last week we attended our first meeting with the school district. When my daughter turns 3 later this year, the state will transition her therapies to the school district. But the meeting with the school district did not go well. In a very short time, I could see how unhappy my daughter was with others trying to control her, discourage her adventurous behavior, interrupt her play, and ignore her wishes which were clearly communicated through sounds and body language. That was the first of five required meetings before I could even visit a special education preschool or talk with any school district therapist.

But I already knew what a preschool classroom might look like and I already knew what the therapists' intentions would be. Their primary intention would be to normalize her and get her “school ready.” To follow instructions and commands blindly because an authority said so. To ignore her body's desire to move and to sit still because that's what's most convenient for adults. To communicate verbally because that's most convenient for others. To play with peers even if she isn't interested in doing so. To tell her how she naturally exists is bad, and how they want to change her to be is good. And don't get me started on the ingrained sexism in most early education environments where girls are cute, pink, and delicate and boys are dirty, rough, and action-oriented.

This is not to say I think schooling is bad. School can be great for most kids. I intend to raise extraordinary kids who are self-motivated, critically-thinking leaders who are confident in their knowledge of who they are. My daughter is naturally this way.

And so, the decision to home educate (unschool or world school) fell into place. Already my child is learning the basics of early education without much help from anyone else.

She is fluent in the use of her iPad and watches shows or plays games involving shapes, colors, pattern matching, numbers through 100, letters, and spelling. She found a kids baking series and has discovered a love of baking. She loves animals and recently started hippotherapy (horse riding). She loves her daddy's fish and coral tanks and sometimes watches nature documentaries of her choosing. She is very athletic and enjoys running, climbing, bouncing, swinging, spinning, and swimming.

And most importantly, my daughter is happy. Her joy with life is apparent. Her curiosity is insatiable. I have no doubt that she will do great in life, perhaps even take over the world. It is my great pleasure as her mother to facilitate her learning in the best way for her: by following her lead.

How in the world can I homeschool my child, care for a baby, and run my small home business? Well, so far it hasn't been any different from what we've already been doing. I read to the kids every day. I get her books, toys, and iPad apps I think she will like. I recently took her to the library for the first time, and although she chose to run through the aisles in the sheer joy of being there rather than pick a book, in the future I hope she will choose her own reading material. She already chooses her own shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. I take her to church, talk to her about God, and pray with her. I even read to her the highly technical articles and papers I read for my profession. As she gets older and her needs get more complex, I will rise to meet her needs. This may include signing her up for more classes or clubs, exposing her to new events and places, or finding more knowledgeable people to answer her questions. When she is a little older, I hope to join a homeschool co-op for projects and field trips.

I'm excited for this next adventure. We may homeschool for a short time or all the way through high school, it's up to her and her needs. We may homeschool my son and any future children as well. The great thing about homeschool is its flexibility. I feel very positive about this step in our lives.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Back to Working at Home Postpartum... Partly

Baby #2 sleeping on my lap

Two months postpartum and I finally feel as though I can slowly nudge my way back into the working world. In some ways, I never stopped working. In other ways, I still have a few months before I can progress back to the projects I want to do.

Colleagues and followers were surprised when I was tweeting industry news just hours after my baby was born in January. But honestly, I was a little bored laying in bed resting, not able to sleep, with a phone in my hand. It doesn't take much to scroll through social media and type up short commentary. Social media is by far the easiest way for me to stay involved in my business. But it's not a money-maker and it's not very productive.

I surprised myself by giving several interviews with reporters over the past couple of months. The industry doesn't stop just because I am on maternity leave, and I've done a decent job of marketing myself as a subject matter expert. Reporter interviews are usually short and don't require much preparation, so they were fairly easy to accomplish. I would hold my baby, usually nursing him, and inform the reporter ahead of time that I was on maternity leave. Not a single person complained about the occasional baby noise. In fact, some people loved talking about their kids upon hearing mine.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've slowly allowed myself to continue with individual clients, first existing clients, then responding to potential new ones. This usually requires at least half an hour of quiet and the ability to type on my laptop with at least one hand while on the phone. So far I've had good success nursing my baby to sleep during these calls and making use of the mute button on my phone.

These are more challenging conversations that require focus. I would like to get to the point where I can leave my baby alone for short periods of time while on a call, but I still have few months ahead of me before then. It doesn't help that my toddler has become more advanced in getting into things she shouldn't and making messes, and therefore leaving her alone during these calls is risky as well.

Several projects on my to-do list require me to be able to type with both hands on my laptop. I rarely have free time with both hands available, so I am still unable to accomplish these tasks. (Even this blog post is being written mostly by voice dictation on my phone.) If I can do something quickly in 5 or 10 minutes, I can take advantage of a baby nap or ask my husband to hold him. But most of my projects are extensive and require a longer focused time commitment. I still have some months to go before I can call myself completely back from maternity leave.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Professional Appearances and Poopy Diapers

I’m thankful to have reached a point in my career when I’m sometimes asked by journalists and podcasters to give interviews. Occasionally they are in person, such as a studio interview I’m giving next week. But usually they are phone or video interviews from the comfort of my home.

I had a Skype interview with a reporter I know scheduled late this afternoon. With my 2-year-old toddler not always sleeping through the night and my 37-week-pregnant body interrupting my sleep, I've been feeling exhausted. I didn't know if a video interview was a good idea. But thankfully, my toddler slept through the night and we had a mother-daughter early afternoon nap, so I felt well rested and ready for the interview.

Twenty minutes before the interview, I refreshed my make-up. I had already done my face up after my nap, so freshening up only took a minute. I put on jewelry and a blazer. I looked every bit of a professional from the chest up. From the chest down, my baby bump bulged in my casual dress and red sparkles shone from my barefooted Christmas-themed painted toes.

I set up my laptop in my “home office”, a room I use more for storage than for work. I prefer to set up my laptop on the family room couch most of the time, but that doesn't look professional. So I set up a nice backdrop in the home office with work-related things on a desk behind me for video opportunities such as this one.

The moment I stepped into the room, I remembered the overhead light had recently burned out. No problem, I had time to replace the light bulb. I had just bought a new pack of bulbs and knew exactly where they were. But they weren't there! My husband must have moved them. But where did he move them to? I searched for a couple minutes, but time was too short. A strategically placed desk lamp would have to do as my only lighting for the video interview.

Five minutes to interview time, I peaked in on my toddler who was watching Sesame Street in the family room. Clearly through her pants I could see she needed a new diaper. I had just enough time. I grabbed a new diaper and started to change her right on the carpet. Until, to my horror, I realized my mistake: Poop! Diarrhea! I didn't have time for this, but I couldn't leave her like that, either.

I raced to the nursery to clean her up on the changing table. Poop gone, new diaper on, new pants on – done in record time! Not ideal, but I left the trash on the changing table to throw away after the interview. It wouldn't be long enough to smell up the room.

But what was that wetness I felt? Diarrhea – on my leg! So gross! I cleaned myself up with a wet wipe and raced back to the family room. Suspicion confirmed: there was diarrhea on the carpet where I had begun to change her. And I had leaned on it. I did a quick carpet clean-up with more wet wipes, vowing to do a better job later. With no time to wash my hands, I was glad I wasn't going to be shaking anyone’s hand over Skype.

Back to the home office and to my laptop, a minute late to the interview. The reporter was none the wiser. The lighting was good enough. The interview went well. No one watching the interview video will ever know that this working mom had a poopy diaper to deal with minutes before her professional appearance.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Being a Work-At-Home Mom with a Destructive Toddler

The last time I wrote in detail about being a work-at-home mom (WAHM) while watching a young toddler at home full-time, she was nearly 15 months old and on a predictable schedule. I could generally plan my day around her sleeping, waking, and eating routine.

Now she’s about to turn 2 years old next week. She’s a handful! She gets into a lot more trouble now.

Just as I was typing that last sentence, I had to pause for several minutes to stop her from her latest trend of climbing the TV stand and shaking the TV, first by attempting to distract her, then by removing her from the room and shutting her in her bedroom. Unfortunately, she can still do a lot of damage to her bedroom, so I need to stay in the bedroom with her as I continue to write.

Handling a mostly non-verbal toddler has been exceedingly challenging over the past few weeks. She excels in physical abilities to climb and get into things she shouldn’t. She loves to draw with anything she can get her hands on (crayons, pens, colored pencils, even her own poop) but doesn’t understand why the whole world (including walls and furniture) isn’t her canvas. She’ll pull chairs up to climb onto not-childproof countertops and smash glass or drop delicate items onto the floor.

She opens containers of all kinds and empties them. I had to pause writing the previous paragraph twice because she opened and emptied a container of baby wipes and then tried to squeeze diaper rash butt paste on my leg, likely imitating me with moisturizing lotion. I’m currently watching her throw all her diapers onto the floor but at least that’s an easy clean-up.

Attempts to reprimand, discipline, or teach her not to be destructive are entirely fruitless. She doesn’t yet comprehend language and doesn’t seem to understand tone of voice, either. Screaming “no!” does nothing but makes me hoarse and aggravated as I lose my cool. I strongly disapprove of physical violence as a parenting tool, but my husband has been experimenting with tiny spanks which have had a 100% failure rate thus far. She’s just too young and innocent. She thinks everything is a game and the world is her playground. She doesn’t understand in the slightest that what she does is destructive or that we disapprove. She laughs, thinking we’re in on the game.

To make matters worse, her sleeping routine is gone. She appears to be a rare not-quite-2-year-old that is rejecting naps very early in toddlerhood. I used to count on her sleeping for an hour or two in the afternoons. Now, she rarely does, instead opting for shorter and later naps in the early evening. Morning naps are fine but very rare. If she sleeps for more than 30 minutes in the afternoon or evening, it throws off her entire night. She’ll be up past midnight! It’s better for her to skip napping entirely than to be bouncing off the walls and destroying her bedroom at midnight when I’m exhausted and desperately in need of sleep myself.

Unfortunately, I can’t count on alone time in the mornings. Because I’m in the last estimated 6 weeks of my pregnancy, I seem to need more sleep than my toddler does! Sometimes she wakes up before me despite going to bed so late. More often than not, I still wake before her, but only half an hour or so to read email on my phone or attempt to take a shower before she’s up and ready to go.

I remember forced naptime as late as kindergarten. I don’t think I actually slept during that time, but I was quiet on my cot playing by myself for the allotted time. There’s no forced naptime or bedtime with this kid. I can and have left her alone in her bedroom for a period of time just so I can get things done in the afternoon. She never ever sleeps just because she’s left alone in her bedroom.

As I’m typing this, I watched her climb on top of her future baby brother’s crib, then to the only bookshelf I've had time to anchor to the wall, grab the only item on top of the bookshelf (the baby monitor camera), unplug it, and throw it to the ground. If I were to leave her in her room at bedtime, I’d still need to stay awake so I could re-position the camera for the night. She’s too young for me not to be there for her if she needs me.

My parenting style is more of mutual respect and cooperation. I’d like to explain to her that she can’t rock the TV because she might hurt herself or break an expensive TV, the only one we own. I’d like to explain that baby wipes need to remain in a closed container because otherwise they’ll dry out. I’d like to show her breakable items accessible from countertops and ask her to leave them alone if she wants to climb. But I can’t say any of that because she doesn't understand. I don’t know how many months or years before she starts to pick up English well enough to communicate.

All of this disruption and parenting stress does not create a conducive environment for work productivity. I’m interrupted a lot more now than I used to be. I blame a lot of my lack of productivity over the past month on increasingly needing rest in the third trimester of pregnancy, which is true. But equally true is my need to dedicate more time to parenting my toddler so she doesn’t hurt herself or other things.

I had to pause writing this because she started throwing her clean clothes from the closet to the floor. I keep meaning to fix the closet door so I can lock it. But the door fell off its hinges and it isn’t safe for me to fix it until she’s no longer in the room. It’s 4:15 now; my husband won’t be home for another two hours, the earliest chance I’ll likely have to do anything without her. She’s been awake for 7 hours so far and it’s a toss-up whether she’ll actually nap today.

I remember working at home with her as an infant. I remember the two most difficult parts were 1) nursing her nonstop because she was always attached to me, and 2) typing one-handed. I think ahead to the next month or two, adjusting to life with two kids, and I realize not an accurate statement. Adjusting to life with a newborn is easy comparatively. The hard part will be parenting an energetic monkey tornado of a toddler one-handed while having a newborn attached to me. Even the most colicky newborn won’t be as challenging as my two-year-old.

How do I work at home while caring for a mostly non-verbal semi-destructive two-year-old toddler? I’m not sure. It’s a serious challenge that I have yet to overcome. The best I can do is to babyproof what I can so she’s safe, let her make messes that I know I can clean up later, and try to help her entertain herself in non-destructive ways. I have a few birthday and Christmas gifts to give her that might help. Hopefully when I write again on this topic, I’ll have more solutions and tips to offer. For now, I’m making it up as I go.

Edit: A few minutes after posting this, at around 4:50, she fell asleep on her bedroom floor. I now have half an hour or so to attempt to get something done with my alone time before needing to wake her again. If I let her sleep past that (oh so tempting!) I'll pay for it late tonight.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Slave to the Phone as a Work-At-Home Mom

A quick vent about my current work-at-home mom frustration: spontaneous business phone calls.

Usually I schedule business calls. I had a scheduled one-on-one call and a scheduled conference call yesterday. During the times I know I need to be on a call, I can step away to where I know there will be minimal background noise and distraction.

Sometimes I step out of the room for a few minutes, leaving my toddler in the fully baby-proof living room. Sometimes I bring my toddler out in the backyard with me and let her run around while I sit on the (mostly) quiet patio. Either way, I’m prepared.

Spontaneous calls are more challenging. I need to stop whatever I’m doing to prepare myself and my environment for a professional call in a matter of seconds between the phone ringing and the call going to voicemail.

I’m not one of those moms who limits screen time. At all. I recognize the world is full of screens and I intend to raise my kids with the knowledge of how to live in a world of technology integration and saturation. Plus my toddler loves her cartoons and the associated music. Sometimes she watches, sometimes she dances, sometimes she ignores it and focuses on playing. But the TV is almost always on providing background noise I've learned to turn out as I work. I have no guilt about this whatsoever.

And sometimes my kid has fun turning the TV off and on, off and on, off and on, and she’s doing right now.

In the rare times the TV is off, usually I have music playing in the background as I work. Or I'm listening to a industry event such as a livestreamed conference, podcast, or lecture. Rarely is it quiet at home during business hours.

Whenever the phone rings and I don’t want cartoon or really any noises in the background of my professional business call. I need to put some distance between myself and the TV. Usually this just means going to the back of the room around the corner. Sometimes it means stepping out into the backyard and hoping the neighbors’ dogs aren't barking too much. Sometimes I’m very lucky and am already away from the TV when the phone rings, such as in the kitchen or changing out loads of laundry.

Most of the time I’m working, I’m sitting on the couch in the living room with the TV on, my toddler playing, and my laptop in front of me. When the phone rings, I need to close and secure my laptop. Long ago my kid learned how to open my laptop lid and mess with the keys and touch screen. Often she’ll put her whole weight on the expensive electronic device, even dancing on it. Her abuse contributed to the decline of my last laptop and the death of my current laptop’s original power cord.

When I need to step away, I’ve learned that it’s not enough to shut the laptop lid. I must also hide the laptop in between the couch cushions, deep under the couch, or move it to a table that she can’t reach. She is continuously learning how to pull out my laptop from between or under the couch, so I need to take more care as of late.

Phone signal in and around my house is poor. I've enabled wifi calling to assist in acquiring signal, but the wifi range doesn't extend throughout the house or very far in the yard. The staircase is a dead zone. I know this. Yet today I tried to answer a phone call on the way to the kitchen while at the base of the stairs and was not at all surprised I couldn't hear the caller and had to call him back. I should have learned by now.

To summarize, when the phone rings unexpectedly and I suspect it’s a business call, most of the time I need to:

1) Immediately stop whatever I’m doing.
2) Close and secure my laptop where my toddler can’t get it.
3) Ensure my toddler is in a safe environment for me to step away for a short while.
4) Move to a quieter area where I can still get wifi signal.

All before the call goes to voicemail!

I've been helping a client with a Monday deadline. He’s an oral communicator. In addition to many emails, he called twice per day every day last week. I was so excited when Monday came and went! He only called once on Monday. But it’s now Tuesday and he has called three times four times today! I don’t bill him for my time on these calls, either. It's a hassle, but I want to keep the client happy.

Such is the life of a work-at-home mom with a toddler. And it’ll get harder when baby #2 is born!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Financial Troubles of a Work-At-Home Mom

My husband and I are struggling right now financially. It seems each week brings with it a new financial crises complete with more debt and feelings of hopelessness that we’ll ever catch up with bills.

We’ve dealt with many challenges over the past 15 months. We’ve completed four expensive moves across the country. We bought and sold houses. We’ve had emergency car bills, emergency home repair bills, and emergency medical bills. We’re down to one car because my husband’s car needs extensive repairs we can’t afford. We just prepaid a lump sum of $4,500 for prenatal care and birth at the birth center outside of insurance to save money overall. Yesterday we got notice our mortgage payments are increasing a non-trivial amount each month. And we have a newborn on the way.

The work-at-home mom guilt is crushing me with each new big bill. Many who work-at-home or work remotely make full-time income or enough to live comfortably. I’m not there yet. The company I started isn’t even two years old yet. Although I bring in a little to contribute to the family finances, it doesn’t feel like enough. Not nearly enough!

After graduate school in a science field, I made very good money in my first full-time job. On paper, I made excellent money in my second full-time job. In reality, that company failed to make payroll repeatedly and then went bankrupt, so they owe me half a year’s salary that I’ll never see. But I know how much I’m worth if I were to put myself on the market. I know what full-time salary a highly educated mid-career employee in my technical field should expect.

In reality, I make as much now as I did as a first year graduate student. It’s not nothing. It’s pretty impressive considering I started the company from scratch immediately after my now-toddler was born. I wasn’t sure if I’d make any money at all, but I have. I succeeded. But it feels like a drop in the bucket.

My previous company’s financial troubles started right after my husband and I were married. For our whole marriage, he has been the primary earner without knowing beforehand he would take on that role. He’s a hard worker with a great job, but he has no desire to always be the main breadwinner as some men do. He works in the financial industry. His goal is to maximize his large income now so we can have enough for him to retire early. It frustrates both of us that he continues to work hard with a good income and yet our family finances keep getting tighter with depleted liquid savings and seemingly-never-shrinking debts. It stresses him out especially.

But he has never once pressured me about my earnings. He has been so supportive during the entire process of me forming my own company and trying to make it as a freelancer/entrepreneur. He regularly tells me how proud he is of me gaining clients and bringing in money. The pressure I feel is of my own making.

I feel guilty spending money on most anything these days, even larger-than-expected grocery bills. I buy new clothes and items for myself so infrequently. I could use more maternity outfits, especially warmer clothes for the colder weather, but I won’t spend the money. Even buying items for our toddler and upcoming new baby is difficult for me. I’ve been limiting myself to consignment sales for most kid items such as clothes and toys. I haven’t yet “splurged” on the crib mattress we need for the newborn. Every dollar I spend reminds me that I barely contribute to the family checking account.

I try not to be too hard on myself. My company is slowly growing. I have more active clients now than I’ve ever had. I’ll keep building it over time. God willing, I’ll bring in more and more income each year.

There are financial benefits to being a work-at-home mom. Very rarely do we ever pay for daycare. In my area, this saves us $7,000 - $10,000 per year. And with the new baby coming, that cost would be even higher: $14,000 - $17,000 per year. I don’t have to commute to work, so we save on gas and we’re able to share one car. I don’t eat out when I’m home alone with my toddler. I wear professional clothing and shoes less often, so they wear out less frequently. There are non-financial benefits, too – so many!

At this stage, I know I’d net more money and we’d be better off financially if I were to give up on my own company and work for someone else outside the home. The financial benefits of outside work outweigh the savings of working at home, for now. But it may not always be this way. I charge an impressive hourly rate for my services, so in theory, if I increased my billable hours enough and made more with passive income (sales of the book I’m writing, for example), I should come out ahead. But who knows when or if that will ever happen.

Supporting me as a work-at-home mom is a sacrifice and a chance we as a family take. I’ve done my fair share of complaining about finances and wondering aloud if I should look for a job. Not once has my husband thought that was a good idea. He believes in me and my company, and so do I.

Being a work-at-home mom isn’t easy. It’s a struggle. It’s a financial sacrifice for us. But we choose to believe it’s worth it. Beyond money, it certainly is worth it!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Growing Toddler, Growing Business, Growing Family

Just two years ago, I was building my company’s website, ordering business cards, 7 months pregnant, wondering if I could pull off being a work-at-home mom of a newborn and a new entrepreneur. I searched websites and blogs for advice, personal experiences, anything to give me encouragement that it could be done.

My previous job was shutting down, the company bankrupt, and I was preparing to close out the office. I felt the financial pinch of not having had a consistent paycheck for months. We worried my husband wouldn't be able to support our growing family on one income while I built up my business. And I was anxious about being a first-time mother.

Two years seems like a lifetime ago. Life has evolved significantly. We survived the financial hardship of a company going bankrupt and not making payroll. We moved for my husband’s career – 4 times in 6 months! That destroyed any savings we had and left us still recovering from the debt. My husband prefers the financial safety cushion of two incomes and savings, so being the primary income earner has been stressful for him.

But no longer is he the sole provider. I gained my first paying client a couple of months after starting my business, then another, then another. Right now I have four actively paying clients and three former clients who want to work with me again. I’m not making the big bucks yet, not even close. I’m making about as much as I made in graduate school, minus employer-sponsored health insurance. But it’s not nothing.

More importantly, I’m happy. I have such freedom running my own business, working from home, setting my own schedule, choosing my clients and duties. I've never had this high level of job satisfaction ever. I enjoy what I do day-to-day and I adore my career. When I ask myself, “What do I want to be doing in 10 years?” my answer is, “The same thing I’m doing now, only more of it for more money and maybe more travel.” Life is good. God is good to us. Stressed finances haven’t kept us down.

Even more surprising to me is how much I’m able to accomplish while watching a monkey of a toddler full-time. I work from home daily. My husband goes to the office four days and works from home one day per week. Between the two of us, we almost never pay for childcare. We've never hired a babysitter or helper and I've only used drop-off daycare four times, reserved for when I have a business meeting and can’t bring her with me. Most of the time, my husband is able to stay home or come home early when I need to work outside the home.

For example, last week I helped organize and run a conference which started Wednesday early evening and continued all day and evening Thursday. My husband went to work early on Wednesday so he could come home early to care for our toddler while I went off to be my professional entrepreneurial self. He cared for her all day Thursday until late in the evening when I finally got home. I didn't have to worry about parenting responsibilities while out working because my husband does what he can to support my career.

And vice-versa, I do what I can do support my husband’s career and take care of parenting our kid full-time so he doesn't have to worry about it when he’s at work. Last night he had a dream that I got the job he’s currently applying for. His first thought was to be happy for me, but his second thought was, “Who’s going to care for our kid?” I was raised by two parents who worked outside the home. Being in daycare full-time at a young age didn't hurt me, so I know that’s an option for our kids if we needed it. But truth is, I love being home with my toddler and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Caring for a toddler isn't easy. My almost two-year-old has been walking for over a year and loves nothing more than climbing and figuring out how things work. She’s always been an independent player. I have the freedom to work while she plays independently nearby. I can even leave her alone for brief periods of time while I make business calls. These days I get so much work done during the day while she does her own thing, only pausing occasionally to change a diaper, get her food or a drink, or to take a “play” break to enjoy her company.

But as my toddler gets more capable of getting into things, trusting she’ll be fine as I work becomes riskier. I might leave the room or become engrossed in work, only to return or look up to see to a soiled diaper on the floor and poop smeared everywhere. Or she might have climbed into something she can’t get out of. Or she might pushed a stool against the counter to climb up onto an area with unsafe or breakable objects. Or she might push a stool against the aquarium stand to get to the fish and play with the water. In case you haven’t guessed, these aren't hypotheticals – she has actually done all these things recently.

I’m 6 months pregnant, looking ahead to being a work-at-home mom with an energetic toddler and a newborn. I know I’ll need to cut back on my working hours due to time constraints, physical limitations (e.g. holding a baby constantly), and exhaustion. I know I’ll need to significantly limit my business calls because an unpredictable baby that can cry at any moment isn't the most professional background noise. I know I won’t be able to travel for a few months. Even local business events will be difficult to attend.

I know it will be challenging to learn how to be a work-at-home mom with a new family dynamic. But I have no doubt I can do it. I proved myself already. I can be a work-at-home mom of two and small business owner. I can do it because I love it and wouldn't want it any other way.

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.