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.

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.