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.