Reflections on my Summer as a Work-at-Home Mom

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Smoothies became a regular meal for us on my work days.

Working from home is always an exercise in setting healthy boundaries, with and without also being a mom and a housewife.  There are definitely pros and cons to working from home with a six-year-old.  When I made the decision to have my daughter at home this summer, I had visions of her sitting quietly at the kitchen table practicing her handwriting and math skills while I counted the deposit or created pages for the JFM website.  I pictured her helping me in the kitchen and walking to the bank with me.  My reality was not the tranquil image I had planned, but rather a summer of constant interruptions, toys all over the house, screen time limits and multitasking.  Still,  I think being home has allowed me to be a better mom.  Here are some of my tips and tricks, as well as a few problems that I encountered on this journey.

Beware the Never-Ending Work Day

I keep track of my own hours and record them online throughout the week.  As the manager of a Saturday farmers’ market, my work week starts out slowly with a phone call here and an email there, gradually building up to a full day at the market on Saturday.  One thing I find helpful is a voice mail greeting that tells callers my usual availability.  Because I try to take Sunday and Monday off, my greeting says that I usually have office hours between 11 am and 2 pm Tuesday through Saturday.  Granted, my week is never this precise, but it does help prevent market vendors and other callers from expecting me to call them back right away.  During those “regular” hours, I make an extra effort to answer the phone and return calls.  I also try to make those hours coincide with my daughter’s precious screen time.  Otherwise I’ve found that she will eagerly have a never-ending movie day to coincide with my never-ending work day.

Because setting good boundaries is not always my best skill, I have found myself answering the phone at many other times throughout the day, including 8:00 at night and 5:00 in the morning.  I’m learning to keep the phone in another part of the house during my “off” hours.  Otherwise I really do end up with a never-ending work day.  Last Friday was one of these days.  AJ had gone to her Nana’s house for the night, so I didn’t bother to turn off my work phone or stop answering it.  I worked on website updates, filing and printing out materials for the market for a few hours when I probably should have been relaxing and cooking dinner.  When I decided to call it a day and report my hours, I found even more emails to answer.  I took a few minutes to respond to the emails.  Then I remembered that I had wanted to post an update to Facebook for the upcoming market.  I posted the update and discovered Facebook messages from a vendor and a performer.  Messages answered, I finally reported my hours and ran to the grocery store for some last minute supper ingredients. By this time it was 8:00 at night.  My work phone rang as I pulled into the grocery store parking lot.  I was glad to answer that call, which was important to the market, but it delayed my shopping and supper even more.

I have a habit of eating a late dinner with my husband, who works until almost nine.  We enjoy the time alone together.  I finally went to bed only six hours before I would have to be up for the market the next morning.  As I got up and checked the weather at 5:30 am Saturday morning, I vowed that in the future I will set better limits and put an end to the never-ending work day, even on Fridays.  Sometimes I think it is easier to set limits for the benefit of our families, but we mom’s need to remember to take care of our own needs as well.

Spend Quality Non-Work Time With Your Family

Set aside time every day to connect with your family.  It is easy to get caught up in work, cooking and housework.  I, especially, have a tendency to make cooking and cleaning a priority.  I find it hard to enjoy time with my daughter when there is a sink full of dirty dishes and a pile of laundry to fold.  It doesn’t help that I’m perfectly happy to spend my whole day cooking and cleaning.  Working from home and writing along with housework can really eat up my day.  I have to schedule down time with my girl.   it’s good for both of us.  There will always be housework and it can always wait.  Some day, when my hourly wage is a bit higher, I would love to hire someone to do basic housework, especially dishes and dusting.  If you make good money at your job, I highly suggest hiring help.  You will have more energy to be productive at work and more focused on the time you do have with your family.  Without the option of hiring help, my best solution is to get out of the house.  When we are at the library or the park it is much easier for me to be fully present with my girl.

Multitask in Ways that Make Sense

One thing I absolutely love about working from home is the ability to multitask.  This doesn’t mean that I am talking on the phone for work while simultaneously chopping veggies for supper and reading emails.  My work time tends to be pretty focused.  When I talk about multitasking, I mean letting a pot of chicken stock simmer on the stove and hearing the hum of the clothes washer while I answer emails at the kitchen table.  Working at home allows me to simply be home more, which has helped me to add more real food to our routine.  I can sprout lentils and mung beans without worrying that they will get moldy from being ignored all day.  I simply rinse them three or four times a day as I walk past the kitchen sink.  Taking frequent breaks to fold laundry, cook meals or play with my daughter helps make the day go better for everyone.

Pinch Pennies According to Your Values

I am fortunate to only work about 12 hours a week from home and eight hours at the farmers market each week for a total of twenty hours.  With this schedule, we’ve had to go without some things that could have been purchased with the money from a full time job.  Still, with the added benefit of being home more to cook from scratch and care for my daughter, it has been a good trade-off.  We also save money on gas, time spent driving and on clothing.  I often refer to the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.  Following the advice of Your Money or Your Life, I can calculate my true wage by adding up all of the time and money spent on my job and dividing that into the money I make.  Using these calculations, which account for extra money spent on convenience foods, child care and work clothes, my current situation looks pretty good.

There are plenty of books and blogs available to help you save money in ways that make the most sense for your family.  We don’t compromise on good food.  Fortunately, between the farmers’ market and the natural food co-op where my husband works, we get an abundance of good food at reasonable prices and sometimes even for free.  I’m especially thankful for the gifts of fresh produce and even produce that is slightly blemished.  I enjoy making use of these gifts through creative cooking, fermentation and my beloved dehydrator.  Having more time at home, I’ve been able to add some great money savers to my routine, such as making my own rice milk and home-made granola.  Look for these recipes in upcoming blog posts.

Keep it Simple

Meals during my work days are usually simple.  Fortunately, my daughter likes cold foods.  She is happiest when I present her with a plate of assorted cold foods directly from the fridge.  A typical lunch might include crackers, avocado slices, carrot sticks with nut butter, summer sausage and olives or pickles.  We both love hearty smoothies.  I like to add coconut oil, nut butter and ground chia seeds to help make them more satisfying.  To help with costs, we grew strawberries at my parents’ farm and froze a bountiful harvest this year.  My husband doesn’t care for cold food, but loves leftover chicken curry or lasagna that he can heat up at work.  I put our dinner leftovers in a shallow pyrex pan and cover it with a layer of parchment followed by a layer of foil.  This way the aluminum doesn’t leach into the food during storage or cooking and he can pop it right in the toaster oven at work.  Though I enjoy cooking, I try to save my more elaborate from scratch cooking for my days off.

The Value of Time

Besides having time to write, which is my passion, working part time at home has allowed our whole family to spend more time on a number of fun projects and activities.  When we look back at this summer, we will have fond memories of long days spent working on creative projects, making music, doing political activism and simply hanging out in nature.  If I had kept my second job and kept our daughter in full time daycare, we would have missed out on many of these opportunities without the benefit of very much more money to show for my hard work.  We did not take an expensive vacation together or visit lots of museums and tourist attractions.  Instead we took advantage of inexpensive and free community activities and events.  Though I love to travel and visit museums, I like the summer we had even better.  I especially like the extra time that helped us be more relaxed to enjoy it.

Maple Sugar Cotton Candy at our co-op's Owner Picnic.

Maple Sugar Cotton Candy at our co-op’s Owner Picnic.

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“The Stinky Family” – Skunk costumes we made together from paper mache and fabric for the annual Procession of the Species event in Madison.

Playing at the lake.

Playing at the lake.

Marching with Vets for Peace

Marching with Vets for Peace

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