In the not-too-distant past the phrase ‘working from home’ was considered an oxymoron. Mixing work with family life was unheard of -- based on a general philosophy that the domestic and public spheres were totally distinct and should be kept as separate as church and state. But this solid wall between work and home started to crumble with the dawn of the Internet, (not to mention more and more women entering the workforce). While working online and telecommuting has afforded millions of people jobs from the comforts of their homes, will our children pay the price for the ever increasing fusion of the work/home in our lives?
As a mother of a toddler who runs a small business out of my home - I know all too well how difficult it is to maintain a healthy live/work balance, when there are no physical barriers to separate work and family life. One must be extremely disciplined, lest work creeps into valuable personal and family time. One of the trickiest aspects of working from home is that one must self-monitor and set boundaries to avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time on the computer or the telephone. People in offices are ruled by the clock and confined by the office walls. Their deadlines, meetings, lunches and duties are carved out and uninterrupted. People working from home are required to build their own framework, factoring in all of the distractions at home, unexpected visits, a pipe bursting, piles of laundry, and most importantly: children who need and deserve your attention.
Has the era of undivided attention between parent and child officially ended? More and more people are opting to forego daycare and nannies to save money, and the result is parents who are spread thin trying to do the seemingly impossible -- earning a living while simultaneously child-rearing. Entrepreneurs now answer to diaper donning, pint-sized bosses who question why they’re writing emails or making phone calls when Sesame Street is about to start. BusinessWeek recently ran a feature, When Your Kids’ Needs Conflict with Work. The article discusses how to explain why you’re working to children of different ages from preschoolers to teens. But, children are aware long before they reach preschool that mom or dad are being taken away from them by that ugly four letter word: work.
The good news is, there are ways to juggle and be successful at being both an amazing parent and a thriving businessperson. The first real hurdle is learning time management and blocking out time frames in which you’ll power through your work. The early bird really does catch the worm. Wake up an hour or two before your little ones to complete your most important tasks (though I admit this is a tough task if your tot wakes up at 5am). Establish set times throughout the day when you’ll check your email or make phone calls. Children love routine, so if they know that from 12-1pm and 4-5pm each day you’ll be on the phone or computer while still being present in the room with them, this is easier for them to digest then if you’re all over the map and working incessantly. It’s also vital to give children your exclusive attention as much as possible, instead of checking your iPhone while reading them a story. Of course, the best laid plans often go awry, and sometimes work will get in the way of play. It's best to be understanding and reassuring of your crestfallen child, and if they're old enough to have that 'this is why people have to work' conversation, explain your lifestyle accordingly.
As with all things in life... balance is key. It is crucial for our generation, filled with people who want to be stellar parents and excelling professionals, that we learn how to navigate this unchartered territory. We need to set the example for our children that work and home life may co-exist in harmony, especially when it affords us the opportunity to be with them around the clock.