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6 Vital Tools for Work-at-Home Moms

A woman works on a couch while a child plays.

It really is possible to work at home while raising children. It isn’t easy – but then again, how much of parenthood is actually easy?

Maybe you already have an at-home business and have decided to start a family. Or maybe you’re pregnant and want to quit the 9-to-5 grind to build your at-home-worker life as you go. In either case, certain tools are vital to your success.

1. Backup child care

One of the best things about working at home is being there for your kids.

One of the toughest things about working at home? Your kids!

Strep throat, an unexpected snow day, and other kid-tastrophes can put an at-home worker way behind her schedule. Most home-based workers are already operating on tight time margins, so losing even a few hours can mean big trouble. (Or yet another all-nighter.)

That’s why every work-at-home mom needs a safety net, or more than one. And it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Here are a few options:

  • Relatives. Your mom and/or your mother-in-law (not to mention your father or father-in-law) likes to spend time with their grandchildren. So let them! Ask if you can call for help when things are particularly hectic. Better still: Ask if you can rely on them for one afternoon a week. They get to build memories, and you get kid-free hours in which to work.
  • Other moms. I’ll take your daughter to the park along with mine on Monday if you’ll return the favor some other day next week. Or maybe: If you can host a sleepover on Friday night, I’ll take your kid overnight a couple of weeks from now.
  • A tweenage “mother’s helper.” Offer a few dollars an hour in exchange for hanging out with your child in their room or the backyard. Having someone new to play with should distract kiddo for a couple of hours, but you’ll still be on hand if needed. (Bonus: You are training a babysitter to call on later when you and your husband need a night out.)
  • Screens! Your tablet, your phone, your television — desperate times call for desperate measures. And remember: You are not the first mom in the world to let her kid watch three Barbie DVDs in a row when things are busy.

2. Flexibility

Maybe you do your best work early in the morning – if so, set that alarm. It’s amazing how much you can cram into an uninterrupted hour.

And if you’re a night owl? Run with it! A few times a week, take a nap when your toddler does so you can stay up a little later. Or go to bed when your kids do, and set the alarm for two or three hours later. A quiet house can do wonders for productivity.

Depending on the kind of at-home you do, you might also be able to take advantage of odd free moments. For example, a virtual assistant or a freelance writer might be able to work while sitting in the stands during soccer practice. While waiting for the PTA meeting to begin, a freelance artist could sketch ideas for the logo she just got hired to design.

Pro tip: Keep pen and paper on the kitchen table and by your bed. While you’re eating your lunch, or feeding the toddler his, you might come up with a good idea – but if you don’t write it down, it could be lost forever. (Children have a way of fragmenting our attention.)

3. Discipline

As noted, at-home workers sometimes pull some odd shifts. Some short ones, too. That’s why you absolutely must take full advantage of every minute.

Mute notifications, stay the heck away from social media and do your work. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by cat videos or a friend’s stream of memes. Otherwise, you risk wasting half of the precious few hours that your little one spends in preschool.

Also on that subject, you need…

4. Boundaries

Some people think “at-home worker” means “Oh, fun! You and I can have lunch out while our kids are at school!” Or, worse: “Could I get you to come over and let the plumber in? I can’t be there myself because I have to work.”

Well, so do you! Draw those boundaries firmly. Shut off the phone, don’t check your e-mail, train people not to just drop by and no, you cannot wait for your friend’s package pickup.

And if you’ve got a mother’s helper for a few hours? Have her play with your child anywhere but where you are. If you’ve got an office or a workroom, shut the door and keep it shut.

5. The ability to outsource

As your at-home work increases, you may find it tough to get things done the way you’d like. A few possible solutions:

  • Ask for help. Your spouse should definitely be on board, even if he works outside the home. After all, you’re doing your job plus raising the kids. Speaking of whom: If your children are old enough they should be pitching in, too. Elementary-age kids can do things like dust, empty trashcans, bring their laundry down day (and do it themselves, too, starting at age 11 or so), feed pets, use a Swiffer, set the table, wash salad greens, load/unload the dishwasher and sort recyclables. You’re teaching them valuable life skills while buying yourself extra time. #winwin
  • Hire it done. That could mean a weekly or biweekly housecleaner. But it could also mean asking your kid, “Wanna earn five bucks? Strip all three beds and throw the sheets in the wash, clean the kitchen sink, and then scoop the catbox.” This is in addition to any chores they’re expected to do, which is why you pay them. It isn’t just the time you’ll save, but also the relief you’ll feel knowing certain chores are finally done. (By someone else!)
  • Virtual (or real) assistant. As your business grows, consider farming out some of the work. A bookkeeper, a social media expert, someone to help decoupage picture frames for your Etsy store – whatever works for you.

6. Perspective

Judge how important certain things are – like, for instance, your standards.

Will the world end if you use a cake mix or some slice-and-bake cookie dough instead of delivering homemade treats to your kid’s classroom party?

How will anyone know, really, that you don’t mop your kitchen twice a week and that you use bath towels more than once to cut down on laundry?

Is it essential that all your family’s meals be made from scratch, even when you’re on a hot deadline?

Women too often feel compelled to do it all: raise children and work and volunteer and have a Pinterest-perfect existence. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a great life. But as an at-home mom, you already have two jobs. Why add the third (unpaid) gig of, “Trying to keep up impossible standards”? Your kids probably won’t remember those cupcakes anyway.

Be kind to yourself

Remember that, while you want to do it all, sometimes it’s just not possible. Put your system in place and make sure you have all the tools you need for success but remember that sometimes it’s just not going to happen. That’s not a failure — it’s a reality for people trying to balance multiple priorities. Building the set of tools at your disposal gives you a better chance to succeed more often.

–By Donna Freedman

SmartCents Mom