Working from Home with Kids Part 2
In the last post, I described my journey to being a work-from-home mom. In this post I'll share some of the struggles. To give reference, I have two boys - one is now in preschool four mornings a week, and one is in first grade. I'm a part-time temporary hire, which in fancy terms is adjunct professor. I've been doing this work since I was first pregnant and have taught every spring and fall semester the past seven years. I currently teach three 1-hr and 2-hr credit courses in the spring and one 3-hr credit course in the fall. This works out require anywhere from 5-15 hours a week, depending on how much grading there is and whether I'm revamping course materials. A couple weeks last spring, I pushed 20-30 hours, which coincided with snow days, and I ended up automatically terminated by the system for working too many hours, in the doctor's office after two weeks of not sleeping, a resting heart rate that was bouncing between 89 and 117, high blood pressure, a sinus thing, dry mouth, twitching, and down about 5-10 lbs. I'd also been pacing the house and neighborhood and bawling on anyone who asked how I was doing. Up until last summer, I would put in several hours a week for course maintenance, but last summer I resolved to fully devote my time to the kids, the sunshine and garden. I do not regret that decision one bit. I also run a small pottery side business, but during busy seasons like last spring, this gets dropped. I think I'm getting better at pacing myself and not feeling like I have to be productive, but I do get very anxious if I go more than three days without putting in time on the classes even if I'm all caught up.
Repeatedly I'm told by friends, family and even my physician that I have an ideal setup - keeping my foot in the door in my career while getting to be home with my kids and keep up with hobbies I'm passionate about. We haven't had to hire childcare, and with the youngest entering elementary school next fall, it looks like we are in the clear in that department. Sometimes I've used the childcare at the YMCA to knock out an hour here or there, especially around that 12 week mark that seems to be the peak stress time of my semester. Admittedly, it's a sweet deal, but it all hinges on the fact that my husband is full-time employed with benefits.
Working from home in early motherhood, which I define as the years before grade school, has held various challenges. Each of my boys has required adjustments to my work habits and schedule as their personalities, love languages, and ability to entertain themselves greatly vary. It has also taken me time to learn my own work environmental needs, personal limitations on time and energy, and find a way to meet those. There are some parenting compromises I've made that I probably carry guilt for. One of those is TV consumption. I didn't want my kids in front of the TV until 2 years old, and then only for a wee little bit of time, but this didn't happen. I try to make myself feel better with arguments that "At least it was primarily PBS kids" and "My oldest knew the alphabet by 18 months," but I'm not really fooling anyone, especially not myself. Another compromise is stepping away from being everything to my boys. Preschool has been huge for our family. We love our preschool and its teachers. Both boys have really thrived there, and it has met needs that either I didn't feel equipped to meet or allowed to be outsourced in order to work and pursue other outlets. (Gosh, that sounds selfish as I type it, and I don't know if it truly is or if I am bending under the weight of unspoken expectations our society places on moms.)
My oldest son started a mom's morning out program one day a week when he was 19 months old, and I got pregnant a month later. I didn't get a ton of paid work done during that time block because I was shocked to be alone for a couple hours and needed it to recover from the rest of the week. While very independent in his physical abilities and a great thinker and problem solver, he likes feedback and a ton of vocal interaction. He shows frustration towards other things that hold my attention, whether they be work, people or hobbies. I have a vivid memory of him as a toddler lunging at me from one side of the couch anytime I pulled out my laptop to work and me holding out my blocking arm. He returned the favor anytime I tried to talk on the phone. I could only work when he was sleeping, and lucky for me he was a great napper - not always, but most of the time. He still has a tendency to hover and sigh while I work, which makes me very anxious and snippy. Ambient noises, the TV, the bustle in a coffee shop or YMCA lobby don't distract me. My children's voices do distract me (and he likes to talk loudly). I'd like to consider this a positive thing - my reaction to their distraction is not always positive. The more focused I am at work, the shorter my temper becomes as I try to maintain the concentration. We are having conversations about how to respect each other's needs and how some thoughts can just be thought rather than spoken, and that not everything he's doing needs to be narrated, but I'm also aware that this is how he is wired. During the week, he spends more than seven hours a day in school behaving very well, so the couple hours we have together in the afternoon, he needs me present, to talk, to listen, to hug, to love him, to wrestle and run. He needs me to not constantly hush him or brush him aside. I want to be present.
I had my second son when the oldest was 29 months. When I tried to put him in in mom's morning out at 15 months, he wasn't ready. Or maybe I wasn't ready. He fell asleep on the floor each time and cried a lot, and I was already having reservations about him being away from me, so I pulled him out after only four weeks. He didn't start preschool the next year either because I was determined to keep him as "my baby", as it was becoming clear that he probably was going to be our last baby, and I wanted to absorb it all (even if it meant him watching Sesame Street beside me while I worked). However, I also quit trying to get so much done during the day, enjoyed many long snuggles, and often waited until they both went to bed to start working. This ate into time with Joe, but he was mostly okay with it. He now will go off and quietly entertain himself with Lego's or Play-doh with amazing focus, and is content doing so. Last year I tried to keep a schedule where he'd get my full attention on mornings off, but that stressful spring demolished my plan. Hopefully, I've since resolved this.
Other challenges involve equipment and office space. There are almost always dried chocolate milk drops or random stickers on my laptop. I suppose that is sort of cute, but my last laptop had the DVD drive cracked and then ripped out. I once bought a web cam and headphone set with a microphone, and one of the boys bit off the microphone. I now carry an accidental damage warranty on my laptop. My textbooks have scribbles in them -- fortunately just inside the front covers. My "desk", the living room ottoman usually has Lego's, crumbs and random bits of crusted over fluids on it. It would be helpful if I had a formal desk or office in the house that I could hole away in (which I did at one point), but when the kids are home, I keep a watchful eye on them if they are in the yard, or I just go to the garden and pull weeds while they play. Working at night, I'd rather be in the living room with Joe, so there's not much point in having to move things back and forth from a desk. If you look under my couch, you'll find my textbooks and laptop when not in use... two fruit snacks down from the missing flip flop and in front of the last cheap plastic prizes from the dentist.
So I guess this hasn't been easy, but whose parenting experience is? We all make choices that require compromises and induce anxiety. If we are honest, even the most self-assured of us, we question those choices and wonder if our kids will one day end up in therapy because of us. Guess what - they probably will and not even for the reasons we think. I have to remind myself that my job isn't preventing my kids from experiencing disappointment, but teaching them skills to handle it - showing them how to manage their reactions, how to forgive, how to be forgiven, how to lose, how to be okay not living up to their highest potential in every aspect of life. I teach these by struggling through them myself. Because, yes! Absolutely yes, I am disappointed in myself. It would be a lie to present myself as someone who has it all together. But that disappointment is temporal. It isn't lasting. It isn't defining. The best thing I get to teach them is how to be loved simply for being and not for doing.
|my favorite way to de-stress|