So you’ve made the choice to be a work-at-home mum (WAHM) because you want to be there for your kids. You want to care for them, nurture them and make sure you don’t miss a single precious second of their growing process.
But you also need to work from home. Perhaps because you need to supplement the family’s income, or maybe you don’t wish to give up your career altogether. Whatever your reasons, juggling your work, household chores and family while trying to balance your roles as a wife, a mother, and most importantly, a woman, is just about as complicated as it sounds.
Yet, it doesn’t have to drive you insane. All you need is loads of dedication and discipline, lots of support – and some help – from your family, and a few smart strategies to ensure that everything works out well.
Sher-li Torrey, mother of four-year-old Clarissa and four-week-old Ian, is also the founder of Mums@Work, a social enterprise that supports women in their bid to have a healthy work-life balance. She offers some tips that she shares with WAHMs during workshops and events organised by Mums@Work.
Set Office Hours
Have a fixed schedule that distinguishes work time and play time. If you know Tuesdays are your ‘off days’, keep that day free for your children. For example, Friday is Sher-li’s ‘Daughter Day’ and she does not schedule meetings on this day. She tells her daughter that Friday is reserved for her. In exchange, other days are for mummy to work.
Set aside certain hours within ‘work days’ to focus on work. For example, if 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. is work time, focus on work as much as possible and have your helper or another family member look after the kids. For older kids, you may have them near you while you work. But remember to keep to the promised time; when the buzzer goes off, wind down work. Reward your child with ‘100% Mummy Time’ by taking them for a walk, etc.
Set Up Shop
Have a designated work area in your home. Let your children know early on that your ‘office space’ is out of bounds to them, and that they should try to be quiet when you’re in it.
Alternatively, create a ‘fun corner’ in your home office. Fill it with activities that your child can enjoy in a safe manner, beginning with a playpen for toddlers, followed by crayons, activity books, toys, role-play costumes, and so on for preschool-aged kids. If your child is slightly older, you might want to use laptops or tablets to keep them occupied. However, do take note of the time they are on the electronic device – avoid exceeding an hour each time.
When trying to balance the roles of mother, wife, employer/employee, and woman, it is important to be highly organised. Some may argue that with kids around, making plans ahead of time doesn’t mean much. In that case, plan to have your plans disrupted.
Plan on a monthly, weekly and daily basis – your work schedule (deadlines, meetings, etc), your kids’ schedules (playschool, play-dates, etc), your family schedule (doctors’ appointments, planned outings, etc), and even your personal schedule (ladies night, spa appointments, etc).
Create a spreadsheet where you can note down all items in the same space, and use different colours to indicate the different areas of your life. Alternatively, use an online calendar tool like Google Calendar, which lets you create different colour-coded ‘calendars’ on one platform, and even allows you to share it with your spouse or other caregivers so that they can keep track too.
Creating ‘tasks’ is also a great tool incorporated in most calendar applications, where you can list down household chores, grocery lists and other things on your to-do list. Setting alarms for the calendar entries and tasks may also act as useful reminders.
Get Into Your Role
Some WAHMs choose to wear their pyjamas all day while typing away furiously on their laptops. However, it is advisable to draw clear distinctions about which mode you’re in. If changing into office attire helps you to get into the role of ‘working mum’, do so. Likewise, when it’s time to put on your ‘mummy hat’, do whatever you need to get ready for that role. That way, you can segregate the two areas of your life mentally.
Fix Your Priorities
The need to prioritise everything in your life is even more pronounced when you work from home. Decide what needs to be done immediately and what can wait. Learn to say “No” to unimportant things.
Even where the children are concerned, unless there’s an emergency, let them know that “Mummy needs to finish this project. Remember, Mummy’s office time is till 5 p.m. I promise to play with you after that.” Getting them used to your schedule takes time, but never assume that you won’t need to explain to them because they are too young. Kids can surprise you.
Get Some Rest
It is easy to be overworked or to be burnt out because of the various commitments. While it may be tempting to work into the wee hours of the night to take advantage of the kids being in bed, long-term sleep deprivation can lead to unnecessary complications in the future. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help or delegate chores when needed, even if it is just so you can get some shut-eye.
Rope In Spousal Support
Some WAHMs find that their spouse do not have the right perception of their job; they may see it as the wife’s hobby or think of their wife as a stay-at-home mum with a lot of time on their hands. Have an open discussion with your husband, explaining to him that your work is important to you. For instance, he can help play with the kids after dinner while you work.
In Sher-li’s home, 8.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. each evening is what the family calls ‘Daddy-Daughter Time’. While her husband spends time playing with Clarissa, reading to her and engaging her in fun activities, it is also Sher-li’s window to follow up on work emails or other matters that are not time-sensitive.
Another WAHM, Elynn Liew, agrees. With her husband’s wholehearted support, she left her job as a HR executive, took her experience back home and with it, started Careermums, an online job portal for mothers who want to join the workforce on a part-time, freelance or flexi-time basis. Elynn, who has two children aged three and six, offers these additional tips.
Ensure that you remain relevant and visible to the ‘outside world’ by maintaining effective communication channels with people you work with. Keep abreast of current affairs in the industry you work in. Use instant messaging tools like Live Messenger or Google Chat, and file sharing portals like WeTransfer.com or Google Drive to help you to connect with your co-workers or business partners.
Update The Boss
If you are an employed WAHM, it is helpful to let your supervisor know that you are always within reach and contactable during certain hours. Provide regular updates to your supervisor, especially when you have just started working from home. It gives them an assurance that you are reliable and responsible and that you do not abuse the privilege.
Have A Life Outside Of The Home
Working from home means that you save time on commuting. On the flip side, it does gets lonely at times with no one to lunch and share office gossip with. To find a balance, arrange regular lunch meetings with co-workers or meet friends for tea; you can even bring your kids along if they don’t mind.
Remember to reward your understanding hubby with regular ‘date nights’ too. Working on a strong husband-wife relationship is just as essential to maintaining a healthy family life as is taking time out for yourself.