By Corey Jenkins Schaut
“She’ll never come back from maternity leave, and if she does, her work will suffer.”
I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that was the gist of what my boss at the time said about my pregnant colleague. We were at a staff meeting, and I was hoping no one noticed that I was shifting anxiously in my seat. Not just because it was a terrible thing to say about my co-worker, but because I was about to become a working parent myself.
Not long before, my husband and I had started our adoption home study. We were excited and nervous. There was so much to consider about becoming parents in this way, but it was something we were determined to do after years of hoping to start our family.
It wasn’t a simple decision to pursue parenting. On top of all the adoptive-parenting questions we had, I was left wondering what was going to become of the career I’d spent several years building. With a husband in law enforcement who was often on call, I knew having a flexible schedule was going to be a necessity.
It seems like becoming a working parent wouldn’t have to be quite so traumatic in this day and age. But here we are in 2019, wondering how we working moms can manage to “have it all.” More than 70% of American women with children under 18 work, yet mothers of young kids still have to choose between expensive (or even cost-prohibitive) daycare options or leaving the workforce, something we know can hurt their careers down the road.
I was fortunate – shortly after we brought home our daughter in 2011, I was able to find a wonderful daycare provider we could afford, and I was able to build a flexible and remote schedule with my boss that was exactly what I needed.
Fast forward 5 years and another child later, as our family moved to another part of our state and I sought new employment, I knew I still needed that flexibility. With more flexible and remote work opportunities available now, my search was focused on job options that would be parent-friendly while still contributing my nearly 20 years of experience in communications and marketing.
Lucky for me, I found that more companies have left behind the antiquated idea that parents can’t be top contributors because they have to get to the daycare by 6 p.m. In fact, my new employer, Worldwide101 seeks out working parents to join its team. Their leadership team is an advocate for working parents, too, and one that I’ve been fortunate to work with for more than two years now. (P.S. They’re hiring, too!)
All that said, transitioning to be a work-at-home parent has come with a big learning curve. Here are the three most important things I’ve discovered along the way:
1. Working at home is not totally the answer to childcare struggles (but it does help)
Working at home still means you have to, you know, work, which can be a challenge if you have young children also at home. Having a plan for how you’ll balance childcare and work is still important.
The good news for most people is that remote jobs usually give you more flexibility to set a schedule that works best for your family’s caregiving needs. For some, it might mean that work happens when another family member is home to watch the kids or when the children are sleeping. For others, an in-home mother’s helper may be a good option to occupy the kids while you work. Still, others might find a more traditional preschool or daycare setting works best for them.
For me, now that I have school-age children, I’m able to set my hours so that my work is done primarily when they are in school. When the kids have a school holiday, my husband is usually able to cover their care while I work, or I schedule a mother’s helper for a few hours to supervise so that I can focus on my tasks. In the summer, we typically use a combination of sitters, visiting grandparents, and day camps to keep them happy and occupied.
Is it a juggle? Yes. Does it always go perfectly? No. Sometimes a sitter cancels at the last minute, a kid wakes up with a fever, there’s a snow day, or my husband gets called into work unexpectedly.
I’ve developed my back-up plans (with a failsafe that involves too much screen time). The beauty of a flexible work-at-home schedule is that it’s much easier to adjust my schedule and balance both kids and work.
2. Boundaries are necessary (and healthy)
A major downside to working from home is that it’s very easy to never be “off.” For this reason, setting boundaries for when you’re having personal time versus work time is essential.
Setting a schedule and communicating your hours with your colleagues can go a long way to helping set those boundaries. Personally, I like to set “office hours” that includes time for periodic breaks to help keep me fresh and productive.
Having a dedicated work space you can leave or pack up at the end of the day can also help you to make the mental transition from work to personal time. I mostly work in my home office, and I can shut the door at the end of my workday to signify that I’m off work. I recognize that not everyone is lucky enough to have a home office space, and this was actually true for me in our former home. Even if you don’t have a space that allows you to close a door at the end of the day, packing up your computer and other work supplies and putting them out of sight can help you to set that boundary between your work day and your family time.
When working remotely, you have to be especially conscious about communicating with your colleagues and clients. Since you’re not in front of each other to read the other person’s body language and you’re not able to share information over a cubicle wall, you have to be more deliberate. It’s okay (important, even) to take that extra moment to think through your response or proofread your email a second time to ensure that your message is clear and conveys the right tone.
Picking up the phone or hopping on a video call can also go a very long way to ensuring everyone is on the same page. Having more personal contact than an email or instant message can also help bond coworkers and get everyone working better as a team despite any distance. Creating more personal connections, even via technology, can go a long way to building trust and strengthening work relationships despite any physical distance.
While being a work at home parent can still require circus-level juggling acts that many traditional office workers also face, it’s all worth it to me to be more available to my family. I’m especially grateful that I can easily shift my schedule to accompany one of the kids on a school field trip or I can make it to school performances in the middle of the day.
Now that I’ve shared my lessons, let us know what you’ve learned while working from home and what makes you most grateful for your work-at-home life!
When she’s not losing at board games to her two children or keeping track of her husband’s crazy schedule as a police officer, Corey Schaut is the marketing and internal communications coordinator at Worldwide101. She loves to tell good stories and eat great food almost as much as she loves her family.