Unless you are independently wealthy or have a very successful spouse then every parent must face an important decision -- whether to work outside the home or to work from home.
Many people choose the traditional option of working outside the homeand find themselves spending far too much time away from their children as well as trying to juggle daycare and health issues while still trying to get ahead in their chosen profession.
Other parents choose the less traditional path of working from home. While they are not subject to problems with daycare or a child's illness, they do struggle with a different sort of problem balancing home and work time.
Any parent who has attempted to focus on a task while also taking care of children knows how challenging it can be. For many work from home parents that challenge is a part of their every day life.
So how do work from home parents find the right balance that allows them to be productive workers while also being good primary caregivers?
The first thing you need to do is work out a priority list for the tasks you want to accomplish for the week. It is better to plan conservatively for a week because sometimes unexpected events can derail a day here and there in even the best run homes.
Now go back over the list and highlight the items that need your full concentration. For example, something you cannot do while reassembling a transformer.
Your next step will be working out two schedules. The first will cover your child's day. I don't mean that you need to plan out every minute but perhaps give a general outline in half hour chunks. Try to strike a balance between activities that involve high-level parenting and low-level parenting.
For example, when my son first wakes up he isn't hungry and he doesn't really want much from me. He is content to watch a little TV as he fully wakes up. This is a time of low-level parenting as I am nearby but as he doesn't require much from me then I am free to work.
After he is fully awake we switch into high-parenting mode. He wants to be fed and he is ready to play. At this point I usually spend time interacting with him, perhaps helping him set up art supplies or designing his train set.
Once he is fully engaged in his activity I then have a small window of time to focus on my own projects. He is well able to entertain himself but likes to share his games and art projects with me so while I can work I certainly cannot get anything done that requires a high level of concentration.
Then it is time for high-level parenting again as we prepare lunch and then spend some time reading. When my son was younger this would then lead to a nap and I could have an hour or two of prime work time. However now he rarely naps. For a while we struggled with this newly opened slot but I decided he really needed some down time, we needed a little time apart, and I needed time to get some serious work done. Our new plan involves him spending a quiet hour in his room. I put in a CD (preferably one at least 60 minutes long) and he can entertain himself quietly as he chooses within his room. He can read or play but he must be quiet. Some days he does end up taking a nap and other days we just enjoy a little break from each other.
After this break I switch back into high-level parenting mode again. We will play a game, go for a walk, or visit the park. In the summer this is the time we go to the community pool. My son understands that this time is his reward for letting me get some work done earlier in the day and this is my way of letting him know that he is important to me.
Some evenings I will get some more time to work after we've had some family time. My husband will spend some one-on-one time with our son and take care of bath and other bedtime preparations. Usually I'm done in time to take care of the tuck-in and bedtime story.
On the weekends my husband will usually arrange several hours on either Saturday or Sunday when he is primarily responsible for child care so I can also get some work done.
In this way I manage to operate a profitable internet business while also serving as the primary caregiver for my preschool son. I do not work the equivalent of a 40-hour work week but concentrating on accomplishing small tasks throughout the day I manage to meet all my priorities and then some.
I want to also share a few additional tips about balancing your work and your family at home.
~ Teach your child to be independent. My son can dress himself and even prepare his own snacks. He may not be wearing the clothes I would have chosen but then he did save me time and who else will see him wearing that odd ensemble? I make fruit, water bottles, juice boxes, cheese, and crackers easily available to him so when he is hungry he can serve himself (although he may bring me a juice box to insert the straw or a package to open). I don't worry about what he is eating and he knows the rules about crumbs and messes. My office is adjacent to the kitchen so I can observe and intervene if necessary.
~ Teach your child to be responsible. Put your child in charge of picking up their toys and putting them away. Not only will this make your life easier later when you need to take care of household chores but it can buy you some time to get work done.
~ Set up a play date. I have learned that play dates are a win-win for me as a work-at-home parent. It is actually easier to keep two four-year-olds entertained as they tend to entertain each other and when it is time to reciprocate I get hours of free time to concentrate on my work.
~ Check out community activities. Does your library offer a story hour for children? This offers me the opportunity to do some research in the library, make notes for upcoming projects, or even log onto the internet. My son loves visiting the library and we usually go one other day of the week and he will play, work on puzzles, and look at books while I can get some work done nearby. Similarly I can take my laptop or a notebook to the park while he plays on the playground. I've even learned to get work done at the local McDonald's playland.
Finally, you and your family will need to learn patience and understanding. You need to understand that your work will have to get accomplished in small chunks. Your child needs to learn that while he or she is your top priority that doesn't mean their sudden need for juice takes precedence over all else. Your entire family needs to learn that housework comes third on the list of priorities and that if the whole family contributed to the mess then the whole family can contribute to the cleanup.