Ten tips on managing your home office and your kids By Alison BurkeIllustration by John Gundich
Parenting is a full-time job. Yet out of necessity, by choice or both, people often work for pay while raising their children. Sometimes moms and dads find it possible to work entirely from home, others split time between office and home. But parents today find many creative ways to incorporate a professional life with a family, without using day care. How do these these parents succeed? 1 Creativity and flexibility are key. Accept that some days life will be pretty hectic. As a parent, you already know how creative you need to be to keep your child busy and happy. Just extend that approach to how you manage your business or profession at home, while also taking care of your family. Set priorities and know that until your system has been in place awhile, a few tasks may fall through the cracks.
2 Choose work that works. Not every career or job lends itself to a work-at-home arrangement. Some women change their profession completely. With the convenience of Web-based technology and communication, parents can conduct businesses and ventures of all kinds from home. Some examples are: independent consulting, in-home daycare, freelance photography, sales and desktop publishing. Jinnie English, a psychotherapist and management consultant in Chicago, says, "I incorporate my job with my home and children by scheduling my patients and trainings around the times that the children are in school, napping or spending time with their friends."
3 Structure your space. Some women find having specific office space with office hours is preferable to a hybrid office/play room. Saundra Jones of Riverdale has her basement set up as a hair salon and has a babysitter watch her son during appointments. Other parents keep the kids there with them. In either case, have a separate space for work—even if it is just a tabletop or small desk. Depending on your floor plan, you may be able to work with your children in the next room, with a full view of their activities. If you combine your work space with the play area, try to set up part of the room as if it were a preschool, with toys and projects organized in labeled boxes for easy access and cleanup.
4 It's possible to have a clean house, too. Keeping a house clean can be difficult in a home with an office and young children. Set a schedule for daily chores. Make a point to spend an hour or two getting the house organized. Or designate certain tasks for each day so the dirtier chores aren't all saved for the weekend. If your children are old enough, enlist their help.
5 Work when you can. Depending on your children's ages, there are childcare options to help free up your time. Work during naps or when the kids are at school. Get up early or stay up late to work while they sleep. Hire a mother's helper to keep the kids busy for a couple hours a day or a babysitter so you can run out to appointments. Swap your child with another mother for regular play dates.
6 Keep the kids safe and close by. Save the phone calls and the work that requires concentration for when the kids are occupied or sleeping. Do busy work when they are close by and active. Have plenty of on-hand activities ready for the kids at any time. For younger children, bouncy seats, play saucers, swings and music let them play right next to you as you work. Older children will delight in working beside you if you set up their "office" next to you.
7 Stay organized. Do whatever you can to keep the business side of things streamlined and predictable. Buy color-coded desk supplies and organize your work. Make sure your work space is off-limits. Locked file drawers and child safety locks will deter curious fingers.
8 Maintain a professional image. Don't answer the phone if the baby is crying, the kids are screaming or the television is blaring. The machine will take a message. Return the call when the house is quieter. Faxes and e-mail are excellent alternatives. Dress professionally for appointments and buy business cards.
9 Take care of yourself. "Moms who are trying to work from home while raising kids should seek a healthy balance and not try to be all things to all people. Success lies in the balance," advises Ed Brodow, author of Beating the Success Trap, a book that helps people take control of their careers.
10 Enjoy the benefits. The reward for working from home is getting added time with your kids. As a bonus, you will also demonstrate a strong work ethic for your children. This lifestyle choice sends a message that mom has interests of her own in addition to the kids, but not in place of them.
Books Mompreneurs: A Mother's Practical Step by Step Guide to Work at Home Success by Patricia Cobe and Ellen H. Parlapiano, Perigree, 2002.
It's a Jungle Out There and a Zoo in Here: Run Your Home Business Without Letting It Overrun You by Cheryl Demas, Warner Books, 2003.
The Stay-At-Home Mom's Guide to Making Money from Home: Choosing the Business That's Right for You Using the Skills and Interests You Already Have by Liz Folger, Prima Publishing, 1997.
Alison Burke is an author and work-at-home mom. She can be reached at email@example.com.