The other day, a blog post came across my feed with a headline that made me stop and take notice: “You Give Working Moms a Bad Name.” In the post, Breadwinning Mama describes a contractor who forced the team to work around her children’s schedules and missed deadlines with the excuse of caring for her kids.
This particular mom was a work from home mom, which made me cringe because I am too, much of the time. I know the challenges of this particular arrangement, and I’m hyper-vigilant about not letting those challenges affect my work.
Working from home can be a great option for moms with the right skill sets, as well as employers who want to give their workers more flexibility and perhaps even save money. I want more moms to be able to work from home. So the idea that work from home moms are being given a bad name? Not OK.
If you’re in a similar situation, here are my tips on how not to make people think of an 80s hair metal anthem when they’re working with you. It’s mostly no-brainer stuff, so I hope you’re reading this going, “uh.. duh!” But maybe you’re wondering if you could hack the work-from-home thing. If so, these tips might help you decide.
First: The Obvious
Unless there’s an emergency, your role as mom should not interfere with your role as a professional. Notice I didn’t say moms should hide that part of their lives. It’s important for parents to be proudly visible in the workplace. Employers and co-workers need to see moms handling both roles with competence. They also need to appreciate that people have commitments outside the workplace. Making unreasonable demands that affect someone’s ability to parent effectively is not OK, either.
But we’re not talking unreasonable here. We’re talking about everyday tasks that the mom in this post dropped the ball on, and the main culprit seems to be that she couldn’t separate parenting from working. If you have to schedule work around a family commitment, be discreet and extra-available at other times. Work after-hours to make up lost time if a deadline is in play. In other words, do the obvious. Be a good team member and do your best to balance your personal life with work.
Know this: Working from home is not easy. It’s one of those things that sounds great in theory: I can get my work done and not have to leave my kids with a sitter. They can play, I can work, it’ll be the best of both worlds. Um… no. If you’ve got your kids with you while you’re trying to work, it’s the worst of both worlds. The only thing different about a work-from-home arrangement vs. being in an office is that you get to wear ratty yoga pants on a regular basis.
You still need child care: Work from home rarely involves gazing lovingly at your sleeping baby while knocking out a killer spreadsheet. It does provide some nice flexibility—you may be able to drop kids off and pick up from school, or pop out to the doctor more easily, but when you’re working, you need to be focused on work. Even if Baby is napping twice a day, you never know when a diaper blow-out will occur, or she’ll refuse to sleep or have a tantrum. And when your kids are awake, you’ll feel guilty if they’re parked in front of the TV. Everybody will be happier if someone else watches them during the hours you’re scheduled to work.
Schedule like a boss: That’s not to say you have to be a slave to the 8 to 6 work day. If you’re able to set your own schedule, go for it. Just be clear when your work hours are going to be. And then be in professional mode during that time.
Kids shouldn’t be seen or heard. Sometimes we all have to work with our children around. Your sitter might be sick, or maybe you’ve got a light workload and figure you really can handle everything for a day or two. Just make sure, when you’re on a call with the boss or Skyping with your team, that no one is distracted by a crying toddler or Bubble Guppies blaring on TV. Find an activity that will keep the kids occupied, and make liberal use of the mute button. All hell may be breaking loose in the background, but your goal is to look and sound cool as a cucumber.
Be realistic about what you can do. One problem in Breadwinning Mama’s post was that the mom in question (or her bosses) seem to have overpromised and then underestimated what it would take to get the work done. It’s easy to do that when you work from home, especially if you’re freelancing and could use the income. But resist! If you’re in a period where your family needs more attention than usual, don’t take on more work unless you’re sure you can get it done. You always win when you deliver more than promised. But blow one too many deadlines, and you’ll have a hard time recovering.
Never miss a deadline! Unless you’re in the hospital or dealing with some other personal crisis, always come through for your team. Whether we work in an office or from home, whether we’re moms or child-free, we all have to juggle. Do what you have to do to get things done on time.
Are you a work from home mom? Do you have tips on how not to give work from home moms a bad name? Share them in the comments, please!