Balancing your home life and your work life while raising children and expanding your business can be a daunting task. Many of you may be thinking about making the move to "work at home parent" but are asking yourself "Can I build a business and raise my family at the same time?" I'm here to tell you yes! Although it is hard, it can be done and in my opinion it is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a parent and an entrepreneur.
I started my business nearly four years ago. Having gone to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and majoring in animation, I have a background in both art and technology. I knew that these skill sets could be useful to many organizations, especially with the explosion of the web. I started out calling myself a "Graphic Designer", going after web design, print and illustration jobs, though I quickly realized that this industry was a lot different than I had anticipated. Web design was clearly the most profitable and enjoyable of the three, yet in order to be competitive in this market, I knew that I needed to know more. People have come to expect a great deal out of websites. The days of having a pretty website that simply displays information are long gone. Today, websites need to be able to interact with the user in order to be successful. To do this takes quite a bit of programming. Fortunately, I did have some programming experience, which made learning three new programming languages a lot easier than it sounds. Over time I became more and more confident and began taking more complex jobs.
It was around this time that I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. The news made me excited but anxious as well. How was I going to continue to grow my business and raise a child at the same time? It was important to me to spend as much time with my baby as possible, so figuring out how to effectively be a "work at home mom" was important. Once my daughter Jillian was born, I literally had to change the way I did just about everything. I needed to design a schedule that would accommodate her and allow me to work efficiently. The transition was difficult at times, and I would be lying if I told you there weren't instances when I wanted to pull all my hair out.
Working nights and weekends became commonplace and free time became almost nonexistent. In the beginning, meeting an important deadline would be extremely stressful, but as I continued I developed new skills and habits that would make it easier the next time. I realized that learning how to be a good parent was actually helping me become better in business and vice versa. It was around the time that I became very comfortable with the “work at home parent” situation when I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child due in January. I know that when this new baby is born, I will again have to change the way I manage my family life and my business, and there will again be times when I want to pull out all my hair. However, I am confident that with what I have learned from the first time around I will be able to strike a balance between my home and professional life. For those of you who are thinking about going down this same path, here are some tips based on my experiences so far:
Do What You Love: This is so critical when starting a business, whether you have a family or not. Starting your own business takes a large amount of time and energy and, if your heart isn't in it, succeeding is much less likely. If you are able to wake up everyday excited about the work you do, it will be much less of an effort and this excitement will be obvious to your clients.
Be Flexible: In parenting and in business the ability to adapt is key. As we all know, especially with the recent changes in the economy, what is profitable now may not always be. You may have to alter your business model to adjust to the changing times. Raising a child is very similar in this way. Each developmental milestone brings new challenges and necessities. To be a "work at home parent", you will constantly have to change parts of your routine, depending on what you're working on and the needs of your child.
Get Organized: As a work at home parent time is a commodity you can't afford to waste. If you are spending it trying to find a file or searching for your child's shoes, it will not only cause stress, it's going to put you behind. To be organized is vital. To be honest this has been my biggest struggle. Organization does not come naturally to me. Like anything, though, you can develop habits to make it easier. One thing that helped me a lot was taking Priority Leaning's Personal Organization and Project Management workshop. There I learned how to make lists, prioritize tasks and many other tips on how to stay organized. I wasn't good at it in the beginning, but with Lorraine's help I practiced what I had learned and the more I used it, the more I saw results and eventually it became routine.
Try to Keep a Schedule: Although this doesn't seem true at times, kids actually like some sort of structure. When you can it is helpful to schedule certain things for the same time each day. Naps for instance, I always try to put Jillian down for a nap at the same time. She comes to expect this each day and doesn't tend to make a big fuss when naptime does arrive. There are also times when she can expect to have my undivided attention, usually in the morning after breakfast and again after her nap. Then daddy comes home and it’s time for Mommy to work. The schedule seems to help her cope when I am working because she knows that there will also be time for me to spend with her. Of course keeping to the schedule is not always possible, but it definitely helps to try and stick to it when you can.
Ask for Help: If you have an Aunt Myrtle who is a safe, trustworthy relative who would love to look after your children from time to time, let her! I am very lucky in the fact that I have a lot of great friends and family members that I can rely on to look after my daughter on occasion. This is instrumental in providing me with that little extra time needed to finish projects and connect with new clients. You also may decide to use a daycare provider or nanny one or two days a week, if your workload gets too heavy. I was able to stay home with Jillian exclusively for the first year but decided to put her in daycare one day a week after her first birthday. This allowed me to take on some extra projects and also to spend more quality time with her when she was home. I also feel like it has been a good experience for her to socialize with other children.
Take a few minutes for yourself: Although you can't waste time as a work at home parent, it's imperative that you take a few minutes for yourself when you can. Whether it's going for that three-mile run, getting your nails done or going out for a cup of coffee with a friend, taking a few minutes for yourself will rejuvenate you and release stress, which in turn will give you the energy needed to keep up with your hectic schedule.
If you have any questions or comments about this article I would love to hear from you. Please email me at email@example.com. If you are interested in my business you can go to http://www.zebralovegraphics.com for more information.
Milly Welsh is the Priority Learning webmaster and Owner/Operator of Zebralove Web Solutions, a web development company located in southern Maine.
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