Working Mom Diaries: Working From Home

I’m lucky: I’ve worked partly from home ever since my first child was born in January 2017. My company is amazing—and unusual—in that they do not demand that I am physically present in the office when I am doing my job. I wish that more employers were open to this idea. Trust me, the average employee is not looking to take sneaky advantage of the opportunity to work from home! For many of us, eliminating a stressful, time-consuming commute actually gives us more time to complete our work, and frees up time for things that help us be more productive overall, like going for a jog and making breakfast.

Work-from-home flexibility is also very important for parents. As someone with two small kids, it is a massive weight off of my mind to know that if I get a 1pm call that one of my babies is sick, I can go pick them up, bring them home, and still be on my 2pm conference call. I often have to take some PTO when home with a sick child, but I don’t have to be left completely out of the loop on my projects and lose traction on my work. Again, for the most part I think that this makes me more productive, not less.

Since we moved to Texas, however, I’ve been working from home full-time. This is partly because my boss and I were unable to establish a work space for me here before I moved, and now it’s because the company is actually in the process of switching offices! In a couple of weeks, I should have an office to go to when I need it. It’s not super convenient to my house, but it’s not ages away, and it should be a fresh new space in a part of town I haven’t had much chance to explore.

So when do you actually need to go into an office? In my case, I almost never need to. But I am finding that I sometimes want to!

Most significantly, an office outside the home gives you a less distracting place to work. Sure, offices have their own distractions: coworkers, coffee spots, overheard conversations, etc. But they don’t have curious pets, tempting household chores, and doorbells. Once I have my office, I’ll probably use it for my 2–3 most call-heavy days of work per week: days when I’d rather not have my dog barking in the background, someone knocking on my door, or a pile of laundry calling my name. There may be distractions at an office, but it’s an environment that respects when you’re on a conference call or when you’ve got your headphones on. It can be hard not to run around accomplishing little household tasks in between sessions of work, but those frequent breaks can actually make my projects take longer overall.

Plus, I miss having coworkers! Sure, I spend a lot of time on calls with people in Seattle, Atlanta, Orlando, and Provo—people I won’t see in person anyway!—but I am looking forward to meeting my Plano coworkers and adding a little more socialization back into my weekdays.

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Yes, that’s a balloon in the atrium. Kids.

But before I sign off, there’s a big reason why I’m able to work from home now: I have a home office! Our new house has a funny little rectangle in its very center, half of which is an atrium (how cool is that?!) and half of which is a small office. I have two big windows that look into the atrium, beyond which is one of the living areas and then windows to the backyard. I love how small and cozy it is and how open and filled with light it is. Like my part-work-from-home part-in-office schedule, it’s the best of both worlds.

 

Working Mom Diaries: “Society” Tells Us What?

This morning I found this post splashed all over my Facebook feed when I opened up my laptop for work.

Society to working moms:

-Go back to work 6-8 weeks after having the baby. The baby that you spent 9-10 months growing inside of your body. Go back to work before you have finished healing or have had time to bond with your baby. Keep your mind on work, and not your tiny helpless baby that is being watched and cared for by someone other than you. Make sure to break the glass ceiling and excel at your job- you can do anything a man can do! It is your job to show society this! Show the world that women can do it all. Rise to the top of your career.
-Also breastfeed for at least a year. So take 2-3 pumping breaks a day at work, but don’t let it throw you off your game or let you lose your focus.
-Also, lose that baby weight and get back in shape, as quickly and as gracefully as possible. Make sure to get 8 hours of sleep a night so you can work out, work, and care for your family. But also get up at 5 am to workout, unless you want to do it after your kids go to bed when you also need to clean the house and get life ready for the next day and you know, sleep.
-Maintain a clean, pinterest worthy house. Take the Christmas lights down. Recycle. Be Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the birthday planner, the poop doula (seriously when will this end), the finder of lost things, the moderator of fights. Be fun. Be firm. Read books. Have dance parties.
-Maintain the schedule for the entire family. Birthday parties coming up? Make sure to have presents! Ensure the kids are learning to swim, play an instrument, read, ride a bike, be a good human being, eat vegetables, wear sunscreen, drink enough water, say please and thank you. Don’t forget they need to dress as their favorite book character on Monday, and wear something yellow on Thursday. Oh it’s totally your call but most parents come in on their birthday and read to the entire class. In case nobody told you, if you have more than one kid you will need to buy new shoes approximately every other day. See also: winter coats, shorts, pants that aren’t 4 inches too short. There will never be matching socks or gloves for any member of the family, ever again.
-Remember the dog you got before you had kids? Shes getting old now and needs expensive surgery. She also need walking, a new bed, and she smells pretty bad.
-Hey! Kids need lots of doctor appointments. Monthly as babies. Every time they are sick. Specialist appointments, especially if any of them have extra needs. At least two school conferences a year. IEP meetings, if applicable. Parents night. Back to school night. Get to know your school night (what IS this). Most parents are volunteering at least once during the year, would you like to come make a craft with the kids? It will only be an hour or two of your time.
-Sorry, you are now out of vacation time because you used it all for time taking your kids to appointments or when your childcare is unavailable. You should go on vacations though. It’s good to relax and unwind from work. Makes you a better employee.
-Don’t forget the kids need healthy meals (and so do you! you are trying to lose that last 20 lbs before swim season right). That requires meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep on the weekend. But also hang out with your kids on the weekend since during the week you only get to hang out with them when they are exhausted and angry that you made the wrong kind of spaghetti for dinner.
-Date your spouse! It’s important to keep your relationship alive and fresh. Try to go out 1-2 times a month. Good, kid free time. Hire a babysitter, they charge 22+ dollars an hour in your area so make sure to take out an extra mortgage and/or work another job to be able to afford this.
-Oh hey you should have a hobby too. It’s important to have “you time”. Also be well read, keep up with the latest pop culture and tv shows, and keep an eye on politics and be able to discuss at least one of the above on the small chance you are out in public and encounter another adult necessitating small talk.
-Make sure to have friends. Social time is SO important. Surely there is an hour or two left in the week after all of the working, appointments, exercising, cooking, scheduling, cleaning, imparting lifelong morals and learning on the kids, the usual. Maybe go out after the kids are down for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Make it a healthy bite though. And you may regret that wine at your 530 am spin class.
-Self care though. SO important. See also: getting in shape. See the general doctor, the dentist (TWICE), the lady doctor. Prob need to get your eyes checked. Full body skin checks 2+ times a year (just me? okay well). Mental health too. Postpartum anxiety? But you look fine and your kids are so cute. Everyone should have a therapist. Good luck finding one that takes your insurance and has hours outside of your normal working time (out of vacation time, remember?). That leaves evening time when you want to hang out with your kids. But it’s important, so make time for it.
-Don’t wear yoga pants and a mom bun or society is going to mock you in numerous witty blog posts. Never mind that nothing fits. Going to have to get up even earlier so you have time to style your hair, wing your eye liner and search for a pair of pants that fits your new post baby (or multiple baby) shape.
-Get off your phone, turn off the TV, and enjoy your life. Enjoy your kids. THESE ARE THE GOOD TIMES make sure to love every minute of life because before you know it all of this will be in the past.

I have such mixed feelings about this post and about the many like it that I see on social media lately.

On the one hand, much of this is true. Much of what Friedberg describes I feel too. Especially the stuff about returning to work–the way America handles maternity leave is no good, and I’m not about to argue that.

On the other hand, I have a second, more complex response when I read these posts. I’m kind of sick of being told how hard my life is! Left to my own devices, I don’t feel pressure to lose weight, style my hair, keep up with pop culture or politics, feed my kids particularly healthy food, have a perfect home, manage my whole family’s schedule, or breastfeed for a year. No one in my real life–friends, family members, coworkers, our pediatrician–hold me to any of these standards at all.

I think that the vast majority of this pressure from “society” comes from the same place this post does: social media. Where else would you get the idea that you should “maintain a clean, pinterest worthy house” or “get back in shape, as quickly and as gracefully as possible.” Certainly not from the other actual moms you know in person, right? Not from your husband, unless he’s a big jerk. Ditto your coworkers and friends. When you go over to another mom’s place for a playdate, does she weigh 120 lbs, have a magazine-spread home, buy only organic health food, and have perfect hair? Probably not. This is almost definitely stuff you’re seeing online.

Maybe we can make the choice to step away from the Internet and remember that what we see online often isn’t real. It certainly isn’t reality for the average working mom. So far I only see one comment on this post that says, “Or just focus on what’s actually important to you, and don’t worry about what people on Facebook think.” But this commenter has the right idea. One of my goals in reducing my time on the Internet is to reconnect with my own true likes, dislikes, values, and goals. It can be easy to lose sight of those in the face of a media onslaught influencing our opinions. But that media is optional. You can step away.

Working Mom Diaries: Power Hour

One of my favorite things to do lately is have a power hour. I know that for some people, power hour is when they accomplish all of the nagging professional tasks that have built up over the course of the past week: answering backlogged emails, listening to voicemail, maybe going to the post office. For me, power hour is when I catch up on the household tasks that I just don’t have time for when I’m at home with one or both kids.

Once or twice a week, I come home either for an hour at lunch time, or an hour early at the end of the day. I choose days when both kids are at daycare, so I’m the only person in the house. Here’s what happens during power hour:

  1. Dishes. I empty the dishwasher, load the leftover breakfast stuff from the morning, and hand-wash bottles, pump parts, and other baby items that need special care.
  2. Fridge. I go through the fridge and throw away any older leftovers, then rinse and load the Pyrex containers into the dishwasher. I also throw away any older leftover produce or dairy items, and every week I choose a condiment or two to say goodbye to, since we seem to accumulate them at a crazy rate.
  3. Laundry. We have laundry going pretty much all of the time, because I prefer to do lots of small loads of laundry rather than a few huge batches. I de-wrinkle whatever is left in the dryer, fold it, put it away, and start drying whatever is left in the washing machine. I start a new load of laundry if any of the baskets are even halfway full (aside from my husband’s–he does his own laundry).
  4. Pick up. There are always clothes, toys, and other random pieces of crud lying on the floors after even one weekday morning, much less two or three. I go through the whole house and get everything off the floors and put away.
  5. Beds. I make the beds. I try to do this every day, not just on power hour days, but it’s especially convenient when I’m by myself.
  6. Floors. This is the most important aspect of power hour, because when you have two little kids and a dog, you can only really get the floors done when no one is home. I vacuum the living room, kitchen, and dining room thoroughly, and sometimes I run the dustbuster on the living room furniture too.
  7. Mail. Finally, I handle any mail that has built up. I throw away stuff we don’t need, write and stamp any checks that need to be sent, and set aside anything that my husband needs to handle.
  8. Bath. The best part of power hour! I end it with a soak on the tub, since the house is empty for once.

So far this is the best hack I’ve found for keeping the house livable during a busy week. It just can’t all be done without finding a way to add another hour or two to the week!

Working Mom Diaries: Back to the Office & the Second Week(end) from Hell

February 11th was my first day back in my office in person. And it went so well! While I was gone my desk was moved to an even better location, and the nursing mothers’ room, which I think I’m the only person in the whole office using, was repainted and got new furniture. I trained a new content manager on my first day back, and enjoyed seeing all of my coworkers again.

Our baby spent Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at daycare and had no problems at all. I was worried because he often refuses to take a bottle at home, but in a new setting with new people, he ate well and didn’t put up a fuss. The girls in the infant room are very sweet and send me frequent updates and at least one cute picture every day.

Things did go downhill, but luckily not until Friday afternoon. My husband picked our toddler up from daycare and was told that within the past hour he had started crying and had a fever again. I assumed that his ear infection must have returned, but when he vomited twice overnight and woke up on Saturday with a 102.3 fever, I took him to the doctor. That seemed a little high for an ear infection or a stomach virus.

The doctor tested him for strep, flu, and diabetes of all things, because apparently it can present that way in children. His blood sugar was fine, but he tested positive for flu, and for Influenza B of all things, which only 4-5% of flu-positive people are getting this year! Because we have an infant at home, we were immediately prescribed Tamiflu for both kids, and they’ve been on it since Saturday around noon. It seems to have worked like magic, because by Sunday evening our toddler was fever-free and energetic, if still grumpy, and the baby has had no flu symptoms at all.

So it’s been another weekend of divide-and-conquer, keeping the kids as separated as possible and being trapped in the house since we don’t want to spread this around. Everyone will be back to work and daycare on Tuesday, since thanks to Tamiflu no one will be contagious anymore.

As my mom keeps reminding me, having two kids 22 months apart is an immersive parenting experience! We are learning a hell of a lot.

Working Mom Diaries: The (First) Week From Hell

Last Wednesday afternoon, now a full week ago, our toddler had had a regular old toddler cold for several days. It had just reached the “hacking cough” stage, and my husband was out of town overnight. When I walked in the door of his daycare facility, I heard the ominous words, “We were just about to call you.” He was running a 101.6 fever and was clearly miserable.

If you know me as a parent, then you know that my most crippling fear is that my kids will get sick as really small babies. So being solo with a feverish toddler and a 10-week-old brought me close to a panic attack: my hands went numb, I started sweating, and I knew I’d need help. I called my husband and told him he needed to come home first thing in the morning, no waiting for the weather to warm up.

In the middle of the night I woke to another ominous sound: my newborn coughing.

That kicked off several days of doctors’ appointments and anxiety so bad that I’m sure it took years off of my life. To make a long story short, our toddler developed an ear infection (his first) that’s being treated with antibiotics and responding well, and our baby apparently caught the original cold virus despite our absolutely fanatical hand-washing, disinfecting, and keeping-the-toddler-away measures. Everyone is now on the mend: the newborn is still coughing and while it sounds absolutely terrible, it’s not harmful and he’s now probably out of the woods. He was seen three times in the past week to have his oxygen saturation and lungs checked, and everything was fine every time, so at this point it’s expected that he is fighting off this virus without help.

I learned a few things from this episode:

  1. Having two sick kids home with you for four full days is awful.
  2. Parents of chronically ill and/or seriously ill children are heroes and I don’t know how they do it.
  3. I need to work on my anxiety about this stuff, because this will not be the last time this same scenario plays out in our house.

With two little kids who will both soon be in daycare (one full-time, one part-time), we’re going to get our fair share of illnesses, and I can’t keep reacting this way. Based on a friend’s recommendation, I ordered an anxiety and phobia workbook and am going to start sorting through my issues with this. On the one hand, I won’t deal with a sick newborn again because he’ll be twelve weeks old in two days! On the other hand, he very well might become ill again before he is six months old. He might become seriously ill at some point, for all we know. And I need to be able to handle any of those scenarios without becoming a total anxious wreck. My mom and husband were more worried about me than about the baby: that’s how bad it was.

We were also really lucky. It wasn’t the flu (knock on wood), it wasn’t RSV (knock on wood), and both of our kids are extremely healthy and therefore able to recover from this type of thing. We’re also lucky enough that we both took two full days off of work to care for our kids. We didn’t lose any money (although we may have earned some gray hairs). We were able to take our kids to the doctor three times without worrying about the cost, how we would get there, or how we would make time for the appointments.

I have so much to be thankful for. I want to reframe this kind of thing that way, and try not to indulge my anxieties too much.