Working at Home: 3 Danger Signs for WAHMs

For some it’s a dream, for others a necessity, but it can be tricky to find an ideal situation for work-at-home moms and they don’t usually mind. There isn’t much about parenting that’s ideal, after all. For the record, Carol Brady had the ideal set-up. I keep waiting for my Alice to come to cook, clean and offer sage bits of wisdom while I do a minimum amount of work throughout the day and have meaningful conversations with my happy, well-adjusted children, but so far she’s not showing. For those of us living in the real world, be on the lookout for common problems as a WAHM.

You plan to replace your income by working at home.

The only way this works is if you’re taking your current job home with the same salary and benefits or if you have spend some time previously working both jobs to get the at-home one fully ramped up. Remember that replacing an income also means replacing your benefits and being able to pay your taxes in full, so you actually have to make a bit more than you did working in the office to have an equal paycheck at home. It is possible to bring in this amount, but for the vast majority of new freelancers, it doesn’t happen quickly without a lot of work ahead of time building networks and establishing the business before taking the plunge.

You don’t have a support system.

There isn’t a tougher job than being a good parent and if you’re shaking your head thinking I’ve never tried YOUR job, I’d wager you’ve never been awakened by a five-year-old vomiting on your upper body only to have your two-year-old make diarrhea half in the potty and half out a few moments later. (At this point other mommies are chuckling and the nonparents are cringing in disgust – it’s like scotch, an acquired taste).

If you plan to work at home on a full-time basis, or even on a part-time basis, a support system is critical. Many work-at-home parents use childcare full or part-time to ensure they have time to work before the kids are school age, while others work at night or on the weekends while their partner watches the kids. Even if you have hours to parent and hours to work, having a support system to help with household chores can give you the energy to keep up the insane pace.

You don’t know what you’re doing.

Parents, especially parents of newborns or more than one child, have very little time to waste. In all businesses the planning stages are as important as the actual time spent working, but for parents working at home, planning and organizing are even more important because there is simply less time to waste.

If you’re already tooling around on this blog you’re probably getting organized or have been, but if you’re planning some sort of vague scheme of doing a little this or that you heard about from a friend, go back to the drawing board and build yourself a real business plan, even if it’s one for a very-part-time gig that earns a few hundred a month. When you treat freelancing as a real business, you have the option to grow and expand later if you choose and you’ll spend very little time kicking yourself for wasting time in a field or project you realize later you never should have taken in the first place.

Freelancing or any work-at-home job can be very successful for parents, but unlike many other individuals working at home, parents have to plan around the needs of their children first. This often reduces work hours and calls for far greater flexibility in projects and household demands. To be a successful work-at-home parent, be sure you have a business plan and a realistic view of where you are now and where you plan to be. Then the only thing left to do is make it work for your family. Good luck!

Profile image for Rebecca Garland
Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

13 thoughts on “Working at Home: 3 Danger Signs for WAHMs”

  1. Rebecca, I love your straightforward advice.

    You brought up something that has been on my mind: childcare. I don’t want my child going out of the home while I work, but working nights takes the time away from my husband so I just can’t do that. Have you, or do you know anyone who has, successfully brought a sitter / nanny to the house and managed to 1. get work done without overwhelming mommy guilt 2. still be the most active person in the child’s life / raising the child.

    I’m pregnant. I’ll be giving birth to my first child while my husband is deployed. I thought I would just cut back work hours when the baby needs me, but 1. newborn baby always needs mommy and 2. I can’t just halt my business.

    As the neat freak / time management guru, I’ve been trying to figure out if I could manage to use the 6:30 – 8:45 time when my husband is back from PT to work, rather than sleep…either being quiet enough for the baby to sleep or having him take care of the baby during those hours, and then adding in hours when I can.

    Your two cents, oh blog mama?

    • Hey Jessie,

      Congratulations on the new addition! A couple of notes from my life that I’m hoping can help.

      I started working from home six months ago after a series of events forced me to quit my job waitressing. Really, it was a kick in the pants to do something more suitable for someone of my educational background. Writing had always come easily to me, so when I figured out I could write to support my little family, I was elated.

      The problem is that I’m a single mom of a two year old. She’s the light of my life and the center of my universe. At first, I thought there was no way I’d get a chance to work. However, with the help of a laptop, I quickly realized that I have plenty of opportunities to steal time to write. Mealtime? Done. Naptime? Done. The hour and a half where she watches The Princess and the Frog for the BILLIONTH time? Done and done. She’s up by eight am and down by nine pm. That gives me an hour to myself on both ends. Tally it up, and I’ve got eight hours to work.

      I’ll be honest, no risk I work all eight hours. There are things called showers and household chores that I can only ignore at my own peril. Usually, though, I can get four to five hours of work in. While it was initially a process of trial and error, Ava and I are now in a groove that allows for daytime Mommy-Daughter trips to the park and tickle wars AND Mommy work-time.

      You’ve got a newborn. You probably won’t be able to catch some time to work while the baby’s eating, as you’ll be the one occupied with doing the feeding. Nor do I recommend forgoing the precious time you get to sleep for work (best advice my mom ever gave me: you sleep when baby sleeps). Your best bet? Until you and baby get used to each other, take a quick break. Save up now, get your affairs in order, and set it up so that you can do a minimal amount of work for a couple of months to keep your business floating.

      There is no perfect formula for balance, because everyone’s life is shaped a little different. You figure it out as you go. A nanny may be part of your equation, but it’s not necessary if you don’t want to do it. Best of luck!

      Oh, and great post Rebecca!

      • @Lauren – I think you’re spot on with the advice to take some time to just adjust to all of this madness. I remember reeling after my first was born at the loss of time I experienced. Then, when the second was born, I was amazed I’d ever had time at all – I couldn’t remember what it looked like!

        I think your post brings up a valid point as well about the laptop. Using a laptop for bits of work here and there can absolutely create hours in your day – especially if you have a single child – but your productivity with a laptop also depends on the type of work you’re doing. A few blog posts can be cranked out in an hour here or an hour there – a full company website or white paper will need a much more concentrated time slot. At least in my experience.

        This is why I really just moved solely to working at night. I do administrative tasks during the day on my laptop, but any “real” writing is done at night when I can focus completely without distractions. This might also be because I have two little ones clamoring for my attention constantly during waking hours and no nap times in sight these days. 🙂

  2. Well, you didn’t ask Jessie, but here’s my two cents! 🙂

    First, kudos to you with dealing with pregnancy and having a newborn while he is deployed. I have the utmost respect for you!

    Second, I also thought that I could continue to work from home and keep my son when he was born. What I found was that when I was working, I felt guilty for not spending time with him, and when I was spending time with him, I felt guilty that my business to do list was piling up. When he was five months old, I put him in daycare full-time (M-F, 9a-5p). It has definitely helped with being able to get my work done and I really treasure my time with him because I don’t see him 24/7 now.

    However, we recently decided we don’t want him to be in daycare as much. My husband’s job situation is changing so we are cutting him back to only 2 days a week in daycare. I’m hoping that will be the right balance for me/us.

    I know when my parents (or his parents) have been here during the week and we kept him home from daycare, it has been very hard to work. I would be upstairs trying to work and would hear him cry and wonder what was wrong…or hear him laugh and wonder what he thought was so funny that I was missing. It was almost harder than for him to be out of the house all together.

    When the baby arrives, I think you will figure out what is right for you and your family. My son is nine months old and we’re still trying to find the magical combination of work/parent/marriage/life.

    • Stacey, thanks so much for your two cents!

      I just can’t stomach the idea of daycare personally, both for the cost and for the fact that someone else is with my child. I’m overly paranoid that they’d be cruel to my child and I also don’t like that “parenting” styles would be mixed. Imagine that, a time management writer and a perfectionist!!

      I don’t know what will work for me, but I think that my plan will be to work less. Honestly, if I keep building my platform and do that consistently I feel like work will come to me. Not that I won’t market, but I probably won’t put 4+ hours per day in. I got a smartphone after Rebecca suggested it so that I don’t need my laptop to work.

      My husband is going to be very helpful, but also going to work a lot so I don’t want to saddle him with too much. I know that he’ll help as much as he can.

      One of the things I’ve considered doing (when the baby is born) is hiring a local college student to come over to my house and do some assistant work for me, helping me get everything but the client work done. I will have to find that “magical combination of work/parent/marriage/life” like you said, Stacey.

      I’m also wanting to start a group of mom writers (and hopefully Army wives, too) and I thought we could do shift work-half of us stay with the kids while half of us get some work done, then switch, and meet up every so often to do that. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet because I’m so busy building my business so that I’ll have something to work on.

      Thanks again for your input, Stacey!

  3. Hi Jessie –

    I’ve never had an assistant or any help over at my house to help with the writing or for childcare, so I can’t speak from first-hand experience there. I did have a friend who did something like that when her oldest was about 4 months old – baby and college sitter played upstairs while she worked downstairs for about four hours every other day I think. It worked well for her. I would have preferred to spend the money on someone to clean my house, but then I had a totally different situation with my first than she did.

    Don’t panic, but it’s almost impossible to plan what you’re going to do right now, so don’t stress yourself out trying. These are from my personal experience, and we know everyone is different, but just a few ideas on why it’s impossible to plan or schedule anything for a newborn:

    1. Yours will almost certainly not be, but my first was colicky. Not only was he fussy all of the time, he would only let me or my mother hold him and we had to be up and moving for almost all of his waking hours. Otherwise he would scream. He lived in a Baby Bjorn for the first months of his life and even then, closeness was not enough – I had to be on the move all the time. I couldn’t even put him down to go potty – he went with me in the carrier (TMI, I know, but that’s the real world of parenting) He screamed with anyone else, including my husband, who just handed him back to me after my five minute shower every other day (if you can even call it that.)

    With a situation like that, there is no childcare option, and he would never go with anyone but my mother anyhow. He was over the worst of it by about 2 or 3 months, but those first few months were intense and I carried 98.85% of it alone (My hubby just stayed out of the way and took care of what he could with the house and food to help out.)

    Fortunately, even though he was intense and always fussy during his waking hours, he slept a lot. So there was time to work during his naptime – and that was 50 minutes every other hour for about a month or so and for 20-120 minute blocks after that. By the time he was a toddler he was taking a 3 hour nap every afternoon which was all the time I needed most days to get my full amount of work done (I’ve always been part-time.)

    2. My second was a dream baby, but time was still limited – he slept less. So long as he was swaddled he was content to sit and watch his older brother hard at work. My oldest was still the needier of the two, so I couldn’t work while they were both awake, but I could when my youngest was the only one I was trying to care for. He would sit in the baby papasan with his little arms swaddled and let me work for twenty minutes at a time. I still found that naptimes were the best time to work for the first few months of his life as well as newborn babies go to bed so late anyhow and you’ll need the sleep at night.

    3. Breastfeeding (sorry Jenn!) can mess with your entire world. A newborn can nurse every two hours and take up to 45 minutes to eat. That means that if you nurse at 8am, you’re done about 8:45 and ready to go again at 10am. This can last for weeks until your baby grows and starts spacing feedings. If you pump to let your husband feed, you still have to pump on a regular interval (while he’s bottle feeding the baby) to keep up your milk supply. So again, you’re back to naps – even if you have someone in the house to watch your baby while you work, you’ll be working at choppy intervals to allow for nursing.

    Bottom line?
    It is virtually impossible to work a full six or eight hours a day with a newborn baby without sending him out for childcare of some kind, but it’s actually easier with a newborn who sleeps most of the day than it is with a slightly older baby.

    Leisure time, unfortunately including time with your husband in the evening, will become a luxury and to make work fit with mothering without sending baby off with some form of childcare in the home or out of it, that leisure time will be sacrificed at least to some extent. Just chalk it up there with other luxuries like body lotion, full nights of sleep and taunt stomach muscles.

    The only childcare I wound up using for mine when they were little was a Mother’s Day Out program through my church. I knew the ladies in each of their rooms, it was 9-2 unlike a full-day day care, and it was a very close-knit community. I sent the little ones 2 days a week, and more often than not I used that time for grocery shopping, errands, household things and showering than actually working.

    I just found that naptimes were my best shot for getting work done in the first 3 to 4 months followed by the time after they went to sleep. Another friend used the time in the morning (she worked from 5am to 8am before hers work up), but regardless, it’s messy and you’ll just have to wing it for a bit until you figure out how your baby plans to let you use your time.

  4. Ladies, you have given me some excellent advice, and I think I have a few ideas about what I can do now to be ready then. My husband is deploying July 6, and my due date is November 18. So, month after next when my husband is gone, I’ll work more on weekends to stock up on blog content. For the first weeks, I think I’ll let my blog go on auto-pilot and do my client work in advance. That way, I can focus on “working the new plan out with baby.” I really, really appreciate all of the advice and I look forward to more work-at-home parent posts so that we can all break out the discussions again 🙂

    • I think you’re spot on. You have time now that you can control and dictate at will. That will go away the day your baby is born (scary, but it’s for a great reason – you’ll see.) Having as much done ahead of time as possible will give you time to get the first few weeks of motherhood under your belt before you ease back in.

      I wish I’d been able to do that with my second, but finishing a masters and finishing the school year made it impossible. I was back at work the day I was home from the hospital, but I’d at least done the motherhood thing once before. (I wouldn’t wish that one anyone, btw – it was a pretty stressful time.)

      The birth of your first is earth-shattering in countless ways, and you’ll need time to heal, to catch up on some much needed rest and to watch your baby’s eyelashes appear (It’s thrilling!). If you are able to push things off for a bit by planning ahead – do it. Just don’t push them so far off you’re not able to get back in easily when you’re ready. Not having the pressure of work will let you see opportunities in your new routine and lifestyle more easily as well.

      Oh, and don’t tell your husband, but there will likely be a time or two that you enjoy just being able to be Mommy and baby. It’s an intense bond and I know that the time the two of us were alone (which was often thanks to that colic) were absolutely the sweetest and most memorable. Shhhh….

  5. Rebecca, I just revisited your post, Secrets of a Pregnant Freelancer ) and I commented on it the day I got my positive result-which, as it turns out, was a month after my conception date 🙂

    You’re providing and instigating some much-needed information and discussion about things I want to learn more about: this time management writer smells a need for time management for the work at home parent advice. Anyone got any recommendations about resources for information? I’ve been thinking about how I might organize all the information I learn, and I might be starting a new blog. Because that’s what I need, more work. Hah…

  6. Rebecca, Your last paragraph is gold. When I started building my freelance writing business, I had the idea that I would have more time to work on it than I realized. My 2-year-old (she’s my only one) keeps me hoppin’! My hat’s off to all you WAHMs with more than one kid.

    So with my business plan, I had to go back to the drawing board once, then again to tailor my work schedule to meet my family’s needs. As my family’s needs evolve, I’m sure I’ll have to change my strategy again.

    I just want to encourage mothers to not feel badly if they have to alter their business plan over and over again. It shows that you are trying to put your family first and build/maintain a successful business second. We WAHMs have our priorities straight!

    • I’m right there with you Terez,

      I think all advice should come with a warning label “This advice for freelancers was created by someone with eighteen hours of uninterrupted time in his day.” That way the moms and dads who are lucky to find two or three hours in a row for uninterrupted work won’t be gnashing teeth and pulling out their hair that they aren’t seeing the same miraculous results that can come from eight hours of work in the prime time of the day – much less twelve hours worked at will with a two hour work-out in between to break it up a bit. LOL

      WAHM work at home to put family first. There’s sacrifices involved and the rules of the game change a bit. Can you still win? Absolutely! You might just get there at a different pace or with a bit of last night’s scrambled eggs wiped on the bottom of your shirt. But hey – clean clothes and workouts are SO overrated.


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