7 realities of a Work At Home Mum

The reality of being a work at home mum (WAHM) or mum in business is quite different to what I imagined it to be.

I always knew I’d like to work from home after I had children. “Do my own thing, work around my baby!” I used to say confidently before I became a mother. Boy was I deluded!

What does a WAHM really do? Well between a dozen trips to the toilet each day, requests for food, videos and playgrounds I try to maintain a part time income along with my self confidence and self esteem!

These are 7 common scenarios that have happened to me over and over in the last three years, and some tips to hopefully help other parents prepare for the journey of working from home:

1. People won’t understand what you do

When I tell people I run two businesses from home, everyone is immediately interested to know exactly “what do I do” when working from home. I get a couple of blank looks when I share that I’m a freelance writer and feel compelled to explain that I “work for newspapers and magazines” which is still a vague idea for a lot of people. My other business as the founder of Project Mum is a lot easier to understand it seems.

Tip: Practice your ‘elevator pitch’ so you can explain what you do when the question arises.

2. It’s not as easy as people think

Wow! Aren’t you lucky to be able to work from home? Yes. Yes, I am. But before you imagine it to be a cushy gig with lots of productivity happening – stop right there! My day is made up of attending playgroups, trips to the grocery store, to the park, coming home and thinking up different foods to serve for lunch then dinner. I usually run my businesses with Playschool and Thomas the Tank blaring in the background with various commentary and interruptions thrown in by my three-year-old.

There isn’t a quiet space in the house to think while I work or a time when my son didn’t insist on sitting on my lap wanting to thump away at the keyboard, or cuddle, or need to go to the toilet right when inspiration struck me.

Tip: Don’t expect everything will go to plan, roll with it and work out the best times you can be productive (like, nap time).

3. Work hours are.. flexible

Before I know it, the day has rushed past me and it’s already time to think about dinner. Sometimes when I’m really organised I know what I’ll be cooking three days of the week and have already shopped for it. It’s another few hours before there’s peace and quiet when no-one is demanding the pleasure of my company and I can work – usually past 11pm.

I have stayed up all hours of the night to meet deadlines because of a sick child during the day or simply because I am sleep deprived and couldn’t function during daylight hours.

Tip: Set yourself some weekly tasks to complete but be flexible. Distractions will happen.

4. You will become obsessed with outside communication

I have become surgically attached to my phone and apps and most times I resent it. The fact is I do 50% of my work using my phone and I’ve built a habit of checking my email every half hour which is not at all productive. Something in my brain is now conditioned to do this and I cannot switch this impulse off!

Tip: Try sticking to one task at a time and set times to check your emails so you aren’t constantly checking.

5. You may go stir-crazy

Working from home can get monotonous; getting together with another WAHM for a playdate while hoping our offspring will be happy to play with each other enough for you to get some work done usually results in the same gig repeated in someone else’s house too. Maybe it’s the terrible threes but it’s simply too noisy to talk or think. Our conversations usually centre around how much we are doing (which we are, I assure you I’m not imagining it!), how many ideas we have and how much time we have in comparison to do it all.

Tips: Playdates can help break the monotony but be prepared for a different kind of chaos. Try using this time to vent or brainstorm new ideas or strategies that will work with your business rather than getting peace and quiet.

6. It can get lonely

I won’t lie, the isolation of working from home sometimes erodes your self confidence and motivation to achieve things. It feels like you’re fighting against a tidal wave which is threatening to drown you any time. Because there’s no quiet time or reflection, sometimes these feelings tend to build up and then, at least in my case, will literally explode with even the most minor thing setting me off. I’ve learnt that I need to hit rock bottom in order to come back up. The more I avoid this part the worse I feel.

Tip: Don’t let these feelings build up. Talk to your partner and friends, join a working group (online communities are great for this!) and vent away. You may meet great people this way and find new ways to work better.

7. Partners don’t always understand

The ‘other half’ in the relationship doesn’t always understand the overwhelming nature of what we do. They do one job and come home too ‘physically exhausted’ to do much more, while I’m doing the equivalent of three work shifts every day non-stop, still going from morning until midnight. Plus they seem to think we have all this ‘free time’ in which to make phone calls – to organise insurance, airlines, hospitals for quotes, take the car in for a service – all with a child in tow.

Tip: If you want to vent and need sympathy, find a good friend on the side to talk to. They should be encouraging, sympathetic and will know exactly what to say to make you feel better.

The reality of a work-at-home mum is far from glamorous and a lot more hard work compared to the perception. Yes, while we are in charge of our own hours, we are not always in full control or working when we are most productive. Our family and running the house often takes precedence because, well, there’s no one else to do the hard yards and that’s the reality of a work from home mum.

Rashida Tayabali is the founder of Project Mum, a project matching service that connects growing businesses to skilled mums for short and long term projects. She helps solo business owners gain clarity and focus in their business through one-on-one coaching sessions. If you’re a small business owner seeking focus and clarity in your business, or need help in making the leap to self employed and not sure how to begin, register for her brand new coaching sessions by emailing contact@projectmum.com.au.

Article edited by Sian Edwards