So You Want to Work from Home: A WAHM’s Guide to Making it Work

It was the best of jobs. It was the worst of jobs. It was the age of beautiful park play dates. It was the age of agonizing toddler tantrums. It was the epoch of “we can have it all” feminism. It was the epoch of too many plates spinning wildly out of control. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.

In short, it was my life as a self-employed mom working from home.

For the mom who feels trapped in her 40+ hour a week work schedule and would like more flexibility for her family, an escape from outrageous monthly childcare bills, and an opportunity to wear stretchy pants while sipping lattes with her mom pals, staying home with her kids may sound like a dream.

To the mom staying home 24 hours a day with her little angels (who, by the way, are not always angels) who finds herself longing for a break from the monotony of motherhood, a meaningful mental challenge, or a little more wiggle room in the family budget so she can actually afford those lattes, a 9-5 to may sound like a sweet vacation.

Enter the logical compromise: working from home!

It’s the best of both world’s, right? You live your work life during nap times and those blocks of structured, educational, self-directed play time that you’ve strategically arranged into your child’s day while leaving behind the restraint of office hours and pantyhose (do people still wear pantyhose?) in favor of park play dates, library story times, and all the cuddles. You weigh what you’ll save in childcare against what you’ll lose from saying goodbye to full-time employment and set out to make up the difference: boss babe style … or freelance style or selling your plasma style–I mean, whatever works, right?

But while it is a great solution for many families, it isn’t always quite as simple as it sounds. Whether you’re looking for that dream job that will allow you to close your budget gap by freelancing for a few hours a week or are considering starting your own business from home, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.


1. Define your “why.”

Before setting out on a work-from-home venture, understand why you are pursuing this option for both yourself and your family. You may be looking for a creative, challenging outlet for your skills–not that teaching tiny humans how to use spoons isn’t valuable, but… you know, sometimes you need a little more stimulation. I get it. Or you may have some serious budget goals that you are trying to meet in order to have more flexibility with your family.

There will be times when you will have to make decisions about where to invest your time and money in this venture, and it is essential to have a family vision for your goals to help guide your decision-making.

2. Set your boundaries.

Once you have a clear mission behind your work, it is easier to set some healthy boundaries. One of the challenges of working from home is that your personal and business lives can quickly overlap without the clear zones that a separate space for work and home create.

If your goal in transitioning to working from home is to spend more time with your family, but you find yourself clicking away on your phone for business most of the day, you may need to define clear office hours. If your goal is to support your family income, but you find yourself regularly investing more than you’re making, you may need to re-examine your business plan and budget strategy. If you are pursuing a work of passion, you may run into frustration when the demands of full-time parenting inhibit your ability to grow and advance as you’d like, in which case you  may have to re-evaluate your home-work balance.

One of the beauties of WAHM life is flexibility, but defining limits for both work and home demands is good, healthy, and OKAY. 

3. Budget for help.

24/7 parenting IS a full-time gig. Pre-Kids Me imagined all the things I would accomplish each day as an at-home parent, but Real Mom Me knows that I’m doing good if everyone is wearing clean-ish clothes and no one has smeared pudding on the walls lately.

The truth is that children are unpredictable, and if your business relies on their regular nap time or quiet, content play, you may find yourself, um, quickly losing your sanity disappointed. Whether it’s hiring a housekeeper or virtual assistant, budgeting for more prepared meals, or planning for childcare, remember that no one can do it all.

No, not even you.

A general rule is to specify the tasks that your unique skills and abilities are needed to complete. Set these aside as your responsibilities and see what’s left that could be shared with other family members or accomplished by hiring help. Reflect on your priorities as a family and determine where your time is best spent and what areas may be worth hiring a little assistance. 

4. Frame your expectations realistically.

Here’s a truth that should set you free: your version of motherhood doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

Really.

Your BFF who keeps her house spotless and has a daily family schedule complete with structured learning times and basket-weaving classes? Good for her! But you are not her.

Your cousin who works a flashy 9-5 and wears power suits except when she’s hitting the gym for her daily spin class and has her kids enrolled in an elite Harvard-bound preschool program? Awesome! But you’re not her either.

Motherhood looks different for everyone, and it can be especially hard to feel like you’re doing it “right” when you’ve got one foot in the working mom world and one foot in the at-home mom club. But that’s one thing I love about the way we do things: our family has the freedom to create our own version of the work-home balance, and it’s not static–we can usually make adjustments when needed.

Some days that means we spend all day swinging at the park and building train tracks in the living room.

Some days that means the kids watch too much TV cuddled up on piles of unfolded laundry while I frantically type away at emails I should have answered last week.

Some days we end nap time early (aka the worst) to meet hubby or the babysitter for kid trade-off just in time for me to make it to a business appointment. Or get creative with the menu to help squeeze our budget while we wait for a contract to come through. Or use Family Night to set up an assembly line of business materials. Or celebrate “take your kids to work” day on a few extra times that year week.

My house is rarely clean and my office space is spilling over with papers I wish magic elves would come organize for me. I spend a lot of post-bedtime hours squeezing in a full day of work and wondering exactly how long I can go without mopping before we start sticking to the floors.

It may not look like any other mom’s routine, but it works for us, and I know my boys are learning some amazing lessons about hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and girl power as they watch my WAHM journey.

So find the balance that works for your situation and know that you have the option of making changes if the time is right.

5. Prepare for the long game.

You might be fortunate enough to find an employer who will provide you a reliable income for your work from home, but most of my WAHM friends are using their areas of expertise to build their own product- or service-based businesses. If you’re considering this route, remember that these opportunities don’t explode overnight. It takes a long time to build your business–typically 3-5 years to before you really start to see a profit–and along the way you’ll be continually refining your idea of what the ideal work-home balance means for you and your family as you decide where your time, money, and effort is best spent.

Whatever working from home looks like for you, it’s always best to plan financially and emotionally for a transition period as you begin any new venture.

6. Find your market.

So you’ve got a new business plan. It’s awesome and (super bonus) is going to make you a fortune and solve all of your family’s problems. Time to let all your friends and family know about your venture and get them on board…

Those crickets you hear may be the sound of the response from your “warm market” (people you know personally) who are honestly so over-saturated with a constant stream of advertising from companies big and small that they may be less than thrilled to have their personal friends turning into a walking billboard for some cute, little start-up venture.

Even if you have the world’s best idea, it can sometimes be hard for those closest to you to truly view your work as a business and not a side hobby you do to fill the endless free hours of SAHM life (’cause we all know how much free time you have–HA!), so be prepared to get out there and find those who are as excited about what you have to offer as you are.

7. Haters gonna hate.

You know what? You can’t be everyone’s Chick-fil-A sauce. That’s why they have a dispenser full of choices: everyone likes a little different flavor. You’re going to bring your own flavor to whatever work you do, and that will resonate with YOUR audience.

It’s hard to not take individual responses personally when you are the main engine behind your work, but know that rejection is often part of the package and be prepared to bounce back. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your dream (but who aren’t afraid to give you the hard advice, too), and know that whatever happens, you are doing amazing things by pursuing the path that is best for you and your family. 

8. Live life in seasons.

This is what we’ve found that works for us today, but my work-home balance has shifted several times over the years. It allows me to keep working and growing in my field of expertise but provides more flexibility and time together than my previous full-time job allowed. Tomorrow the needs may change, and we are prepared to take each season as it comes and make adjustments to our working lives accordingly.

And this is the real gift of being a work-at-home mom: knowing that I can use my skills and expertise to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others with the freedom to make the choices that are best for me and for my family at this time.

There is no easy way to be a mom, and in some ways WAHMs share the best AND the worst of both worlds. But whether you spend most of your work hours at home or the office, aren’t we all just trying to do the best for our kids with the opportunities and resources we have? It’s not always easy, but it is definitely worth it.

Cheers to you mamas for making it work, whatever way you do it.

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