Learned Behavior

Around 7ish every morning, my freshly awoken daughter usually makes her way to my office upstairs, wiping sleep from her eyes and carrying a plush toy. She always asks if we can spend some time together, and while I’m usually an hour or so into my work day, I try to pause and give her some time. Breaks are healthy. :)I noticed after about a week of this routine, she’s started showing up at my office more often. Truth be told, she’s always itching for reasons to go in there, and I can’t blame her for that. My office is chocked full of stuff a toddler would like to get into – markers, a glass angel figurine, paper, pens, a stapler, a turquoise file cabinet, a vase full of brightly colored artificial flowers, etc. (my office is my own personal paradise). But lately, when she shows up at my office, it’s with one of her wooden chairs, her play “computer” and a dolly that she’s lovingly referring to as her baby that day. 
She will plug away on her pretend laptop, scribble pretend notes on scratch paper, pick up her “baby” and sing to it, then gently tell it that she has a meeting to go to, and talk to her friends on her toy cell phone. 
She said to me, “I’m doing work just like you, mommy!” and I must say, my heart was touched. 

From last year. We like to sing along to the Frozen soundtrack when we do…just about everything.😏


First and foremost, our children learn how to act based on observing our behaviors, and it seems that I’ve been able to pass on some behaviors I was hoping my children would pick up, specifically, my daughter. I want her to see her mom as a working woman. 

I want her to see that it’s possible to be a career woman, and be a family woman, and be happy maintaining both. Now, don’t get me wrong – this is not my attempt to control her destiny in any way. She is free to choose what her adulthood will look like when the time comes. If she wants to be a stay at home mommy, she’s free to. She could marry a rich man and spend her days shopping and lounging (how nice, right?!). She could decide to work full time while attending night school to become a doctor or lawyer. She could also put herself through grad school while taking care of children of her own. I will support all of that as long as it’s what she wants because I love her. I also feel a sense of pride in getting to show her one version of womanhood that I’ve found to be respectable and commendable. 

While I was out grocery shopping with Adrian this week, another mom approached me as I was piling my selected goods onto the checkout conveyor belt with my 3-month old strapped onto my chest. “I’m impressed that you’re out shopping with your baby!” she told me. I thanked her for that compliment, and we chitchatted about diaper deals and managing outings with kiddos. Later that same day, as I was talking to my husband about future plans for our family, he reiterated his appreciation for the energy I bring to our home.

I think all moms can list at least 50 tasks that are just everyday responsibilities that have to be maintained in order for life to go on at home. What we don’t always do is step back to take in the scope of all these tasks. We chauffeur, we cook, we comfort and cuddle, we wake up in the middle of the night, we wipe noses, we wash and fold, and many of us do these things while also working jobs full time. Some of us even work those full time jobs out of the same homes we work so hard to keep clean and inviting (like me!).

Make no mistake, our children see us doing these things. They may not always express their gratitude (just two days ago, Kennedy told me to go away while I was dropping her off with her grandmother 🙄) but they do take notice of us tucking them in at night, waking them up in the morning, and always being there. My daughter sees me working and deems it cool and important, which I take as a positive step in building her identity. When she gets older, I can let her know about the time I spent in school to be able to work the job I have, and hopefully that will inspire her, too. 

I like this version of motherhood on me. It’s been a crazy ride to adjust to the growth of our family while also returning to work, but I feel like myself doing this. I also feel like I’m putting my best foot forward in setting an example for my children, who will hopefully come to conceptualize womanhood as including lots of things beyond just beauty or homemaking – it’s also intelligence, multitasking, and serving. 

The Work-at-Home-Mom Balancing Act

My being able to work from home at this time was one of the greatest things to happen to our family, as well as one of the worst things to happen to my personal management. Because Kennedy is still very young, it’s nice to be able to stay home with her and not have to shuttle her off to a daycare center or babysitter. Especially with the enormously high costs of such services, my staying home with our daughter is a huge savings. However, working from home with a 16-month old is not the stress-free cakewalk that many imagine. I even had misconceptions about it before I actually started doing it.

When I began my teaching career nearly four years ago, I held two jobs: one in an on-ground classroom, and one grading papers in an online classroom. I learned very quickly that time management was key to getting things done efficiently with both jobs, especially the work from home position. For the first year that I worked from home, I was routinely working around the clock, putting in way too many hours than what I was being paid for. I’d experience feelings of guilt when I wasn’t working, and I’d fill any free time I had with completing work. It was ridiculous. Once I adjusted to the job more, the amount of hours I’d spend on it became less, but despite these growing pains, I wasn’t working efficiently.

As I moved into my second year of teaching, I decided to take charge of my approach to my work from home job. I established some boundaries for myself, and though I didn’t always want to, I did my best to stick to them. The results were beneficial; I was able to carve out more free time, and my home environment returned to being one where I could relax as well as get work done when I needed to.

Now that we have Kennedy, working from home takes on a different dimension. There are certain challenges that are evident with both roles – that of being a parent, and that of being an employee who telecommutes. Children require a certain level of attention. Some require more attention depending on their age, health, and personality. I lucked out in that Kennedy is a fairly easy child to entertain, though the challenge has become greater as she’s grown older and become more mobile and aware of her environment. Because she is my child, it’s also very easy to get lost in her world. I get enthralled in watching her development from day to day. She is the ultimate distraction.

pop up office

My “pop-up” desk in the living room. Complete with toddler blocks.

On the flip side, I’m working diligently to try to make my exclusively online classroom experience one that is as effective and fun as the on-ground classroom experience was with my last job. It’s easy for me to get caught up in coming up with new strategies for my students, responding to their discussion questions and emails, and brainstorming strategies for live sessions. While this is fulfilling for me professionally, it takes away from the other roles I hold in my family and in my household.

It’s a balancing act.

There are some tools I’m most grateful for as I attempt to balance my responsibility scales, and I recommend them to people trying to manage working from home, or those who work from home while also upholding other domestic obligations such as parenting or taking care of a family member.

todo

Yup, even “calling finance guy” makes the list. I number my list based on priority too.

  1. To-do lists

It seems so simple and mundane, but to-do lists are like a running agenda for the day. If you have the tasks you have to complete laid out in front of you in list form, it’s easy to work on each task and cross things off the list as they’re completed. The mere act of checking or crossing something off just gives you a sense of progress and productivity, and can help energize you to complete more. I can’t move through a week day without a to-do list. Otherwise, I’ll spend all day doing homework (did I mention I’m a student too?) or all day teaching new things to Kennedy, and not much else will get done.

door

Heavy duty combination lock! Since the move, I’ve been sharing office space with my mom, who does medical billing. Medicare requires her to have a lock like this for her office to maintain HIPAA compliance. I want one for the bathroom…

  1. An office space with a door (preferably one that locks!)

This one may also seem fairly obvious, but it’s become a high priority for me recently. Part of being able to separate the roles I hold and the time I spend on each includes being able to physically separate myself from things and people who will distract me. When it’s time to work, I go into my office and close the door. Thankfully, my father can usually watch Kennedy during those times if she isn’t napping, and when the door is closed, it signifies that I’ve created an interruption-free space in which I can grade, hold live sessions with students, write, do what ever it is I need to. This isn’t to say that all of the work I complete is done in closed room space – in fact, most of the work I complete is done from my “pop-up office” in the living room while Kennedy watches Doc McStuffins or plays with her blocks. Some tasks don’t require seclusion for work, but others do. Having the option to separate myself is the bigger point, and utilizing this as necessary helps me to maintain my job.

  1. Office hours

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, when you elect to work from home exclusively, you’re transforming your home space into a multi-use space. You wake up there, you eat there, you relax there, you entertain there, but you also complete projects there, you attend meetings there, you put in extra hours there, you interact with your boss and coworkers there…it can quickly spoil the mecca of home that you’ve strived for if you’re not careful. For my profession, I have posted office hours during which students can contact me and expect an immediate response. I’ve also built in time for department meetings and conference calls as required. Students still call or text outside of these hours, and I receive emails around the clock from people I work with. However, I don’t respond to these matters unless I’m truly “open for business.” Likewise, my husband understands that during office hours, I’m not free to go to breakfast or to the park for a walk with the dogs. The only one who really is allowed to take me off course even the slightest bit during the workday is our daughter. This is where the true balancing act takes place when I don’t have some help from family. Any time taken from what was supposed to be set aside for work has to be made up for somehow.

Despite the challenges being a work at home mom poses, I’m appreciative of the chance to be near my daughter as she grows up. When she’s older, we plan to look into options for her a few days a week to get out of the house and be near other children, but this lifestyle works so well for our family right now. I never would’ve guessed that this would someday be my life, but I’m happy it is.

You Betta’ Work, B*tch!

Since the move, I’ve been working from home. Because I also have a child, this makes me a work-at-home mom (WAHM). I’m a WAHM. Wait, I’m a WAHM? Well, yeah, I guess I am! This reality has certainly hit me like a ton of bricks.

It’s not that there’s anything bad about WAHMomhood at all – in fact, I admire women who can juggle the tasks of their jobs with the needs of their children, who are often present under the same roof while they complete their tasks for work. I’ve always respected StayAHMs and WAHMs alike because it takes a lot of patience to stay at home with a baby, toddler, or child all day long, and even when your kids grow up, at least for WAHMs, your main environment for everything really is your home. You sleep there. You cook there. You entertain there. You relax there. You work there. It seems like a closed off existence to me, which is why I was never really that fond of it. SAHMs and WAHMs have to put in more effort to have social interaction; whereas the rest of us who hold jobs outside of the home have it built into our routine of seeing others at our places of work, those moms have to seek groups to spend time with in order to socialize. It’s not automatic. Through that, these women also work hard to maintain their own identity outside of their status as parents. I can imagine this is challenging, and I commend those who live this lifestyle happily and confidently.

Doc McStuffins sets the perfect audio background for grading papers.

Doc McStuffins sets the perfect audio background for grading papers.

Just after having Kennedy, I never imagined I’d be an “at-home” anything. I knew I wanted to have a job with flexibility so that I could easily be near her, but I didn’t envision being a stay-at-home mom. After all, I have too many clothes, and shoes, and purses for that.

Despite my reluctance to fill the role, I’m not finding it to be all that bad. The most challenging part is scheduling my day so that all of my tasks get done, but I have my family helping with that. It’s easy to get wrapped up in playing with your child, then suddenly you realize they’re probably hungry, you feed them, you clean them up after feeding, you change a diaper, you get a bottle ready to put them down for a nap, and finally you lay them down. Just like that, two hours have vaporized off your clock. This happened to me plenty in the beginning. I am still learning to optimize my time while also keeping my baby fed, rested, and occupied with things that are not my computer, mouse, iPhone or iPad (when I’m using it).

I had previously thought of WAHMomhood as something that was all or nothing; the day I decide to start working from home, I will work from home for every job I hold in the future. It seems practical, especially as we discuss the possibility of having more children. However, I can’t say at this point that I’m ready to give up working outside of the home. Let’s face it – with an economy as unpredictable as ours is, most of us don’t have the luxury of saying there’s anything we will or won’t do to make money. Jobs are still hard to come by. I’m just grateful to have one right now.