Working from Home: It was easier when the Kids were Young
by Penina Wolicki, CET (eScribers, LLC)
I have five sons, but that's an article for a different day. I just thought that would help set the stage.
By the time my fourth son was born seventeen years ago, I had been building up a small, at-home typing and translating business. I decided to make it official at that point and opened up a home office. I retained a very part-time job outside of the house that took up nine hours of my week.
Sometime after my fifth son was born, almost two years later, I came to a mutual arrangement with my employer that anything they needed me to do I could do from home, and I would work for them on a purely contractual basis, a win-win for us all.
Over the years, many people have commented that it must be difficult to work at home. I've always disagreed. As long as you have a strong work ethic and a lot of self-discipline, I've said, it's really quite fulfilling. Put a load of laundry in, do some work. Take a break to hang the laundry, do some work. Go out and do the shopping when the stores are empty, do some work. I never have to put on a pair of pumps. It's worked for me for many years.
I had made a decision that when my youngest son reached third grade, I'd look for a "real" job, something outside the house. But until then, I felt it was convenient: convenient not to need a babysitter on vacation days, convenient not to need a babysitter when someone was home sick; convenient in so many ways.
Third grade came and went seven years ago, and here I am still. A very tempting, home-based transcribing job fell into my lap just as I was beginning to think of looking for that "real" job, and I took it and ran with it.
The only stumbling block: summer vacation. It doesn't matter if you work from home or travel to the office every day and work from 9 to 5; those two words, I think, cause panic attacks to mothers worldwide. Parents spend a lot of time, effort, and money trying to balance the need to remain sane with the desire not to make their children feel unwanted and unloved by shoving them into every available summer program.
But for me, it used to be that I knew, come September, it was over. Summer vacation was a two-month deal. There was always light at the end of the tunnel.
For many years, I used to take the first day of school as a personal vacation day for myself. Once the front door slammed for the last time, I could spend my day sipping coffee in the living room, feet up, watching TV, or I could spend a few hours window shopping in the mall. I considered it my reward for making it through those last chaotic weeks of summer.
However, summer vacation has, in essence, been getting longer and longer as the years go by. As I sit here now, I think back over these past seventeen years and say, wow, was it easier when the kids were younger!
The first inkling that things were changing occurred when my oldest son was in ninth or tenth grade. I had just walked out of the shower wrapped in a towel, bedroom door wide open (because I knew for a fact that no one would be home for at least three hours), and I heard, "Hi, Mom!" I nearly jumped out of my skin. The very rigid school schedule that I had taken for granted had just been blown to bits. That my son could just saunter into the house in the middle of the day because his teachers didn't show and that the school could just let them out early had never crossed my mind.
Slowly, over the years, I got used to the fact that as the kids hit tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade, as final exams began, they may not have school for a day here and there, or they may show up early on occasion without any warning. Still, that only happened occasionally. The younger kids who were still in elementary school were still on a very set schedule, and having one or two kids show up early two or three times a year didn't really cramp my style.
Now my babies are seventeen and fifteen years old. My twenty-two year-old son has recently moved back home temporarily. I have reached a stage in life now, that summer vacation is practically every day of the year. There is no set schedule. There are no clear boundaries. Surprises occur almost every day.
Sometimes I feel like my entire life (and often my computer) has been taken over by my children. It's happened many a time recently that I've woken up early in the morning to take advantage of the quiet morning hours to find my twenty-two year-old son still awake and watching a movie on my computer. Or I've gotten up from my computer to take a break, do the laundry, go shopping, and when I come back to my office, there's my seventeen-year-old son, checking his e-mail. It's not like I've got the only computer in the house, either. It's just that mine is better, stronger, and faster than anyone else's, so they gravitate towards it at every opportunity.
Usually, when I get up in the morning, I have some sort of plan on how I'm going to structure my day. For example, I say I'm going to work until 2:30 and then do some cooking, put something in the oven, and then go back to work. Nowadays, I have to confer with my twenty-two year-old son first, as I'm likely to come downstairs to start cooking, and there he is in the kitchen preparing himself lunch. So much for my plan.
Sometimes I plan to have a quiet day of work, work, work, and my children call me (at least they call to give warning) from school saying they were let out early, they'll be home in half an hour, and they'll need to eat lunch at home. Anyone who has ever had to feed a teenage boy knows that it's not necessarily a five-minute task to whip up a filling meal. Again, so much for my plan.
And it seems the older they get, the more attention they require. When they were younger, in particular during school vacations, they knew full well that if I was working, I was only to be disturbed if someone was bleeding and possibly needed stitches. Now, they seem to need to run every daily decision past me. Well, at least they're sharing their lives with me, you say. I guess that's a silver lining.
I know that in a couple of years, things will shift again. I know that the house will once more be my quiet space and that life will eventually calm down. I occasionally have the fleeting thought that maybe I should rent some office space, get out of the house, get away from the distractions. Then I remember why I like working at home so much: the flexibility of being able to mix paid work with housework; the fact that I am available immediately if one of my kids needs something. Indeed, they are growing up, but this is the model they're used to, and so am I.
So if it takes two or three more years, I guess I'll have to stick it out. I don't think I'm quite ready to trade my slippers for heels just yet.
Penina Wolicki is an AAERT Certified Electronic Court Transcriber. She has been working for eScribers since 2007 as a full-time transcriber, and more recently as a part-time editor, as well.