Thursday, 21 May 2009

Working from home: Is it worth it?

As some of you will know from reading some of my manic, late-night tweets, I’ve had a pretty busy work week. I’ve worked every evening since some time last week (probably whenever I wrote the last post here, in fact). This work-fest (that pales into insignificance next to the ones I used to push through pre-Rosemary) culminated last night (or this morning, really) when I finished the final big deadline (there were four in total) and uploaded the files to the client’s FTP site at 3.30am.

I know at least two other WAHMs who’ve been struggling with workloads/juggling lately – Home Office Mum wrote a poem about it and Perfectly Happy Mum recently decided to take a step back from her business in order to maintain her happiness.

Being a work at home parent means a lot of juggling and attempting to find a balance between needing to keep that roof over your head/the debt collectors from the door and giving your children the attention they need. Working for yourself, regardless of whether you have children, means you are almost always going to have some horrible periods of working far too much, as well as periods of twiddling your thumbs, wondering what you should be doing with the empty week you suddenly have free, because Project X has slipped.

I do know people who manage, for the most part, to book in exactly the right amount of work. People who work 25 hours a week and stick to it. But even they will face the dilemma of a slipped project clashing with an already-booked one. If they refuse to take on the slipped project, they miss out on money they had been counting on, unless they can find something last-minute to fill the gap. If they agree to do it, something will have to give, as they will suddenly have 50 hours’ work to do in a 25-hour working week.

If you add children into the mix, there’s now something else that might have to give. Is it going to be your morning trip to toddler group? Is it going to be your baking afternoon? Is it going to be the weekly swimming outing? Or is it going to be your sleep? Whichever you choose, everyone loses out a bit. You might still do the baking, but you’re more likely to snap at your child for spilling flour on the floor or sticking her fingers in the butter. You might get your full night’s sleep, but you’ll miss the laughter and the fun of the pool.

And sometimes you might miss out on it all. Yesterday, I spent maybe half an hour of quality time with Rosemary. And a quarter of an hour of snapping at her for dawdling (for ever!) after playgroup. It’s not enough. She had a lovely day. Chris had a lovely day. The house was all clean and tidy. But I missed her and wanted so much not to be sat in front of my computer, but to be playing doctors or singing songs or reading books with her.

Times like that I wish for a 9-5 job, or maybe even the ability to be a SAHM. Times like that I think that I should never recommend anyone try being a WAHM or a WAHD. Times like that I yearn for a holiday (ooh, and I’m actually getting one this year!). Times like that I wish I could crack open a bottle of Baileys and drown myself in alcoholic cream.

Fortunately, though, there are other times, often quite close to the horrible ones, when I am so happy to have the flexibility that only really comes from working for yourself. Times like today, when I checked what else I had to do this week and realised I could do it tomorrow morning, without breaking a sweat. Times like today, when my husband asked if he could take me out for lunch, and then did so. Times like today, when, other than spending about half an hour answering emails, I have taken the whole day off from work. Times like today, when I played with my daughter and didn’t scream or snap. Times like today, when I had fun giving my daughter her bath. Times like today, when I got to go back to bed for three hours in the morning (kind of necessary after three and a half hours’ sleep, but still nice). Times like today, when I get to finally update the blog and will shortly get to sit down for my weekly fix of US TV (Bones at 9pm, ER at 10pm) and not do any work.

So… Yes, it’s still worth it. I would still recommend it. It’s a really good thing for family life – especially if you’re lucky enough to have your husband as a business partner. There are probably going to be times when you pull your hair out trying to meet deadlines. There are probably going to be times when you pull your hair out trying to bring in enough money to cover all the direct debits leaving your account. But there will probably also be lots of times when you thank your lucky stars that you can put your work down and go and see your child’s school play or take him to the doctor without having to beg your boss for the time off. There will probably be lots of times when you can pop into town to get your hair done and pick up the slack by doing a couple of hours in the evening or go and see the new big film in the cinema in the middle of the day. There will be many times when you can walk your children to school and pick them up again at the end of the day. And if you’re organised enough and put money away, you’ll be able to cope with those unexpected quiet weeks by going and doing something fun for you or with your family – or even both.

Yes, it is still worth it.


  1. Nice post. Very interesting for me.

    I've been active in increasing my SAH working output. September is a key time for me, as my son goes to school, and I will need more money in from that point. I guess it will be a balancing act, just like you, but I think if you get it to work, it is much better than working to a strict day.

  2. It IS worth it. I have friends that 9-5 but never make it to a school sports day/assembly. I cook dinner with one eye on the screen, snap when daughter asks for pudding and I am already back at my desk BUT on balance she gets more of me and I get more of her and it is a better way to be. The benefits outweigh the negatives - what a fantastic post, I shall follow you! thanks

  3. That's a great insight.

    What is it you do, exactly? I'd be interested to know.

  4. SPD: It's not for everyone, of course, but I think it ideal for parents needing/wanting to be around and available for their children. Good luck with increasing your output in September.

    Kellogsville: Thanks for the follow. My mum always worked from home and she also managed to teach me at home for a couple of years, while working too. I think overall they probably do get more of our time overall, yes.

    Iota: We provide services to educational (secondary) publishers. We do many things, from putting together bespoke CD/DVD interfaces for accessing teacher resources, to creating customisable Word and PowerPoint files for teachers to use, to marking up electronic versions of student books for use on electronic whiteboards, to just plain editing and proof-reading. Oh and some designing, typesetting and illustration, too! The electronic development work is the best, generally, because a lot of it can be done while listening to music or watching DVDs/TV over the net. It's also easier to do in small chunks. The editing takes a lot of concentration and usually requires at least 4-hour blocks to get into properly.

  5. Great post. You're right. In general it is worth it. Every time I have a meeting that I actually have to get dressed up for and drive somewhere and sit in traffic I think how lucky I am to be able to commute up the stairs to my office in my comfy jeans.

    I do find it hard to spend quality time with the boys. My mind is always on the next thing. I never feel as though I've done enough. And when I do get a quiet moment, instead of relishing it, I feel panicked and wonder why it's quiet - that I should be using this time to source new business or do paperwork or something.

    I wish I could switch off. I think having a 9 - 5 job it's easier to leave the job behind.

    But on balance I still prefer being a WAHM. This week I've got to have lunch with my son at his school and gave a presentation to his school too. And today, break up day, we'll be having a picnic and riding bikes. Wouldn't get that in a 9 - 5 place.

  6. It's a balancing act, for sure. But compared to the rigid inflexibility of juggling school drop-offs, after-hours child-care and the like in order to do a 'real' job, I'd take this any day. The stress of rushing - late - from work to pick a child up, the guilt, not to mention cost. No, working from home beats everything, in spite of all the difficulties.

  7. Thanks for this Tasha! You've just reminded me all the reasons why I decided to become a WAHM and as you rightly mentioned (thanks btw ;)) I have had a difficult time lately. But you are very right, what is all that time spent slaving against the immense privilege of being there for your children all the time?
    Brilliant post!

  8. I started working from home in December and am really liking it so far. Granted, I have it pretty good in that the work only requires about two hours of my time a day, all at once, because it's deadline-based. I'm also working on research for a book idea and, of course, blogging, as well as trying to write some pitches for feature articles. I feel like I have a lot of balls in the air and sometimes it does get quite stressful but 85% of the time I really like it and feel that it actually makes me a better mother.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I hope you get some more sleep soon!

  9. Thanks for the thought proding!

    An award for you even though you aren't, you are nearly always fresh!

  10. Very interesting post. I work part-time from home, I'd work full-time but there just isn't the work available. I don't like the varied workload at all - the fact that one week there is 50 hours of work but then next week nothing - and nothing means no money. My daughter is 6 in July. The plan is to continue like this for another year, then move house so I can work inhouse 9-5. That's probably the opposite to all your other comments!

  11. I am a SAHM, but not a WAHM (although I think sometimes my husband wishes I was so I could bring in an extra bit of money)!! I think if you can manage to juggle all the things you need to do in order to do both jobs sufficiently then it is by far the best option. I just need to find something to do at home that earns me some money but means I don't have to ignore my children whilst doing it! My youngest doesn't start school for a couple of years so until then I don't think it's an option unfortunately...but something to look forward to I think!

  12. Great post and very interesting. When Miss M starts full time school next January I'll be thinking about some part time work and would love to work from home. Sounds like the pros generally outweigh the cons.

  13. HOM: The switching off is definitely an issue, but I find I can do so much more easily since Rosemary came along, thankfully. She actually forced me into a better work-life balance, for which I'm eternally grateful. Would have burned out for sure if not.

    The Dotterel: I can't imagine how we could do it, if we both worked in an office. I suppose we'd either have to have good flexi-time or make prodigious use of child-minders or relatives. Suits us down to the ground, at least.

    Peggy: Glad to be of service. I think I have it a lot easier than many of you, because I have Chris here, too. We can usually juggle things between us, but if it's just you at home during the day, it's got to be more difficult. Hope it gets easier soon!

    Noble Savage: Two hours a day sounds great. That's the sort of thing a lot of mums I know could really do with, to keep them from having to go back full-time. Personally, I find it good to be able to use my brain in different ways throughout the day, so having lots of balls in the air can be a good thing. Things are back to normal now, so I'm getting plenty of sleep - even managing some daytime naps.

    Surprised: Why, thank you!

    Rosie: It's good to hear a different perspective. I know plenty of people who couldn't even face the idea of working from home, so I was suprised at all the positive comments. I hear you on the varied workload; it can be very difficult. For the most part we have managed to find an optimum, but when the very heavy or very light work periods come along it is definitely hard. We're trying to get more organised at putting money aside to cover quiet periods, so we can cope better with them, but it's easier said than done. And good luck with going back to work in-house. It sounds like you'll love it. (I consider it ocasionally, especially when I glance through the job pages and see what would have been my perfect job. But honestly I think I'd hate it.)

    Emily: That's the challenge isn't it? Especially as you don't have guaranteed time in the evenings when hubby can take over. I have a couple of SAHM friends doing proof-reading courses in the hope that they might be able to get something like 10 hours' work a week to do in the evenings or when their children are napping or at pre-school. And I know others who do things like Avon and Ann Summers. There are things out there, but finding something that you want to do is difficult. But if you can wait until Edie starts school, then go for it! It is hard work - not that being a SAHM isn't; in fact, I think it's probably harder.

    Jo: Well, it suits us very well, but it definitely isn't for everyone. It has the benefits of being available for school runs and so on without too much trouble, but there are plenty of people who couldn't stand being stuck at home all day, or wouldn't have the discipline not to go and sunbathe or nip to Starbucks every five minutes. You, of course, should be writing children's books (I'm sure I've seen other people say that), though I don't think there's huge amounts of money in them, generally.

  14. I left you an award on my site.

    Hope you don't mind, the theme of gratitude seemed to fit you very well. Please don't feel obliged to continue any chain.

  15. It is so worth it: the good days,the ability to go to all the school events, the chance to carry breastfeeding all make up for the deadlines.