Keep Your Sanity while Working at Home with Kids

When I started working from home when it was out of necessity. Money was tight and I was pregnant. Our son was starting part-time pre-school and we needed the funds to pay for it. Getting a job out of the home, aside from nights and weekends, was not an option, as we had one car and no affordable daycare.

But I got lucky, and was offered an opportunity to work at home, and working at home with kids became my reality.

And then I got luckier, and started a business that I run out of my home.

It the American Dream, yo! Except it’s HARD!

home office and dining room
Our dining room triples as a home office AND playroom!
Photo Credit: Fabio Bruna via Compfight cc

I have now been working from home for close to four years. In that time I have worked at home with two VERY different kids. My son, when he actually spent more time here with me, was super cool with the work at home deal. As long as I was here, he didn’t care. Now that he is in school full-time, though, he requires a lot more of my attention when he is at home. I mean, that’s kind of a no-brainer.

My daughter has always been a bit more of a challenge. Although when she was an infant I could just nurse her all day while I worked, that was cool. Let’s just say this. She is a great little one. She will play quietly and happily for a long time, but she wants what she wants when she wants it, and she will employ any means to get it. NOW. This is about the time that I have finished the last task she handed me and have finally settled my brain into work.

So I consider myself an expert at working at home with little kids.

Now, I know there is a lot of information on the internet for work at home parents about how they should manage their time and balance their work and their kids. While it’s valuable information for some, a lot of the tips are a fail for me, as they almost always include such tips “work at night,” and, “work during naptime.” We have no nap time here, unfortunately, and I’m totally not a night person. After a long day of work, kids, and house, I do not want to push myself to work. I want to quiet my brain, get some rest. I much prefer working in the pre-dawn and relishing the potential of the new day. It really sets the tone for me, and I know I’m not alone.
So here you have my five tips for working at home with little kids.

Plan Activities

While I’m not a super activity planner, i.e. I’m probably not planning activities that I have to really be involved in, or actually leave the house for, I do begin the day with a sense of what the kid(s) might want to do. I take into account what they have been playing with recently. Do they seem bored? Do they need a change? What can I prepare for them so they will stay happy and busy longer, and I can get the maximum amount of work done? And those out of the house activities? We do those once a week and on the weekends. It’s plenty for us.

Take Breaks

I will be honest and tell you that I would put my nose to the grindstone and not take a break if I didn’t have to. I would not eat an actual meal, and I would probably forget to feed my children if they didn’t ask for food. Part of this is due to my daughter being a grazer. Sitting down to lunch has never really been her thing. While I think grazing is fine, we both need breaks. I’m not talking just taking scheduled breaks for food. We take spontaneous breaks for cuddles, a quick book or puzzle, or for chasing each other around the house. This saves our sanity and really helps us get through our day peacefully.

Stay Flexible

Speaking of unscheduled breaks, it’s really important to be flexible with your schedule. I used to be a panicky mess if I had to take a break, or even worse, if there was something wrong that needed my attention and pulled me away from clients or work. Part of this is understandable when you are building a business or working on freelance projects. You have to get your work done or you don’t get paid. I finally came to understand that this makes working at home so we can be with our kids pointless. To top it off, nine times out of ten, your client, boss, or whoever is going to understand. Everyone takes a sick day once in a while, whether you have kids or not. The work will still be there, and it’s not going to throw it all totally off. The moral? Build in some wiggle room, don’t schedule every single second of every single day, and don’t panic when the unexpected happens.

SNACKS! And TV…

Most of my business can be conducted through email, but there are times when I really do need to speak or Skype with clients and potential clients, and I need to reduce the interruptions. This is when I break out the special snacks. I give whatever I have that they haven’t had in a while and really want. And I give a lot of it in order to maximize the time I have. Please take note: these special snacks don’t have to be unhealthy! While my daughter has enjoyed her share of chocolate chips so I can get some quiet, she also loves things like dried fruit, which we don’t always have.
Client call time is also when I flip on the TV. Don’t shoot the messenger, this shit is real, and you have to be prepared! Chocolate chips and Max and Ruby in exchange for quiet never killed anyone.

Don’t Be Afraid of Mess

Obviously, the things that are messy are going to keep kids busy the longest. I used to avoid the mess because I felt like it took too long to clean up, but I was really shooting myself in the foot. So, now we go for the gold. Paint, cutting pieces of paper and spreading them everywhere, Play-Doh, it’s all a go. Although I have put my foot down about Moon Sand. That shit’s just a cruel joke.

BONUS TIP!

If you have a school-aged child or children, be ready when they get home! One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn, and honestly one I am still working on, is being ready to just be mom when my son gets home from school. Honestly, I’m still working on it. Some days, I just can’t turn off. Those days are hell, though. A lot of running around screaming, nagging for candy or other treats, and just general lack of respect and humanity! So, my goal is to give myself 15 to 30 minutes before he gets home to shut my brain off, pick up around the house, prepare a snack, and be ready to welcome him home with open heart and arms. Because, isn’t he the reason I decided to stay home in the first place?

Do you have tips for managing work, either inside or outside the home, and family?

Christmas Tree Magic

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of getting a Christmas tree. The funny thing is even thought I am approximately eight and twelve years older than my sisters, I don’t really remember getting a tree before they were born.

Kids make Christmas fun!

We always cut our own trees. There was ALWAYS snow, so we bundled up in snow pants, boots, hats and mittens. Mittens were doubled up because they did double duty. Not only did they keep your hands warm, but they were also used to put on top of the trees, as a signal that tree is in the running to be “the one.”
Ready to go, we would make the happy trek to Hunt’s Tree Farm on the other side of town. We always found the perfect tree and watched in wonder as dad, dressed always in jeans and a Carhart jacket, wiped away the snow with his boot, lay on the ground, and cut down the tree.
GO DAD GO!
My husband and I have had a tree since the first year we lived together. We have found our perfect trees in a number of ways. We have gone alone to cut our own, tagged along with family to cut together, paid too much in an overly-lit lot. While always fun, and always special, there was always something missing.
I don’t remember where we got our tree the first year we had Ben. But I know the year after we started going to a tiny little tree farm down the road. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. It doesn’t even have a name! There isn’t more than a couple of acres of property, and you have to walk behind the owner’s house, through his back yard, and around his gardens to get to the trees. But it’s so homey, and the owner so welcoming, you don’t mind. I love going there.
The first year we took Ben, when he was about 20-ish months old, we had a ton of snow! We pulled him around the hilly farm on a sled as we searched for the “Griffin Family Christmas Tree.” He laughed and ate snow, and we found the perfect tree, and daddy kicked the snow away with his boot and lay on the ground to cut.
GO DAD GO!
The second year we took him there was even more snow. While daddy strapped the tree to the top of the car, I sat Ben in a snow bank and snapped silly pictures of him.
We have continued the tradition with Genevieve, although it was only her first year that we had snow, and it was only a little bit. But she has enjoyed our trips to the tree farm, and her brother showing her the ropes. One thing about there being no snow, is you can really tear through the farm, racing from tree to tree to inspect them. Or, in her case, hug them and tell them you love them. We have a pine tree hugger on our hands, folks.
This year the trees are looking a little sparse at our little farm. I’m a creature of habit, and so I’m worried about what we will do next year, as I think they will need another year to become perfect trees. I’m going to shelve that worry though, because I know no matter where we get a tree, we will be together. Creating memories. Creating magic. Them for us as much as us for them.

Kids make Christmas magical.

cutting down the Chrismas tree
GO DAD GO!

Where do you find Christmas magic?

Guest Post at Four Hens and a Rooster

Hey ya’ll! In case you missed it, I guest posted at Four Hens and a Rooster yesterday. I took this amazing opportunity to write about my move from Upstate NY to Eastern NC when I was 17. It’s a tear jerker, so don’t miss it!
Also, there are a lot of amazing guest posters in this series so please check them out and show some love!

Blow the Stress Bubble Away and Just Be Thankful

It’s no secret that I live in a bubble of stress. Much of it is self-imposed, I can admit. This little bubble of what-if, prep for the next step, and be prepared is hard to shake. Hard to blow away.

And the last couple of weeks have not been easy. Work is busy, yet I’m still broke. My kids’ behavior is out of control. A couple of weeks ago it was my son. Now it’s my daughter. If you can call issues with a two-and-a-half year-old behavior issues. I feel tag teamed. By kids. By life.

As if any day isn’t hard enough, balancing work and kids, today is a no-school day. And for some ridiculous reason, I thought I might be able to work. Which I did. I started at 3 am. Got a lot done, was ready to crank out more, and then they awoke. It was downhill from there. Despite my efforts to take a break and have fun cooking, setting up crafts, Christmas TV specials.

It didn’t work out.

One of my biggest complaints today is the amount of things that have been spilled. Food while cooking. Beads while beading. Half a bag of un-popped popcorn they were arguing over. Iced tea all over the basement rug. A huge bowl of snacks.

Fortunately, by the time the bowl of snacks was spilled, and I thought I just might explode, I laughed. I give up, and it’s okay. No, it’s not okay. It’s wonderful!

With that laugh, I let down my guard and my little girl crawled up on the couch next to me. She put her arm around me and kissed my cheek. She loves me. In spite of me. And I her.

I look over at my little boy and smile at him, and he gives me the sweetest smile back. That boy has the most wonderful smile. Eyes twinkling say, “I love you mom, thank you.” No buddy, thank you. I love you to the moon.

thankful for my children from the laine list

Both of you.

And now I can blow that stress bubble away and just be thankful.

The One Where I Spill My Guts About My Son’s Behavior

I’m going to be honest with you guys. I’m really tired of my son.

The level of disrespect and general level of unhappiness is becoming so distressing that I’m barely functioning as his mother. I don’t want to be around him. I don’t want to do anything for him.

I’ve given this so much thought – maybe too much. What am I doing wrong? Why is he so unhappy? Is he depressed? Do we have a real issue here?

I don’t have the answer. He is generally a normal, happy boy. Until it comes to me or his father. The way he treats us is just…horrifying. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is ever right. Ever enough.

Why? How did we create this person who disrespects, demands, and blames us for everything? How did he become so…spoiled?

What do you do when all you want to do is scream, and cry, and hit, and run away?

What do you do when it’s always just boiling. Festering.

When the last thing you want to hear is anyone’s voice. Whether disrespecting, whining, asking, needing.

When you can’t for the LIFE of you imagine what else they could possibly need. What you AREN’T doing?

When the more you give them, the more they want. The more they complain. The more they tell you they hate you. What a terrible mother you are.

Who am I raising? And what am I doing wrong. Isn’t the way he treats me a reflection on my motherhood?

I love him so much. This is not the mother I wanted to be. I wanted to be the mother who has long talks, and listens, and encourages moving away from the norm. Using imagination, experimentation. Trial and error.

But I’m not.

I’m the mother who needs strict adherence to the rules. The routine. Do it now the way I want it done before my head blows off.

I don’t know why. Because I work from here, and I need some level of understanding and order? Because I just need people to not be contradictory even for just a little while?

I don’t know. But please tell me I’m not alone. And that it will be okay.

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Election Day Traditions

I voted sticker

Do you have any election day traditions?

Depending on what area of the country you live in, there may be different community gatherings to celebrate such an exciting day.

Perhaps you go to a pancake breakfast.

Maybe you go to a spaghetti dinner.

President Obama plays basketball in Chicago.

Candidate Romney…well, I don’t know, he hasn’t released that information yet. I’m sure his plan includes five points, though. Kidding! But seriously, does anyone know what he is doing? I was unable to find info when I wrote this post.

Tradition in my family has always been to go together to the polling place to vote together as a family. I remember pulling the thud of the curtain as I pulled the handle. Carefully reviewing the candidates and on what lines we would vote. My mother letting me help her press the levers in the voting machine. The thud as we once again pulled the curtain handle. The ding letting us know our votes had been cast. A wrinkled, smiling volunteer waiting with an “I Voted” sticker. What excitement! I’m getting choked up just at the thought of it. What can I say, I have inappropriate emotional responses!

I’m sure this tradition has contributed to my love of voting, and downright indignation of people who do not exercise their precious right.

We carry on this tradition in our home now, with our children, even if the way we vote has changed. All I can do is hope these kids will recall their lifetime of voting with fondness and a sense of responsibility. For themselves, their families, community, and country.

So today we will vote, and Ben will help fill in the circles. And then we will come home to eat an all-American meal of burgers, fries, and lettuce wedges.

Happy Election Day! Do you take your kids to vote with you?

If You Could Live Anywhere…

Yesterday’s NaBloPoMo prompt was “If you could live anywhere, where would it be?”

This is something I have given a lot of thought to lately. Honestly, I’m very unhappy where I am. I try to make the most of my circumstances and find something to be grateful for every day. But our house needs work, and we have no money to do it. It’s too small for us. There is no closet space. My office is the dining room table. These things are manageable, but when you are in the middle of it all day, every day, it gets old. Depressing. Overwhelming.
And while I do have family that lives close – in-laws, aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces, my own parents and sisters live a two day drive away. And I miss them. Terribly. Every day that my children learn or do something new, or every time people who live close say they don’t see us enough is a heart wrenching reminder that my family gets to see us twice a year at best.

A couple of years ago we took a vacation to central Virginia. I loved it! I used to live in North Carolina and I hated it. Too many pine trees, and not enough fall color. But the mountains of Virginia are amazing, and it is relatively close to the beach. I have always wanted to live at the beach.

More importantly it is a one day drive to Upstate NY, and a one day drive to Georgia. A good happy medium, I think, with the opportunity to see both of our families more often. And the opportunity for more happiness and less heartbreak.

Autumn leaf color
Autumn leaf color (Photo credit: INABA Tomoaki)
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If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter

Even though we technically still have several more weeks of autumn, Halloween and the end of October mark the end of autumn, and the beginning of winter for me. Maybe it’s because here in the Northeast snow can come as early as Halloween night. We did not get that snow this year, but we did get rain. It’s still raining, in fact, and there is talk of snow on the way. The leaves are all gone, and it is dark and grey, so snow would be a welcome bright shininess around here.

In honor of my personal end to autumn, here are some of my favorite shots from the season.

Fall Instagram/PicMonkey Images from The Laine List

When does winter start for you?

Finally Fall

Fall colors on a treeCrispy, crackling leaves falling.

Raking, jumping, laughing, running.

Woodstoves, crock pots, steaming hot ovens.

Squash, roasts, homemade bread.

Cider, hot cocoa, and toddies abound.

Apples, doughnuts, pumpkin pie.

Vibrant colors, pitch black nights.

Sweaters, socks, footie jammies.

Love and comfort settling in.

Top Five This Week: Mom Fail, Back To School, Organizing, Pinterest, and Sh*t My Kid Says

Mom Fail

So, this one time, I was a hot mess and thought school started a day before it actually did. I got Ben all excited for school (he’s not a huge fan), we had the night before jitters, and the next day I realized it was not, in fact, the first day of school.

Back to School

Need I say more?! School started!!!! I miss my little buddy when he’s at school, but holy hell is it easier to work with only one kid in the house.

Organizing

You know I love it, and I know you do too. I have a system for almost everything now. I even recycled papers the boy brought home from school! AND, I have 14, yes, 14 new 2-pocket folders that I have categorized with all the different things I’ve got going on in my life. It might seem crazy to you, but I feel so.much.better.

Pinterest

I love Pinterest. LOVE IT! I find it so inspirational. But let’s face it, it’s really easy to get a complex looking at all these things to do with your kids, your home, your hair. It goes on and on! So if you have not read You Are the Pinterest Perfect Real Mom by finding joy n BlogHer , do it now! And then go make your own Real Mom’s board on Pinterest. I did – let’s start a revolution!

Sh*t My Kid Says

I swear, it must be so bizarre to live in the boy’s head. I know it’s bizarre to live out of his head. One of my favorite gems from this week went a little something like this. He is on the couch, just randomly screaming into a pillow. I lovingly say, “dude, WHAT is your problem?” He says, “Who, me? I’m EXOTIC!!!” Yes, son, yes you are!

What were the highlights of your week? Enjoy your Sunday!

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