The reality of working from home

If you’re planning to start a business from home, it’s important to be realistic about what that will involve, and your expectations of your day-to-day life as a working mum. Claire Bradford of Straightforward Coaching looks at the myths working mums are sold about working from home, and how you can be more realistic and decide if it’s the right choice for you.

When you are pregnant for the first time, the idea of working from home when your child is born seems obvious: schedule telephone calls around their nap times; utilise feeding time for planning; play with your baby for a few hours a day, then pop him under that cute dangly thing whilst you fire off some emails.

The media is awash with pictures of smiling working mums at their laptops with a contented toddler on their knee. Look closer and you’ll see that the background is tidy and tasteful, the model-like mum is well dressed with a little make up on and her hair done, and there’s a cup of tea and a homemade biscuit to hand.

This picture of fulfilment is what many women aspire to, but it is a lie. It is a particularly vicious lie because it is one that many women believe at a time when they are both vulnerable and having to make some major career decisions. It is a lie that many new mums beat themselves up with because they feel that their failure to manifest it is somehow to do with their own failings as a mother, as a businesswoman and as a housekeeper.

You can work from home with your child, but it is really important to get a very clear idea of your priorities, your expectations and your options. Whether you are planning a working maternity leave or you’re several years in and struggling, take some time to consider the following questions:

What’s most important to me?

This is not meant to be some guilt-inducing questioning of your moral compass, but an honest self-examination. Perhaps you want to be there for your child all the time as they grow up whilst earning some money with a business on the side, or maybe you see this time as a perfect opportunity to grow your business whilst being able to see your child more than you would if you were commuting to a 9-6.

You don’t need to write anything down or make any big announcements, but do be clear with yourself. Trying to be a full-time entrepreneur and a full-time parent will cost you dearly in stress and guilt.

What else is important?

Have you noticed how the home-worker and parent often ends up shouldering the full responsibility of the housework, shopping and cooking too? As well as juggling work and child-rearing, many women then add to their burden by berating themselves for not having an immaculate house, a loaf of bread proving in the airing cupboard and a new sexy dress to wow their partner on their next date night. Or not having even thought of having a date night.

Ideally, of course, we would successfully pull off the roles of entrepreneur, parent, partner, domestic goddess and friend whilst being fit and beautiful with plenty of free time. The reality is not that you need to stop being in any of these categories, but that you need to decide how much time and energy to apportion to each. This requires reflection on their order of priority at the moment, with some acknowledgment that this could fluctuate in the future.

What are my options?

Once you have decided what is most important, look at what you have available to help you with the rest. Can you hire a cleaner? Do you have room in your house for an au pair or nearby parents who could help with the childcare? Could you set aside a few hours one weekend to batch cook and freeze some family meals? Are all the members of your household really pulling their weight? Can you shoehorn a run in before everyone else gets up? Could you consider a skills swap with someone for help in an area? Are there any online resources or apps that could help you? Could you relax your standards in one or more roles?

Be really clear about what you need and explore various potential solutions so that you feel happy that your choice is sustainable for you and will produce the result that you want, leaving you free to concentrate your energies onto the things that you have identified as the most important.

Prioritising your roles frankly and honestly, then planning around your decisions like this can help you to stay on top of what’s important for you as well as keeping the guilt at bay. When you’re sleep deprived, your task list is endless and you’re tempted to beat yourself up with that stock picture lie, revisit these questions and go easier on yourself.

By Claire Bradford of Straightforward Coaching