When I quit my job as a full-time school librarian to stay home with my oldest daughter in 2010, I never imagined I’d become an entrepreneur and work from home. After all, being a librarian isn’t exactly a job that lends itself to working from home, unless you plan to create your own personal lending library from home. The blog I’d been keeping for the past four years, Everyday Reading, wasn’t even remotely something I would have considered a job. I’d started my blog to catalog the books I was reading, and over the years I’d started including our travels, recipes, and family life, but it was solely a hobby.
Two years later, though, when I was expecting my second daughter, my husband started talking about going back to school to get his MBA. Faced with the loss of income for two years while he was a full-time student, I suddenly saw my blog, which had grown a pretty large audience in that six-year period thanks to my almost-daily posting, with new eyes. By the time my husband started school a year later, I was making enough money on my blog through brand partnerships, advertising, and freelance projects to cover our rent, groceries, and other monthly expenses. I was also just about losing my mind trying to cram all that work in while being a full-time mom for my two little girls.
In the five years that have passed since then, I’ve learned some strategies for balancing working at home while also being the primary caretaker for my four little girls. Last fall, I launched London Little, a line of modern children’s rain boots inspired by the semester we spent living in London with our two oldest girls during my husband’s MBA, and that’s required me to become even more thoughtful about how to manage working at home and balancing that with my other responsibilities.
Of course, work-life balance is always going to be a juggling act and some days or weeks or months will be better or worse than others. Here are the six things that work for me.
Don’t feel like you have to work EVERY moment.
Being a work-at-home mom means it’s very hard for me not to feel like the only worthwhile uses of my time are WORK or MOM. And that feeling is even stronger when I’m paying for a babysitter. But it’s so easy to burn yourself out, and a five-minute walk around the block or 30 jumping jacks in my office helps so much. When I’m paying for a babysitter, it’s so hard for me not to feel like that means I have to be working every moment that she’s here. But sometimes even a ten-minute break for a walk lets me think clearly when I get back to my desk.
Keep your phone away when you’re in mom-mode.
This is super easy to say and one hundred times more challenging to actually do, but it makes a world of difference in not feeling completely distracted all the time and like you never get to be just the mom. In the mornings, after I’m showered and ready for the day and have checked my email and Instagram, I try to put my phone away and not look at it again until the babysitter arrives. Then my children get my full attention, all the morning routine can be completed in a timely manner, and I feel like I was a good mom when I was in mom-mode.
Institute quiet time.
For years, I lived in fear of the day my oldest daughter gave up naps, but then I discovered the magic of daily quiet time. For two hours every afternoon, my baby naps and my three big girls play on their own, color, put together puzzles, or listen to audiobooks. It’s great for me because it gives me consistent time to work, but it’s also been fantastic for my girls, who need downtime after school or play dates or morning adventures. It’s also helped them develop the skills to entertain themselves — which is an unbelievably valuable skill — and has fostered such creativity and imagination in them that I don’t think they could have gained any other way.
Hire a babysitter.
For several years, I hoped I could get by with nap times, but invariably someone would refuse to nap on a day I had a deadline. It caused me so much frustration and added pressure to my children that just wasn’t fair to them. Now I have a babysitter come three mornings a week to play with my girls while I work. I can get my things done and then focus on being the kind of mom I want to be the rest of the time instead of always trying to (unsuccessfully combine the two).
It was so difficult for me to want to give up ANY time with my children, plus I was so reticent to spend any money, but it’s been worth every dollar – my children have another adult in their life that loves them, and I can more than make up for that money I spend because I can take on bigger projects.
Make other work-at-home mom friends.
I’m a big-time introvert by nature, but I’ve discovered that finding other friends who also blog or run their own businesses from home makes a huge difference in my life. It’s harder for stay-at-home moms who don’t work or moms who work in an office to understand what your life is like (just like how you can’t understand their situation perfectly, either), and it’s so helpful to find other moms who know the struggle and can give advice, feedback, or just a listening ear. I love being able to chat with other smart, driven women and being able to learn from them. Plus, many of my best ideas have come from those conversations, not when I’m chained to my laptop or phone.
Remind yourself that one of the beauties of working for yourself is that you have flexibility.
I love a schedule as much as the next woman (okay, probably way more than the next woman), but I try to remember that one of the reasons I love being an entrepreneur and working for myself is that I can be flexible with how and when I work. It might mean some nights I have to work after the girls go to bed, but it also means I get to be the one to take them to story time at the library or pick them up from school or go out for a special lunch on a weekday with a friend to celebrate her birthday.