Working from Home – Part 1: Backgrounder

Lately I seem to be asked with some frequency about what it is like to work from home. I’m going to start a series of posts about working from home – the reasons, the reality, tips about doing it well, and whatever subtopics come up. It’s not that I have tonnes of time these days, but at the same time, I get asked frequently, and one of my tips is that you give yourself “goof off time” and that is exactly what role this series will be fulfilling in my life.

When Ross and I made the decision to have a child, we also talked about whether one of us would stay at home after maternity leave ended. In our situation, Ross had just completed two years of school, and had landed a job he liked and was happy with. I, on the other hand, was not in the same happy place with my employer that he was. While not unhappy, I was bored and not feeling challenged, so it was a no brainer which parent was going to stay home.

Ross and I did talk about childcare – the idea of finding quality childcare and me returning to work. We talked about how much income I contributed to the household account,  ways we could replace that income, and the cost-effectiveness (not to mention the mental forehead-slapping) of working just to pay daycare. Our calculations told us that the magical number I needed to bring in to justify me staying home and not returning to work was $1000 per month. It seemed like a small enough number that we could do it and I tried to juggle things a number of ways to make it come together.

I signed up to be an at home consultant for a book company, fairly convinced by the sales literature that I was going to make a decent amount from commissions. Not once did I see a cheque in the year I was selling – the company believed most new consultants spent all their income on adding books to their sales kits and so made it extremely difficult to actually get a commission cheque. I eventually stopped selling because it simply stopped being worth my time.

I also agreed to take care of the Bonster. I’ve long struggled with how to label what I was doing – nanny, babysitter, childcare provider, etc, but it boiled down to taking a similarly aged child into my home a few days a week for people I knew. The arrangement worked well until we moved across town to our new house, and when a spot opened up in a group setting near their house, my friends chose to move Bonnie to a different childcare setting. In home childcare is not a moneymaker – but if you are going to be at home entertaining a toddler all day, making a few extra bucks (and having a regular playdate) doesn’t hurt.

My First Day with the Bonster and Kale Pants as a Package Deal

Finally, I also had arranged to sell the chai tea I make at the local farmers market. I had gone about the process of getting approval from the environmental health office, developing packaging, a website… you name it. I had applied for and been approved to be a vendor at the local market, and was intending on packing up my little display and stuffing my son into a wagon, and walking to the market site every week . I even did a few trial runs with an overloaded wagon. But, it didn’t pan out that way. What happened was one week before my maternity leave was set to expire (three weeks before the market started), the market manager for the farmers market quit. A friend ran into the president of the organization, and somehow I got recommended to take over. It all happened very quickly – I was interviewed, hired and on the job in less than a week. And by “on the job” I mean I was attempting to put together a market while my son slept, with three weeks to go before the first market.

1 year old Kale and I working at the computer

Everything fell into place at that point. I started diligently sitting at my desk whenever my son was asleep, clocking hours and keeping track of my own time. I didn’t have time to faff about online or develop addictions to snacks or tea then (sigh) because it was critical that I get the market organized and back on track. It was “put your head down and get ‘er done” time. And so I did. But starting off with such an incredibly tight timeline, I essentially developed very good work from home skills because I didn’t have time to do anything else.

I work about 25 hours a week from home and about 7 actually at the market. We’ve been very lucky because Ross’ employer lets him come home early on Thursdays to take over childcare, and he makes up those hours in other places during the week, so we have no childcare expense (other than the lost income from Ross coming home early) to cover me working.  I’ve been working for the market since June of 2009 and there are very few naps that pass without me sitting at my computer and doing work. I have no idea how I am going to manage when Kale stops napping and I am terrified of that day. There are a few days when I need to work “around Kale” if something needs doing – emergency phone calls have happened more than once. If I feel myself needing more time or falling behind, I also will arrange to spend large chunks of time on the weekends while Ross and Kale play outside or do the household errands.

Ross and Kale headed out for a bike ride while I work. Boo.

I also work 12 hours per week at a night job for my former full time workplace. I work by myself, manipulating files full of data for a proprietary computer mainframe. I don’t love it. The added expense and time of commuting takes away from hours I could put elsewhere, and I find it really hard to stay focused when working in a cubicle by myself. It’s not a terrible job – the pay is okay, the skills I have learned are useful, and it’s very flexible and reliable. If I could change one aspect of my contribution to the household income, it would be replacing this job with something else I enjoy more, but is still as reliable and flexible as my current position is.

I won’t lie. My life is chaos and is always  hectic – I feel like I am always working and always scrambling, although that’s not totally the case. I feel like I never see my husband except while we chat in bed when I come home from my night job, when he’s desperate to get to sleep and I’m dying to chatter away to someone after a night alone. I do things to ensure the stress cork stays stoppered – I plan monthly fun nights with a group of friends, I joined a collaborative writing group, and I recently joined a soccer team that was okay with my lack of commitment. As a family, we also plan our weekends months in advance, and our calendar needs a legend to interpret it.  It’s not easy, but we do manage, and I’m happy.

I'm at work and I'm happy.

Next Up: My Reasons for Working From Home

8 years ago