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finding balance as a self-employed, work-at-home mother of three

Self-employment comes with its own set of unique work-related stresses and challenges: inconsistent money flow, staying motivated, keeping yourself accountable. When you add three kids to that plate, with their uncanny ability to get sick RIGHT when you have a huge project to finish and their superior chaos-making powers, things can get very stressful very quickly.

I’ve been working as an independent web designer for nearly ten years. When I started out, I was working full-time in my former field of medical research (which feels like a completely different LIFETIME now). I worked all day at work, then came home in the evenings and worked on websites for clients. My goal was to get my business to a place where I felt comfortable enough to leave the steady paycheck and day job to work “full time” as a web designer. Fast forward a couple of years, and I got there- right around the time I got the news that I was pregnant with our first baby. I had a brief and LOVELY stretch of time where I was home, working, with no kids running around to distract me. But for the most part, since I’ve been working as Inksplash Designs, I’ve been a mother.

I make no secret about the fact that I’m not a big fancy agency with full-service everything and 24/7 tech support. Inksplash Designs is a small, custom-fit webdesign shop that is a great fit for some projects and not so great for others. I’ve always been honest with my clients about my working situation, and I think that has been appreciated. I typically designate three days each week for work, and on those days my younger two kids go to daycare/preschool. The older one is in elementary school now, so that makes things simpler (and cheaper!) So in theory, I have three whole days each week where I can focus on Work and not on Everything Else. In reality, the lines get very blurred and it can make my head hurt.

Over the years, I’ve established some rules and tricks for myself to keep things semi-separated and to keep myself semi-sane. It’s not a perfect system, and I’m always making adjustments and exceptions, but it helps a lot.

1. No phone calls (or work email) after 5, unless it’s prescheduled and/or absolutely necessary. This is a stickler for me because it would be VERY easy to let my business take over our lives. Between the hours of 5 and 8pm, things in our house are just this side of insanity. Three hungry kids (and a husband!), homework, dishes, cleaning up, laundry, bedtime… not a lot of room for anything work-related. So if my phone rings and it’s not a number I recognize, my voicemail does the work and I catch up the next work day. There are exceptions for this, obviously, if there’s an urgent issue with a client’s email or website, in which case I hand the kids over to my amazing husband and lock myself in the office to take care of things. But in general, evenings are family time and household time.

2. Keep Work Days about work and Kid Days about kids. Also related to the effort to not let work take over, I try to make sure my days with the kids stay clear of work-related things. We run errands, go shopping, head to gymnastics classes, or play outside. Only one of my kids still takes an afternoon nap, so I can’t even count on using that time for work- which is okay with me. I usually have piles of laundry to fold, or meals to plan, or any other number of chores to take care of around the house. On the flip side, I make an effort to let the house stuff go on work days and focus on finishing projects, making client phone calls, returning emails, and writing proposals. (So if my husband wonders why there are still dishes piled sky-high in the kitchen at the end of my work days, this is why!)

3. Use childcare more if you need it. Sometimes I’ll have a lull in client work. It happens. I try to use that time to take a breath, and maybe work on some of my own projects, tinker with my website, or follow up with some old leads. And sometimes I am overwhelmed with work (hooray!) and I have trouble keeping up with things with only three days in a week. Fortunately our childcare center allows for flexible schedules each week, so I can always add an extra day for the kids if I need it. I used to feel guilty about doing this, and I worried about the financial hit with the already delicate balance of childcare payments vs my income, but sometimes it’s necessary. My kids love their school, so that helps ease the guilt a little. And if it helps me to feel less like I’m being pulled in a million different directions, I say thumbs up.

4. Set a timer. Take breaks. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my smartphone pretty much runs my life. I have multiple reminders each day that alert me to do various things (water the plants!) I’ve also recently started to set a timer so that I remember to get up from my chair a couple of times a day. Ridiculous, I know. But it’s necessary. Otherwise, I would likely stay rooted in my chair for 7-8 hours at a time because some days feel like a RACE to get done ALL THE THINGS before the kids get home. And while that’s great dedication on my part (HA!), it’s probably not super healthy. In order to feel balanced, you have to take breaks. Go get a drink. Eat a snack. Stretch a bit. Check in on Facebook and Twitter. Setting a reminder has been very helpful.

5. Be flexible and remember what’s important. Above all, this is key. Years ago, I would lose my MIND if things didn’t go according to plan, but I’ve learned to roll with the unexpected. Three kids teaches it, and three kids plus a business requires it. I love my job and I love my work situation, but my kids are more important part of everything. So if they need me because of sickness or injury or an important school event, I will be there. It may mean working extra late tomorrow, but in the end, it all balances out.

The system isn’t perfect by any means, and I still have days when I feel stretched to my mental and emotional limits. But after nearly a decade, I’ve mostly figured out what works for me. I love my job! I love my family! And I’m so thankful to be able to have both in my life.


2 Comments

  1. Crystal

    September 4, 2014 10:03 am

    Jenn,
    Great post! You always seem to amaze me with how you do it all. You are a modern day superwoman!

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