WAHMs, WAHDs, and the Costs and Benefits of Working at Home with Kids: Making the Most of Your Work Time
My name is Jennifer, and I’m a WAHM.
No, that’s not some new addition to the ever-expanding LGBTQ alphabet soup of queer identities; it stands for work-at-home mom or dad. I’m part of a growing trend; an increasing number of folks are WAHMs or WAHDs. Between the lame-ola economy and the wonders of wireless technology, more and more parents are combining work with child-minding. When the kids are little, this requires some paid assistance, unless you are lucky enough to have family who will watch your kids for free. I’m in the unlucky group who has to pay for someone to watch my daughter while I work at home.
I’ve already written some tips about how to find the ideal (or at least competent and LGBTQ friendly) nanny. But once you’ve found her, how do you best utilize your time while she’s minding your kid? It’s a bit trickier than it may seem; it takes a while to adjust to working while your kid and another person are around. Here are some tips that I hope will help WAHMs and WAHDS best utilize their at-home work time:
1) Expect to lose some work time at the beginning. When you first start having your nanny come, expect that you, your child, and the nanny will all need some time to adjust. Lower your expectations for how much work you will get done the first few times the nanny comes. Instead, work on establishing a routine for the day. Make it clear what you want the nanny to do with your child, when and how you’d like to be interrupted in non-emergency situations, and so on. Articulate to the nanny that you understand that she or he can’t instantly fill your shoes. It took us about four days before we all really transitioned.
2) Allow your nanny to do all the nurturing things, big and small, that you usually do. This can be tough if you’re breastfeeding, as I am! But I have the nanny give my daughter her bottles, feed her solids, change her dipes, and bathe her. I’ve taught her our favorite songs, games, books, etc. ( I felt a little silly singing our Bunny Bunkins Theme Song, but hey, it worked!) The goal is for your child to bond with this caregiver, so that she feels happy and nurtured while you’re working. Don’t be afraid to be explicit about how you want things done. But also make sure to let the caregiver know that she can figure out her own unique ways of bonding with your child, too.
3) Figure out a way to make the transition to work as untraumatic and undramatic as possible for all parties. Sometimes, this takes a little rearranging of your work space. At first, my daughter screamed and clung whenever I tried to disappear into my office. What we quickly realized was that because my office was right next door to her playroom, it was unrealistic to expect her to leave me alone during my work time. Instead, we worked out a system where for the first half hour, I play with the nanny and my daughter. Then, they go outside to play in the yard, while I make my escape to the upstairs bedroom (which now doubles as my office). My daughter sort of knows I’m there; she can hear my footsteps, and occasionally she’ll run upstairs and visit me. But out of sight seems to be out of mind in this case. The outdoor play time gives us all a transition, so that I can disappear and she can connect with the nanny with a minimum of drama.
4) Make clear goals and schedules for yourself, and let your nanny know about them. My best work time is in the morning, so my nanny knows that I am not to be disturbed then unless it’s an emergency. In the afternoon, I sometimes run errands, revise my morning’s work, and even occasionally join my nanny and daughter. It’s still worth it to pay someone for that precious morning work time, and it’s nice to play with my daughter in the afternoon without having to do EVERYTHING (i.e. change diapers, feed, entertain, etc.). Try to get the most of the arrangement; it’s your dime and time, obviously. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” said queer poet Emily Dickinson. The pain of paying for in-home nanny services gives me that formal, organized feeling! I am always aware of how little time I have for my work, and that I’m paying for every minute of it. But the joy of working at home is precisely that you are…at home, with your child. Part of what you’re paying for is the pleasure of being with your child. It’s a delicate balance; you do need to get your work done, but if you’re organized and map out a clear set of schedules and goals, you’ll still be able to catch a cuddle here and there.
5) Expect the occasional bad day. Everyone—you, your child, and your nanny—has good days and bad days. The other day, I had a cold, and couldn’t think. So I used the time when my nanny was around to really take care of myself in a way that I can’t when I’m minding my daughter. I confess: magazines were read; hot baths were taken. And some days, my daughter is really clingy. I do my best to meet her needs, and still get some work done. And yes, my nanny, too, has good days and bad; sometimes she’s more lively than others. But she’s always caring and safety conscious. And then there are the good days, when everyone is happy and productive! The bad ones make us value those even more…
6) Keep the lines of communication open, and expect change. Part of the amazing part of being a parent is that your child is constantly evolving, moving from one developmental stage to the next. What works one month might not work the next. Be flexible, and make sure to discuss any changes with your nanny.
What other suggestions do you WAHMs and WAHDs have? What’s the hardest/best part of working at home with a kid?
Photo credit: stock.xchng.