Work and Family Balance

  1. Childproofing Your Home Office

    OK Mompreneurs® , test your home-office savvy. Which of the following items won't get stuck in your computer CD-ROM compartment?

    A) American cheese?
    B) A baseball card?
    C) A whiffle ball?

    If you answered C, give yourself a gold star -- though that whiffle ball can wreak havoc in your home office if your kids get their hands on it!

    During school holidays and vacations, your kids are apt to wind up in your office a little more than you'd like. How do you safeguard your space (and your kids) without building a barbed-wire fence around your office? The secret is to make your work area child-friendly yet childproof. Here's how:

    1. Do the crawl. Get down on your hands and knees to get a child's perspective of your office. Look for sharp corners, drawers that can be pulled out, heavy files or furniture that can be toppled, outlets and cords that beg to be pulled and poked.
    2. Cover up. Shield outlets with plastic safety plugs or cover them with locking devices that screw into the outlet plate. Put protective foam-rubber strips over sharp edges and corners. Make sure electrical cords don't dangle from your workstation; kids might be tempted to tug on them and wind up pulling a heavy piece of equipment onto themselves. Be especially careful of cords hanging from miniblinds or shades. Bundle them up with a special cord divider (sold in most hardware or baby stores) to keep kids from accidental strangulation.
    3. Batten down the hatches. Cover disk drives and other enticing openings with duct tape or cardboard to discourage curious kids from jamming foreign objects in. Inexpensive plastic covers can protect your printer, keyboard, mouse and monitor from juice spills or sticky fingers. Keep drawers and cabinets off limits with safety latches or other closures. We even know a work-at-home mom who found file cabinets with Velcro locks -- she could easily open the drawers, but her toddler couldn't.
    4. Put away the small stuff. Paper clips, rubber bands, push pins, staples and so forth can all be easily swallowed by a curious tyke. Also keep the trash basket and sharp objects -- pencils, letter openers, scissors and the like -- well out of your child's reach.
    5. Give kids a special spot. It can be a corner with a pint-sized table and chairs, or a bottom drawer or shelf filled with crayons, stickers and other "busy work." Kids will love to emulate you, so let them tap away on old keyboards or make their "business calls" on toy phones. File folders and old briefcases are great places to stash kids' "important assignments."

    By Patricia Cobe and Ellen Parlapiano, authors of Mompreneurs® and Mompreneurs® Online - Copyright 2009 — Mompreneurs® LLC — All Rights Reserved

  2. Childcare Checklist

    We hear the question all the time: "Do I really need child care if I'm working from home?" For 90 percent of Mompreneurs®, the answer is a resounding Yes, particularly if you have younger kids not yet in school.

    Child care gives you a chance to give your kids and your business the undivided attention they deserve. Fortunately, lots of affordable options are out there for mompreneurs. Maybe a local senior citizen or college or high school kid can baby-sit in your home a few afternoons a week. Perhaps there's a family day-care provider who can take your child part time, or a church that has a "tot drop" or a " mom's day out" program. Or you might team up with neighborhood Mompreneurs® to create a free baby-sitting co-op, or share a full-time sitter with another Mompreneur® .

    Before exploring your child-care options, have a clear idea of what you require. Think about the ages and needs of your children. Consider your type of business and the hours you plan to keep. What other issues are important to you? Do you need the sitter to drive or do light housework? And remember that your child-care needs will change over the years. One Mompreneur® used in-home help when her children were babies, then shifted to family day care to supplement the preschool schedule. Now that her kids are in school full time, she has a sitter pick them up a few days a week so she can work straight through.

    Here's how to find the child care that best suits your needs:

    1. If you plan to work partial days or just a few days a week, consider: family members (great if Grandma's in the area); part-time in-home sitters or family day-care providers; tot drops at local churches or temples; babysitting co-ops; taking turns sitting with another work-at-home mom; or splitting the cost of a full-time sitter with another work-at-home mom and then alternating the days you each use him or her.
    2. If you need to supplement school hours, try: after-school programs and clubs; summer camps; teen sitters or mother's helpers (usually pre-teen kids who baby-sit in your home while you're around); getting your child a play date at someone else's home (just don't forget to reciprocate!).
    3. If your office is not set apart from the main family areas and your job requires quiet and concentration, look for: away-from-home caregivers, such as family day-care providers, day-care centers that take kids part time, and local tot-drop programs.
    4. If you're on a tight budget, best bets include: family members, mother's helpers, baby-sitting co-ops, sitter-sharing.
    5. Consider child care an investment in your future. It may seem unprofitable to pay someone to watch your kids while you work at home, but it will pave the way for your success and help keep business and family needs from colliding.

  3. Celebrating Take Our Kids To Work Day

    When you're a work-from-home mother, every day is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day! As you work at home, your children witness first-hand what it takes to build a successful enterprise. You may or may not realize it, but you're sparking their entrepreneurial spirit day in and day out. Work-at-home parents routinely let their kids help out with the business, doing things like stuffing and stamping envelopes, sorting and opening mail, and testing and critiquing products. So how do you make Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day unlike any ordinary day? Here are some tips:

    1. INVOLVE KIDS IN THE DECISION MAKING. Plan projects in which kids can voice their opinions. Let your child choose the colors for your brochure or help design your Website. Invite kids to share their promotional ideas. They may come up with quirky, fun marketing gimmicks that you would never have thought of on your own.
    2. DO LUNCH. Arrange a luncheon with other work-at-home parents and their kids. Have the entrepreneurs bring along samples of their products or some materials related to their service. It gives children the opportunity to learn about different types of home-based businesses and the importance of networking."
    3. HOLD AN OPEN HOUSE. Let your child's friends tour your home office so they can see an entrepreneur in action. Make kids your "entrepreneurial assistants" with special jobs and titles. The "Communications Consultant" can be in charge of collecting incoming faxes. The "Publicist" can be responsible for spreading the word about your business to everyone she knows.
    4. GO ON FIELD TRIPS. Teach kids that home-based doesn't mean housebound by scheduling projects that require face-to-face contact. Make this the day you meet with a client, work on-site, or attend an event sponsored by a professional organization -- and bring your child along. (But call ahead and get permission to do so! Since it's Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day clients and others are likely to be open to the idea.)

  4. Fending Off Work At Home Distractions

    When you work from home, distractions loom everywhere. Is that the siren call of the fridge you hear? And what about all those chores you've been meaning to get to? These diversions can easily knock us off the work track, sabotaging productivity and profits! Watch out for these common diversions and use these tactics to fend them off.

    Distraction: The kitchen.
    As you struggle with a tough work project, you manage to eat six cheese sticks, five low-fat cookies, a container of yogurt and one leftover piece of birthday cake. And you never knew you were capable of drinking so much coffee!

    Prevention: Bring healthy treats into your work space to discourage frequent and fattening trips to the fridge and pantry. Crunchy cut-up veggies, whole-grain crackers and dried fruits help satisfy cravings when you're in the mood to munch. As for beverages, water is healthiest and easiest to tote into your office. But if you can't work without several cups of coffee or tea, stick to decaf or herbal teas, and bring a thermos into your office so you don't have to venture near the kitchen and its temptations.

    Distraction: Your kids.
    You started working at home to spend more time with them, but you're finding it difficult to squeeze in any productive work time. Even when you do manage to convince kids that, "Mommy needs to work now," the interruptions are endless. You usually wind up abandoning all business tasks until the kids are in bed and then pull an all-nighter trying to get everything done.

    Prevention: Set a work schedule and consider getting some child care. A regular work routine helps you set boundaries between work and family life, so that you can block out the time you want to spend with your children and keep it separate and sacred. And having some part-time child care will allow you to work uninterrupted while the kids are well supervised. Soon, your kids will learn to respect mommy's work hours, and you'll have plenty of planned times where you can play with them guilt free.

    Distraction: Calls and visits during work time.
    You're at your desk when the phone rings and a telephone solicitor monopolizes your time with her pitch. Then, the doorbell rings, and it's the stay-at-home mom down the block, who thought this would be a good time to come by for coffee.

    Prevention: Learn to say no. It's the key to guarding your work and family time. Have polite phrases at the ready to deter people from zapping your work time. For example, next time a telephone solicitor calls, try saying something like, "Thank you, but I'm not interested. Oops, I have another call coming in," and hang up. Tell the other mom, "I'm sorry, but today's a work day and I really must get back to my desk. Let's get together when I'm off duty." And if drop-in guests become a continuing problem, you may have to simply ignore the doorbell. (We know work-from-homers who avoid parking their cars in the front of the house, so neighbors won't know they're home!)

    Distraction: Housework.
    You're supposed to be making cold calls, but instead you've done three loads of laundry, cleaned out the kids' closets and washed every window in the house.

    Prevention: Tackle housework during non-work hours. But more importantly, get out of the super mom mindset! Who says you have to do everything yourself? Enlist family members to help with household chores. Even young kids can help load the dishwasher or sort clothes for the laundry. Older children can be responsible for clearing the dinner table, taking out the garbage and collecting recyclables. Also, talk with your spouse about sharing household chores, and designate the ones each of you will be responsible for.

    Distraction: The goof-off urge.
    You should be working at your desk, but you'd really rather be tinkering in the garden, lounging at the beach or trolling the local department store for bargains. Before you know it, you're out the door, with stacks of unfinished work projects left behind.

    Prevention: Hang "Not Now, I'm Working" signs, in tempting areas to nudge you back to your desk. If gardening is your downfall, tack one of the signs to your gardening gloves. Or tape one to the steering wheel of your car to keep you from heading the beach or mall. Also make sure that you promise to reward yourself for jobs well done! You'll have much more incentive to finish up work tasks if you know that a bouquet of flowers, sea breezes or a new blouse is awaiting you upon completion!

  5. Running A Business With A Baby On The Way

    Many moms start their businesses after their children are born but what if you already have a business up and running and are expecting a baby? How do you keep it going, while bonding with your baby and adjusting to motherhood too? Don't worry with a little careful planning, you will be able to keep it running smoothly in those first few months after your infant arrives.

    Here's a little countdown chart to help you balance business and new baby.

    Six to Nine Months before Baby: Start mapping out your maternity leave. How much can you realistically take? We suggest you allow yourself as much time as possible to recuperate from childbirth, bond with your newborn and catch up on your sleep. Of course, the type of business you have will dictate how much time you can afford to take off. As writers, Pat and I were able to finish up deadlines before our second babies came along and factor in a month of maternity leave before taking on new projects. But if you have a product-based business or service business with ongoing responsibilities, this may not work.

    Choose the amount of time that works for you. Treat your maternity leave as you do vacations. Clients probably don't think twice when your office is closed for summer vacation. So as long as they have advance notice (more on this later), they will most likely understand. (After all, women in the "traditional" work world are entitled to maternity leave, and you should be too!)

    If you really feel you'll be unable to close down the office for an extended period, then consider whether you can temporarily hire someone to handle your day-to-day business duties after the baby arrives.

    Stop recruiting new business.

    Unless there's been a client or customer you've been actively wooing, we suggest you wait till after the baby comes to add new clients or projects. You're best to concentrate on your existing workload.

    Aim to complete current projects before baby comes, if possible.

    That way you can have some worry-free time with your newborn -- even if it's just a few weeks.

    Four to Five Months before Baby:

    Enjoy this high-energy time. In the mid-pregnancy months, morning sickness has usually disappeared and you'll be feeling much less tired. This is the time for tackling and finishing up those intense, all-encompassing projects and work tasks.

    Discover what can be delegated.
    Pay attention now to the tasks that can easily be done by someone else, so that once the baby comes you can consider hiring someone to do these for you. For example, you may be able to outsource such things as billing and databases. Begin brainstorming about people you might hire for these tasks.

    At Least Three Months before Baby:

    Tell clients about your pregnancy (if you haven't already).
    Let them know how long you plan to be on maternity leave. Assure them that you will either hire a dependable staff member to handle their projects or that you will refer them to someone reliable who can take care of business in your absence. If you're worried that clients may take their business elsewhere, remember this: Your clients value you and your expertise. If you've cultivated a good professional relationship with them, they will be eager to work with you again once you return from maternity leave.

    One Month before Baby:

    Give clients progress reports.
    If you can't finish all projects by the time you begin your leave, make sure each client knows who will be shepherding their work to conclusion.

    Set up automated systems.
    Think of ways you can use technology to keep in touch with clients and customers after baby arrives. For example, automated email messages can remind clients that you're on maternity leave, give them alternative people to contact and assure them that you are checking messages. Help clients and customers feel connected to you through email and your company Website.

    Line up your support system.
    If you've decided to outsource projects or hire office help, now's the time to select your staff.

    After Baby Arrives:

    Ignore the dust bunnies!
    Delegate household chores to your husband or other family members. Or, if you can afford it, hire short-term household help. It will be very difficult to keep on top of business matters and housecleaning while adjusting to new motherhood. (Family and friends will be asking you, "What can I do?" Now's your chance to tell them!)

    Send out announcements.
    Clients will appreciate receiving printed or emailed birth announcements. It's also a nice touch to include a little note that says how you look forward to working with them again soon. When you do return from maternity leave, email clients another personalized announcement letting them know how happy you are to be back at your desk. (If you think they'll appreciate it, include a photo of the baby, too.)

  6. Carve Out Couple Time

    Ever feel like you're so busy juggling kids and business that your relationship with your significant other falls to the bottom of your to-do list? Here's how to keep romance alive through the thick and thin of a home business.

    Schedule Special Rituals. Set aside a certain time of the day devoted to just the two of you. To keep the time sacred, mark it on your calendar, just as you would a client meeting or a pediatricians appointment. Perhaps you and your mate can share breakfast in bed before the kids wake up. Or maybe you can plan a candlelight dinner after the children are tucked in for the night. (Call a gourmet take-out service if you’re too tired to cook!) To keep business worries from intruding on your time, close your office door and let your answering system grab the calls. Use the time not only to catch up on daily events, but to reconnect emotionally and physically. To keep the conversation from being too utilitarian, put a limit on how much you talk about family and work, then try to spend the rest of the time focusing on how you feel about each other.

    Write Love Letters. Take a second out of your crazed business day to let your significant other know you're thinking about them. A romantic email or fax will brighten anyone's busy day. Or tuck a card in their briefcase that tells them how much you miss them.

    Shake up Your Lunchtime Routine. Stuck lunching at your desk? If your partner works nearby, ask them to join you! Set up a small card table or snack table in your office and order in some take-out. Or try spreading out a blanket and picnic on the floor! It's a refreshing change of pace!

    Turn Downtime into Dates! When you can't squeeze in a full-service date (you know, dinner, movie, the works …) make the best of the time you do have. For example, if the two of you are heading off to a parent-teacher conference, leave a few minutes early and take a detour for a quick cup of coffee.

    Put Passion into the Mundane. Turn everyday tasks into a shared experience. Cooking or exercising together, for example, can be very soothing and sensual. Even something as mindless as folding laundry together, gives you a chance to catch up with each other. Once you start devoting ordinary moments to each other, every day will like Valentine's Day.

  7. Creative Childcare Solutions For Holidays & Breaks

    If you run a home business and have children, holidays and the summer months can provide a particular challenge. How will you keep your business running smoothly while the kids are home from school? Here are some great child care strategies to line up now, most at low or no cost.

    HIRE A TEEN. High school and college students are also home during holiday breaks and will welcome the chance to earn some extra money. Spread the word with friends and neighbors or post an ad with your local high school or college employment center.

    SEEK OUT "TOT DROPS." Churches, synagogues, preschools and community organizations often offer group child care programs on a first-come, first-served basis. You can drop off your child for a few hours and he or she gets to play with other kids. The downside: There's no guarantee that there will be space on the day you need it.

    ENROLL KIDS IN SCHOOL VACATION PROGRAMS. Many communities offer mini day camps during school breaks. Kids can make crafts or play sports in a supervised setting -- usually a school or community center. But spaces fill up fast, so sign up now if there's one of these in your area.

    TRADE OFF WITH OTHER WORK-AT-HOMERS. Perhaps another Mompreneur® in your neighborhood can take your kids for one day. Then you take the kids the next. That way, both of you get solid blocks of time to work and make calls -- without pleas of "Mommy, I'm bored!" in the background.

    TRY THE PLAY DATE SOLUTION. Arrange for kids to visit friends for a few hours -- but be sure to reciprocate! If you have older kids (and their friends are not too rowdy!) hosting a play date at your house offers a chance to sneak in some work while the kids are occupied. Just be sure to check on them frequently.

  8. Low-Cost Child Care Solutions

    Most work-from-home moms find out the hard way—you can’t rock the cradle and run a business at the same time. And once those babies leave the cradle and start crawling and running around, it’s even tougher to carve out work time. Working into the wee hours of the night once the wee ones are asleep can lead to burnout in no time flat. And “hiring” your significant other to pitch in every time you have to go on the computer is going to strain your relationship. So what’s a mother to do?

    Luckily, when you work from home, you don’t have to go to the expense or heartache of full-time child care. A few hours one or two days a week can be just what you need to get a chunk of work accomplished without distractions. Here are some creative part-time babysitting solutions that are low- or no-cost—many of which have been devised by smart moms like you!

    •Exchange child care once or twice a week with another Mompreneur®. This time-sharing trade-off works best if the two of you have the same parenting philosophy and children of similar ages.

    •Swap babysitting for free services or products. One mom in our MompreneursOnline community has a friend watch her son in exchange for free tuition to her Spanish classes. The same arrangement can be made whether you do website design, cater meals, plan birthday parties or sell baby gear or cookware.

    •Share a sitter. Pool resources with another mom and hire a babysitter to watch all the kids in one location. By trading off locations, you can each have some quality quiet hours every week.

    •Investigate tot drops. Also called “Stay and Plays,” these part-time child care programs accept children on a first-come, first-served basis. They’re often run by churches or synagogues, community organizations and nursery schools and allow children to stay for several hours. Older children can also benefit from these programs; one option is Awanas. One of our community members takes her daughter to Awanas for 2 hours every Sunday night.

    •Mom’s Day Out. These group programs, also known as Parent’s Day Out, are often based in spaces similar to tot drops. They are designed for preschoolers and usually accommodate kids for one morning or afternoon a week.

    •House assistant or au pair. In exchange for room and board, a college student or young woman or man from another country will babysit part-time, sometimes along with light housekeeping.

    •Join or form a babysitting co-op. These group programs involve aggregates of families who “purchase” time from each other. Instead of cash, you pay by credits, tokens or tickets. Every family usually starts with the same number of credits; when yours run low, it’s time to “pay back” by babysitting for another family.

    •Sign up at the high school. More teenagers are looking for part-time, hourly jobs these days and many schools have a placement office. Get references and try out a teen in the evening before you sign on.

    •Advertise in senior centers and communities. Many “grandparents” who are not living near their children would welcome the chance (and extra cash!) to babysit a few hours a week. These are experienced parents who will take extra-good care of your kids.

    By Patricia Cobe and Ellen Parlapiano-Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved