Being a WAHM
Running a business from home and being a mama isn't that easy. Here are some tales from the trenches.
Can I just say, “thank god for my father-in-law”? I called him in for reinforcements this morning because we woke up to an ant infestation in every single room of our house, maggots all over the strawberries from the farmer’s market, and someone is coming to clean our carpets in 20 minutes. Last night C woke up three times and then slept in so late that she will have to nap the minute the carpet cleaners get here, but she’s a light sleeper and won’t be able to. I knew today wouldn’t be fun, let’s just say that.
I started this post last week, and decided to let it marinate for a little while. I am conflicted about posting it for a couple of reasons:
- I don’t want to scare the crap out of people, but I want to be honest
- I want to be honest but I don’t want my daughter to grow up and be upset that I aired her dirty laundry to the entire internet
- I don’t want to air my daughter’s dirty laundry to the entire internet but it’s not just her story to tell - it’s mine too.
After a week of marinating, honesty won out. Sorry, C. Please don't be emotionally damaged by this post.
The last couple of weeks have sucked ass, to put it lightly. I am sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and cranky. I feel bad saying that C is a difficult baby...
But OMFG C is a difficult baby.
C is what can only be described as a “spirited child.” Well, that’s not true. There are other words you could use to describe her, but that’s the technical term.
In the early days, the sleep books like No Cry Sleep Solution (for fans of attachment parenting) might as well have been written for an entirely different species, that’s how little they related to our situation. Books about the Happiest Baby on the Block might have made a teeny tiny dent in the horrors that comprise colic, but came nowhere NEAR to alleviating our problems.
And once the colic ended, the sleep problems began. We’re talking months of taking 30 minute naps and waking up every hour and a half, every. single. night. During the day, she and I were both tired and cranky all the time, and I was totally desperate. We slowly found a schedule that worked for us, using (in part) Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
However, if we deviate from this schedule even a smidge, a hell rains down upon this house worse than the plagues, I swear. This schedule includes both sleep and feeding, and each activity must be attended to within a half hour (or we’re screwed).
I am not able to identify with people who have “easy” babies. Not even remotely. If I don’t make my kid go to sleep at the designated time and in the designated place, she simply will not go to sleep. I see photos of children asleep on the living room floor, and I think, “that must be a pod person. That is not my experience of what children are like.” I once overheard my cousin say, "my son just went to sleep when he was tired." I think C would stay awake forever if I let her.
On top of everyday difficulties, we deal with the teething - which is what we’ve been going through lately. The author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child very nearly got a psychotic phone call from me at 3am screaming "YOU'RE AN IDIOT IF YOU THINK TEETHING DOES NOT DISRUPT SLEEP, YOU PIECE OF CRAP!" Yes, the man actually said that. When I was more sane, I was glad I didn't call him. But I still have doubts about his credibility.
When C is teething, it doesn’t matter what I do - we’re just screwed no matter what. Every time she gets another tooth, it’s like someone is boring a hole in her head with an ice pick. She can’t take her naps, she can’t sleep, she throws tantrums over everything, and is totally miserable. Which, in turn, makes everyone around her completely miserable as well. This goes on for weeks for each tooth. She now has six. Out of twenty.
The only thing that keeps me from completely losing my patience is empathy. Because the only person who has it worse than me is this little child, who can’t communicate and is often overtired and in pain. But even though that often keeps me from losing my patience, it doesn’t make things any easier.
Weeks like this are absolutely awful. A friend of ours came over this weekend, and I burst into tears, saying, "I don't feel like it's gotten any easier. It's just a different type of hideous than it was when she had colic." This are my low-down moments. My moments when I am depressed, hopeless, and actually angry at an innocent child. When I forget how to keep it in perspective that my child isn't laying in a hospital bed somewhere. After a bit of sleep or even one hour of sweetness from her, I feel better and know that it has, actually, gotten easier. She can't communicate well, but at least she can tell me she's hungry or wants milk. She can walk. That's better than the colic. Also, she's cuter than she was then, which helps. ;)
When parents say, "it never gets any easier, just hard in a different way," I am praying to god that they have "easy" children, and that their "hard" is my easy or even sorta-hard. Because if it's this hard forever - OMG, I need some help. Friends with spirited children tell me that it does get easier, once they can communicate better. I am hoping they're right.
I know that I'm not alone in having hard times like these, and I am really thankful for that. I don't live in a world where everyone I know has an "easy" baby. Sometimes, though, I just wish it wasn't this hard.
I'm sure that everyone feels like they're failing in some way - even those who look like they are doing it all probably think, "oh, but I didn't even get to half my 'to do' list!"
A few people have said to me, "I don't know how you're doing all of this!" so I thought it might be time to write another post about how someone runs a business from home and cares for an a-little-bit-over-one-year-old (uh, how did that happen? Shouldn't she still be a bitty baby?!). Because honestly, although I am doing the essentials, doing much more than that is VERY difficult. And I'm not about smoke and mirrors. If it's hard, I'm going to tell you.
Let's revisit - just for a moment - what I thought about working from home before I gave birth. I thought that it was mean for parents to say "good luck! You'll never plan anything again!" and "I hope your kid actually NAPS because mine didn't!" Thirteen months later, I can say this: it might have been mean to scare a poor pregnant gal, but they were RIGHT. What they didn't say, though, is that although you can't plan anything and working during naps is no way to live, you can (and will) make it work.
The key is streamlining your work. Nothing has made me more efficient than having a baby. Wondering why I'm rarely on twitter anymore? Did you send me a personal email three months ago? That there is evidence of things I've had to let slip. Now instead of perusing blogs like I used to, my google reader is trimmed back to only essentials, and I only read it from my iPhone if Charlie is playing quietly by herself. Instead of coming up with new and uninspired products that will never see the light of day (which I have to admit, I used to do), I just...don't.
For awhile, I worked during every nap and after bedtime every night. It didn't take long for me to realize that working that much is completely unsustainable (especially considering I was up multiple times at night because my baby didn’t sleep through the night until she was a year old). At that point, I decided to take stock of what was really important to me, and here’s what I came up with:
- My child - At around 6 months, Charlie became much more mobile and engaged. Although she still liked to play by herself, she really wanted to play with me - and I wanted to play with her. I felt guilty doing any work while she was awake, and I didn’t want to leave her to her own devices in a play pen if I could help it. Between work & Charlie, Charlie wins.
- My sanity - I am a Type A personality, and I will go, go, GO until I completely run out of steam, because I generally don’t know my own limits. This is how my filing cabinet gets decoupaged with maps of Oakland and Charlie’s walls get a mural. If I have an idea, I am almost compulsive about needing to see it through. This is unhealthy, and I do not recommend it. When this kind of insanity is applied to both my personal life (ie, decorating) and work, I burn out - quickly. I made the decision that I cannot compulsively work on new products. Things will progress more slowly now, and I simply need to be okay with that.
- Custom work - When I make a commitment to work with someone, getting things done in a timely manner is extremely important to me. All other work (ie, the clothing line) take a backseat to my custom clients. This also applies to my work emails - I remember that as a bride, I was super excited and couldn’t wait to hear back from my vendors. I try to remember that feeling no matter how preoccupied I am.
Once I established what was important to me, I realized that I could accomplish what was important to me work-wise, and if I felt burnt out I didn’t have to go any further than that. Not getting burnt out means that the quality of my new products is much better, and I also have time to let ideas marinate before I waste time working on something that could be improved upon. So although I’m not getting as much done to grow my business, there is a bright side.
I know that there are some work-at-home parents that are able to schedule their days. These parents often get up really early in the morning in order to have dedicated work-time, then spend the rest of the day playing with their kid(s) guilt-free. This may be something I try in the future...but I’m really tired, and I can’t imagine getting up at 3am. Getting up at 6 is hard enough!
Any WAH (work at home) parents out there with experiences or tips to share?
If you’ve been reading awhile, you may recall that I was actually kind of terrified of having kids. My main fear (or “dominating fear” as I called it) was that I’d lose myself in my children. One day, I’d wake up in the suburbs and have absolutely no idea who I was.
I am here to tell you, people, that I can definitely see how that can happen. And I, at 13 months post-baby, am letting it happen.
I recently got back from a week-long trip to Oregon (just me and C), and when my husband sent me a text message reading “I can’t wait to take you wakeboarding! You’ll love it,” a tiny piece of my heart broke. “When will I ever have a chance to go wakeboarding?!” I asked myself. And the answer, at this rate, is “in 20 years.” Why? Because I am the one who has to put C down for her naps. I am the one who has to put her down for bed. I am the one who has to comfort her in the middle of the night or when she falls down. I have a lot of "have to’s."
And that, my friends, is NOT GOOD.
This is how you lose yourself in your kids. In 13 months, I haven’t been away from C longer than 6 hours. SIX HOURS. Whose fault is this? It certainly isn’t hers, or Y’s. It’s mine.
My have to’s are not all related to C. They’re also every day chores, like doing the dishes, vacuuming, feeding myself, and taking a shower. They’re items on my To Do List for Stinkerpants. They’re emails, Facebook, bills, and grocery shopping. They are annoying.
I'm not going to lie - I like the "have to's" related to C. I like that she needs me. It brings me a lot of joy to be the one that brings her comfort. But it's better for her if she has more than one person who can bring her comfort, and it's better for her if she has a mama with a life. And of course, it's better for me too.
Unless I want to end up as the mother I feared (who has no sense of self), I need to make some changes.
My cousins J & P seem very happy to me. I would totally love to live their lives - they live right near the ocean in a very laid back, relaxed city. They don’t seem to be majorly stressed out about life. P takes time to himself every day to walk down the street and go surfing. Did I mention they have two kids? I'm sure I'm totally oversimplifying their lives (sorry J & P!), but the point is this: doing what you love, by yourself, keeps you sane. I need to find my version of surfing, and I need to take an hour to myself to do it every. single. day.
It’s about creating healthy habits now, so I don’t end up with no life later. Things are a lot harder to change when you have three kids and you haven’t paid attention to yourself in years. Right now, you hopefully know who you are and what makes you happy - so take that time for yourself now, to do the things that you love. Set the standard that you need you time every day, so that your family expects it. Not only is it harder to figure out what will make you happy if you haven’t thought about yourself in 10 years, but it’s harder to get your family on board if you’ve only been catering to them for 10 years. I mean, really, can you blame them? If they’re not used to taking care of themselves, they’re not going to like it at first.
So how do you take care of yourselves, people? I'm trying to figure out what I need to do to feel like me, not just like a mama. Here's what I've come up with: I need a full day to myself once per month. That means an ENTIRE DAY where I can go somewhere by myself and not have to worry about when I’m coming home. I want to have the freedom to have a night out with my girlfriends once per week, where we don’t bring the babies, and we - gasp - maybe have a drink. And I need one hour, every single day. Just one.
I think that, as mothers, we feel guilty about taking time to ourselves. I know that I feel guilty that I'm sitting on the couch watching TV when I could be working, improving my website, meal planning, or writing a novel. But in order to be happy people and positive role models, we need to be strong women with interests outside of our kids. They will emulate what we do - and I personally want C to put herself first, at least some of the time.
What about you guys? What do you need to feel like yourself? Do you feel guilty taking that time to yourself? Do you feel like you can take time for yourself?Comment
I have to admit, I have been avoiding writing this post. I know there are a lot of you out there who were like me 6 months ago: a small creative business owner who happens to be pregnant. Some of the comments on my previous posts have been along the lines of "thank you! You're giving me hope!" And so I haven't wanted to tell you how damn HARD it is to run a business and take care of a baby.
My initial plan was to take some time off. I figured a couple of months would be good. However, I didn't stop taking on projects when I should have because I still needed the income, especially because we just bought a house and spent a lot of money. And so I found myself, the week after Charlie was born, finishing up drawings. I haven't turned down any jobs, except for those who were on a serious time crunch (it's taking me 3x as long to finish things these days, so I've changed my workflow too, so I can still deliver on time). I put up a message on my website that I might be slow to respond to emails, but I still tried to respond within 24 hours.
The one thing I did stop doing was promoting myself. This ended up working well for me, because I got fewer inquiries and could handle the business I was bringing in. So instead of taking time off, I slowed down. Things were manageable, but not easy to say the very least. There were tears on more than one occasion. I'm not writing this as a woe-is-me sort of post, more like a "this is reality" post.
The difficulties were compounded by the fact that Charlie refused to sleep, starting at about 3.5 months. She went from sleeping 8 hour stretches at night to sleeping 3 hours at most. She didn't nap for longer than 30 minutes unless she was sleeping ON me. The only time I had to work was at night, after she went to sleep. But I was so tired that I was running myself ragged trying to get anything done. I was running on very little sleep and still only had about 2 hours per day of work time.
Things have gotten better in the past week, because we decided (reluctantly) to start sleep training. Charlie is now able to sooth herself back to sleep and thus is finally on a routine. She sleeps from 7pm - 7am with two feedings, and during the day naps from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. I am better rested and have more time to work.
I am hoping that things will get easier as she continues to grow up. She can already entertain herself SO much more than she could before, so I'm often able to respond to a few quick emails while she plays with her toys on the floor for a few minutes. The other issue, though, is that my priority is obviously Charlie. While she CAN entertain herself for quite a while without being bored, I want her to have interaction with me and the world, and see new things. I don't want to keep giving her new toys so I can ignore her 5 minutes longer - I want to take her out for walks so she can experience the world beyond our front door.
The reason why I've been dreading writing this post is because I want you guys to be hopeful, and I don't want to scare the crap out of you. My business is not where it used to be, by any means. I am having to get creative about how I will continue to grow when I have far, far less time than I used to. The good news is that, slowly but surely, things get easier as they get older. In the beginning, she couldn't entertain herself at all, and she wasn't going to bed until 11pm. Things are a lot easier with a six-month-old than they were with a newborn, or even a three-month-old. But I have scaled things back quite a bit, and I am certainly not working full time.
I know a few of you had due dates not long after mine - how have you coped? Are you still out there? I know it's difficult to comment from your iPhone (that's how I read all of my blogs these days), but I'd love to hear from you. :)
When I thought about getting pregnant, I (of course) had to think about my plans for Stinkerpants. I figured, “okay, once we get pregnant, I’ll have about 7-8 months to get a bunch of goals accomplished, and then once the baby is born I can take a step back and just maintain the business for awhile.”
Uh, yeah. That’s not what happened.
I didn’t anticipate that my life would change dramatically right away. I am sure this doesn’t happen for everyone, but heck–it sure happened for me. I found out I was pregnant, and literally two days later I started throwing up. By the next week, I was so exhausted that I could barely get off the couch. Even doing the laundry was both mentally and physically draining. Accomplishing my long list of goals for early 2010? Not going to happen! I’ve been in maintenance mode.
Now that I’m four five months (what is up with the way they calculate pregnancy months?!) into this pregnancy, my mind has cleared a little bit (although I did recently mail a letter to my mom and address it to myself–oops!) and the daily sickness seems to have gone the way of the exhaustion, thank heavens.
So now, with about 5 months until my due date, I’m finally thinking about my business and re-thinking my goals.
Part of this process involves thinking about maternity leave realistically. I’ve asked various people for advice on this and have been very unhappy with their responses, which have ranged from “plan?! You can’t HAVE a plan!” to “working at home with a baby is an impossibility until at least 7 months.” After hearing those responses, I was left feeling kind of powerless. After all, even though this seems like overkill to me, who am I to argue? What do I know? I’ve never had a kid.
Well, I’ll tell you what I do know, actually. I know that, at the end of the day, this is a baby. As Y said, it’s not like we’re battling wildfires every day. It’s definitely going to be hard, but seriously?! I can pick up my work for a few minutes and then drop it again when I have to take care of the baby–I don’t need 8 continuous hours of work, and I’m not doing brain surgery here. Furthermore, I know that I will have the help of my husband, in addition to both my parents and my in-laws.
I also know that this business isn’t a hobby for me, and I feel a great responsibility to my clients. And having my business sit idle for months on end isn’t good for the business, it isn’t good for me, and ultimately (because I’ll get cranky), it won’t be good for Little Stinker. The other thing? I can’t afford not to work for that long. But the real big kicker, the one that squashes all the negative advice, is this: I know that there are women who have done it, and I can be one of them.
This afternoon I was able to talk to a good friend of mine, who also happens to have a 7 month old baby. She made me feel a LOT better about what having a baby is all about, and actually reinforced some ideas I’d already had (mostly because my mom told me). For the first few months, the baby doesn’t need to be entertained that much. It’s mostly about figuring out how to get them to sleep, how to cope yourself, and letting your body heal. Once they get to be 5-7 months old, though, they start to need more attention. They want to be entertained. And that, my friends, is when I think working from home will be rough. But I’ll cross that bridge later. ;)
I also was very lucky to call on some inspirational and intelligent women from the wedding industry last week (thank you Michelle and Caroline!), who were very reassuring about my ability to keep running my business and take care of the baby. Because I’m not the only one who has gone through this or will go through this in the future, I figure I’ll post about my experience here on the blog every now and again. Maybe someone through Google will find my learning experiences helpful. :) And hey, I bet I’ll have a few funny experiences to share, too. ;)
In other news, I hope you are all well! Thank you again for your supportive comments on my last post. You guys are awesome!Comment
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