I frequently receive emails from readers asking for advice on how we balance working at home with our home life. Here’s the latest letter I received:
I wanted to let you know what a great resource your weekly newsletter is to me and how eagerly I anticipate it in my e-mail inbox. Thank you for providing such a wonderful tool for anyone who will sign up to receive it. I am especially inspired by your personal stories from home, and I hoped you would share some tips on how you organize your day and get everything done. It seems amazing to me that you can manage a family (especially a young baby) and demanding (albeit rewarding) work and not be overwhelmed.
Thank you, Amy
I think the only way to share advice with you on how we make it work is to tell you about us and how we live each day.
As most of you know, we have 5 biological children, ranging in age from 7 months to 20 years. We also have Sarah (Zach’s girlfriend who doesn’t live here, but who’s here a lot), Matt (who is away at school right now, but not for long), and Aubri (Matt’s girlfriend). When everybody’s home, it’s quite a jolly crowd! In fact, next week everybody will be out of school for February break and we’re very excited about that!
Mason is the seven month old. He pulls himself into a standing position on anything that is near him and he then wobbles until he falls. We strategically place pillows around him to avoid bumps and bruises. He is crawling EVERYWHERE and into EVERYTHING. And, he’s putting things into his mouth. So, he’s at his highest maintenance phase. Richard and I swap times watching him so he’s constantly supervised.
Max is five years old and very independent. He thinks of things he needs or wants for his train sets (like signal lights or switches) and he then makes them out of legos. He also makes a variety of things out of clay, paper and tape. Whatever he needs, he knows he can make. He’s very wary of strangers and very smart. He does not go outside by himself and stays glued to my side when we’re out in public. On the flipside, he’s a very social young man and gets along very well with children and adults. He’s reading short words and quite excited about soon being able to read his Thomas the Train and Berenstain Bears books all by himself!
Frank is 14. We are no longer cool in his eyes and he spends his time either at school with extracurricular activities, or in his room playing video games or instant messaging his friends. He just got his first cell phone (sigh). He is WONDERFUL with babies. More on that below.
Ali is 16. She’s a typical 16-year-old girl. Make-up, hair and boys. Need I say more? Now that basketball season is over, she spends most of her free time at home, talking on her cell phone or instant messaging her friends, watching TV, eating junk food, etc. She’ll be getting her first job soon!
Zach is 20. He attends college and works for us. He has a girlfriend, Sarah. They spend their time at school, eating out, or at our house or Sarah’s. Where Zach is, Sarah is, and vice-versa.
And there there’s Matt and his girlfriend Aubri, both 19. They attend school in Presque Isle, but are with us during school breaks and the occasional weekend. After this semester, they’re both moving back to Bangor. Aubri will be attending nursing school and Matt will be at the main University of Maine campus. We’ll be building out the attic in the spring and adding another bedroom for Matt. Matt works for us, too. Aubri’s family lives nearby.
If you think it’s easy having adult children living in the house, you’ve never had adult children living in your house. They need our guidance and advice, from career choices to their love lives, and our best lectures. And, sometimes it takes some doing to get a good lecture going. I think of it as an impromptu speech that, should you screw it up, could really screw up your kid.
That said, here’s how we do it. I take care of the little ones in the morning and Richard takes them in the afternoon. If Richard didn’t work at home, too, I’m certain I couldn’t juggle this many children and working at home, too, without hiring someone to help. Richard gets up very early and takes Ali and Frank to school. (He also picks them up in the afternoon, takes them to school events, and runs most of the errands, including doing the grocery shopping.) I get up in the morning and change a diaper, dress the baby and feed M & M (Max and Mason). I then start some laundry if Richard doens’t already have a load going, and pick up any clutter that has “mysteriously” appeared overnight. If I’m lucky, I am on my laptop by 9:00 a.m. I work either upstairs in our bedroom, where Mason has two baskets of baby toys, or I work downstairs in the living room, where Mason has more room to roam.
Mondays I work on the weekend onslaught of email. On Monday afternoon, I start the current week’s issue of WritersWeekly. I have a huge, and I mean HUGE, text file of articles, Whispers and Warnings, etc., that will appear in future issues of WritersWeekly. I start by pulling the current week’s information and putting in order.
Tuesday mornings, I edit WritersWeekly and send it to Zach. I then spend the rest of Tuesday doing more email. “Doing email” includes answering questions, formatting books, talking to the printer and cover designer, etc. On Tuesday evening, I find the jobs for the next day’s issue so they’ll be as current as they can be.
Wednesdays are “issue day.” That means Richard and Zach are busy bees, taking care of the technical side of it, while I watch M & M most of the day.
Thursdays are what I detest – paperwork day. I open all the paper mail that has come in that week. I answer mail and faxes, process orders, and pay bills. And, I spend the entire day whining about it.
Fridays are when things start to slow down. I only get, say, 250 emails instead of 300 (ha ha) and I can start to catch my breath. Friday is also our weekly meeting, where we sit down and discuss the state of the business, new business, changes, software updates, marketing ideas, etc. On Friday nights, Ali babysits and Richard and I have our weekly date.
On saturdays, I try to answer every single unanswered email so I can take Sunday off. I usually work a full-day on Saturday while Richard helps out with M & M.
I have more work to do for the business than everybody else because I work with all the authors, one on one. If I get behind (if emails are being answered in two days instead of one), Richard will take over my household chores and M & M until I get caught up. And, if things really get hairy, Zach and Sarah are always happy to play with Mason for a couple of hours or to take Max somewhere fun. Just last week, they took Max to Borders to meet the Berenstain Bears and then took him to lunch. Ali rolls her eyes, but she will “take the baby” if I beg. Frank is great with young children and always has been. There are some people who are just baby magnets and Frank is one of those people. He’s goofy and sweet and they seem to instinctively know that. Even though he’s a stranger, babies smile at him when we’re out running errands. When Frank walks in the room, Mason’s entire face lights up. If Mason is ever cranky, Frank can instantly turned his tears to giggles.
Now, I will admit that I have hired help when I needed it. Aubri was a great help with Mason right after he was born and Sarah has been pitching in on a part-time basis the past couple of weeks. We had a housekeeping service long ago, but just couldn’t justify spending that money when there are so many perfectly able-bodied teenagers here who should be able to at least handle a room or two each day. So, we put everybody on a chore schedule. That works out…but only when we remind them to do their chores every single day.
During the mayhem of our lives, we are constantly saying we’re going to cook at home more (eat out less and order in less) and that we’re going to get on a budget and stick to it, get on a better schedule, etc., but, like with most families, our organizational intentions, while good, usually don’t mesh with real life. The best advice I can offer is this. You really have to take things as they come because being too organized can really mess with your productivity.
It is hard sometimes. Some days we talk about when we had “real jobs”…those days when getting off work at 5:00 meant…getting off work at 5:00. Working for yourself usually means working longer, but more flexible, hours. We don’t have to ask permission to take a day off…but we also work far more hours each week than most people who have “real jobs.” I estimate that lately I’ve been working about 10-12 hours per day. In January, I was working 12-15 hours/day. The nice thing is, I can work on my laptop while Mason is nursing (yeah, I mastered that years ago) and while he’s sleeping on my lap. When I’m reading an email, I’m rubbing his head or holding his hand. When I’m typing, his hand might be on my arm and his head is resting against me. Right this moment, Mason is asleep on my lap and Max is curled up on my right side, cuddling with me and watching Caillou on PBS. I love being a Mommy!
For years, all I ever wanted to do was find something I could do from home so I could be with our children every single day. I know how blessed we are that we found a way to do it.