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Working Overtime, Even at Home, Is Hard on Mom and Family

© 1999, by Azriela Jaffe

For women and men in search of a way to spend more time with their children, working from home, as opposed to an outside office, is often viewed as the solution to the problem. Freed from mandatory working hours, the inability to be at home when children come home from school, or the inflexibility of two weeks vacation and five sick days a year, some professionals find that working from home provides just the balance they need for also caring for their family.

The concept sounds good, but it doesn't always work as well as hoped for. Working full-time, even at home, is still working full-time.

Recently I heard from Shelley Coolidge, a colleague I met when she was a staff writer for a large national publication, and she interviewed me a few times for various feature stories. She seemed to have the best of both worlds - she was on staff for the publication, but allowed to work from home. So, I was surprised when she sent me an email announcing her new website, Shop For Your Kids. (It has links to more than 100 of the best places on the internet to shop for your kids - check it out!)

Shelley shared a story with me that will be familiar to many women and men who are constantly searching for the right balance between work and child care:

"Two years ago, I relocated from Boston to Los Angeles, to take a new assignment at the national publication where I was employed. At the time I was five months pregnant with my first child, and I knew the new assignment would be a tremendous amount of work. But the job also allowed me to work full time out of my home, which I thought would make it easier to balance a full time career as a reporter and motherhood."

"I wasn't getting any special treatment - it was just one of the benefits of the new job. Almost all of the bureau writers work from home -it saves the paper big bucks -no office space to rent, etc. I assumed working from home would make it much easier to balance motherhood and a full time career. And it did in many ways.

"My daughter was born in April 1998. I took a four month maternity leave, and then headed back to work full time, still working from home. I had a great care situation. My sister-in-law watched our daughter in her home five hours every morning. Then I worked during her afternoon nap and late into the evening, to finish up my work.

"The set up was just great. It worked well for me to knock off work in the later afternoon (when my daughter woke up) and have some down time with her and then go back to work, rather than work twelve consecutive hours, which is what I used to do when I worked in our Boston office. At the end of those twelve hours I wasn't all that productive."

As most working mothers discover, whatever caregiving set up we establish for our children is always subject to change, and can, with a snap of the fingers, go from perfect, to not working at all. Shelley knew her child care arrangement was temporary. It lasted for five months until her sister-in-law ( and caregiver) became pregnant and Shelley needed to find another care provider.

Shelley then pieced together a combination of daycare and stay-at-home mom sitters, but she found the constantly changing schedule exhausting. She also wanted to spend more time with her daughter, who she found increasingly engaging as she grew into a toddler.

People often asked her ( and me), "why do you even need child care when you work from home?" I applaud Shelley's response: " Being a mom is a full-time job and so is being a reporter. I can't do two full-time jobs at once."

Shelley got permission from her employer to work part-time from home, and she and her husband gave up all company benefits and made the necessary cut-backs in household expenses and savings. What Shelley longed for was the ability to work no more than 40 hours a week, and that's what brought her to launching her new website. Shelley shares:

"Now, I spend about 20-25 hours a week writing and another 15 hours a week on my web site. Some people say, 'Well, that's close to 40 hours a week, where's the scaling back?' When I worked as a staff writer, I regularly put in 50 hour weeks and I always had a deadline for my editors. Now, if I don't meet a deadline on my website, it's no big deal, because I'm the boss!"

The notion of full-time work may range from 35 hours a week for some employers, to an expectation of 60-80 or more hours a week, depending on the company and corporate culture. Even working from home will tear you away from being present for your family more than you'd like, if you are expected to do the work of two people.

The question for each parent is really not, "full-time or part-time", but, "how many hours do I want to work, so that I can still parent my children the way that I'd like to, in the way that they need from me?" That question must be balanced with financial needs as well.

Shelley has found her answer, for now, anyway. She expects it to continue to change, as she and her family grow and develop. Nothing in life is static, especially entrepreneurial life.

Azriela Jaffe is the founder of "Anchored Dreams" and author of Honey, I Want to Start My Own Business, A Planning Guide for Couples (Harper Business 1996), Let's Get Into Business Together, Eight Secrets for Successful Business Partnering (Avon Books, 1998) and Starting from No: Ten Strategies to Overcome Your Fear of Rejection and Suceed in Business. (Dearborn 1999). For a free online newsletter for entrepreneurial couples, or for information about her syndicated column, "Advice from A-Z", email [email protected]. Questions and reader response can be emailed, or write to: PO Box 209, Bausman, PA 17504.

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