Handling the transition to work-at-home mum

“I feel like I have no time for fun anymore,” I said to my husband in a moment of bleak honesty. “All I do is work after the kids are asleep, then go to bed.”
I had recently started working from home. While I was thankful to be bringing in some money, I was finding the transition to work-at-home mum a bit bumpy.

What used to be my time to relax, enjoy some recreation, or simply catch up on housework had become filled to the brim with work for my new clients.
I loved the work I was doing. It brought me immense satisfaction. However, in other areas of my life, things were falling behind or simply falling apart.

I’ve been a work-at-home-mum for over two years now and a lot of those bumps have been smoothed out. Life now has a good rhythm and balance to it.

I’d love to share some of my ups and downs to help you along the way if working from home is something you’re considering.

Less mental space

I noticed almost immediately once I started working from home that I had much, much less mental space. I was always thinking about the task at hand, plus 10 or so other things at the same time.

This was a bit of a blessing in disguise because it caused me to become more organised. I had to learn to write things down instead of assuming I would remember. And, of course, to learn how to really be present in the moment, especially when I was with other people. It takes work to put all those thoughts out of your mind, and really just be with someone, listening to and connecting with them.

I discovered that I actually do best when I have a lot on my plate (but not too much). There seems to be this sweet spot between idleness and burnout. And, look, it’s a pretty big sweet spot. But it’s something you need to be vigilant about as a work-at-home mum. It’s easy to let “work thoughts” creep into every moment, especially when your work involves creativity or problem-solving. Keep a notebook handy so you can jot down thoughts as they come, rather than needing to hold them in the front of your mind.

Taking on too much

When I first started working from home, it was hard to know how much time I really had available for work. I wrote out a weekly schedule in hourly increments, factoring in everything from school drop off and pick up, to running errands and home admin, to cleaning, laundry, and cooking (and sleeping). And of course, Sundays blocked out for rest and worship. On paper, it looked like I had a certain number of hours available for work each week. But in practice, it was much less.

I forgot to allow for things like kids being home sick from school, people in my church community having emergencies and needing help, and even just having the space to listen to and be present with my husband and kids.
I felt very overwhelmed and like I was failing at everything all the time for a period. News flash – I couldn’t do it all!

I have had to learn to reduce my workload and allow more “white space” in my week. I need to be realistic about what I can actually handle.
When I look at the things that dropped off due to me taking on too much work – time to just be available to my kids, creativity in cooking, anything beyond the basics of home management, a joyful attitude – it’s easy to stick to my guns and keep my workload low.

Think about what you spend your time on now and what/how much of that you are prepared to lose. Assume you have less hours available than what it looks like on paper.

School holidays

School holidays are such an important time for kids – they need a break from the routine and structure of school to rest their minds and bodies.

And yet, when I started working from home, suddenly I had clients that still needed work done, regardless of whether or not my kids were home.
By this stage, my oldest two kids were in primary school and my youngest was in childcare for 12 hours a week. So the contrast between term time and school holidays was quite stark.

While it has been hard to figure out the school holiday conundrum, I’m thankful for the flexibility I have because I am a work-at-home mum. This flexibility has allowed me to come up with creative solutions to this issue of school holidays.

Now, in order to balance my workload with school holiday times, I:

  • Plan ahead with my work schedule. Where possible, I try to get client work done ahead of time, and I don’t take on larger projects during the school holidays.
  • Order groceries online. During the school term, I usually do the grocery shopping every week or two with Mr 4 while the older kids are at school, but during the school holidays, I find it a better use of everyone’s time and energy to have them either ordered for pickup or delivery.
  •  Stick to our daily routine. I created a basic routine for our school holidays. It includes chores for the kids and I and an outing in the morning. Home for lunch, then the kids all have quiet time in their rooms for about 1.5 hours (while I nap and do some work). Then afternoon tea and backyard play, afternoon jobs, TV time, then dinner.
    Having a basic routine helps the kids to know what to expect, and I can plan out some work time as well.

Relaxation time

As a stay-at-home mum, I had the freedom to build in relaxation time whenever I needed it. My schedule was flexible, with few outside commitments. And while caring for children is intense and the housework is never truly “done”, I could always let something slide for a few days or a week if I needed to.

I quickly discovered a few things when I started working from home. I had hard deadlines for clients. There was always more I could be doing – if not for clients, then in the building and marketing of my own business. It was hard to find time to relax. All my time was spent either caring for my family, managing the home, or working. The lines between all of these categories often became blurred.

I remember one night early on when I signed a new client on my phone while I was in the bath, supposedly relaxing. Don’t be like me.
Make time to relax and draw a hard boundary around it. I don’t do work on Sundays, instead, I keep that time set apart for worshipping God and resting.

We all need time to rest and time to relax. Setting time for these things has to be intentional when you work from home.

Who am I?

Looking back, I think the hardest part of transitioning from a stay at home mum to a work-at-home mum was that I had a little bit of an identity crisis.
I had taken on “SAHM” as part of my identity – it was my “thing” and I felt like I was good at it.

When I suddenly didn’t fall into that category anymore, I freaked out.
But that has turned out to be another blessing in disguise. Losing what I thought was a key part of my identity led me to the truth.
My identity is not in what I do, or the job title I take. My identity is in who I am and what I am here for.

I am a child of God, dearly loved and with one purpose in life – to glorify His name. That’s who I am, and it doesn’t shift with the seasons of my life. Whether being a stay-at-home mum, a work-at-home mum, or any of the other seasons I have yet to enter, my identity is rock solid.

Perhaps coming to terms with my identity is what has helped to smooth out the transition most of all. Knowing who I am and what I am here for helps me to make decisions about my life (both big and small) with absolute clarity and confidence.
Whether I’m on the laptop working, baking muffins for school lunchboxes, or having a nice (work-free) bath, I know who I am.

Jessica Harvey
Creative Activities Coordinator, Tuggeranong MOPS

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