A friend of mine who has finally given up the stress of corporate life and is setting up her own business part-time from home asked me this week how I compartmentalise work and family stuff. Here’s what I said.
Work days/half days are work days. Mummy/family time is family time. When I’m in the office and the children are at nursery, I am at work. if I’m not on a deadline, I also do some household stuff during work hours, just so I’m not always doing laundry/tidying/ironing/shopping around the children.
When I’m not in the office, I’m running the family business. I dip into emails/Twitter on mummy days/afternoons/weekends to keep up. I’m thinking of getting a Blackberry, but actually as soon as I start responding to an email I’m in work mode and notice I’m not tuning into the children when they are talking to me, so I’m not sure that’s a good idea for me. If I’m busy, I go back into the office when they are in bed.
If a client desperately needs my help on a non-work day, I try and sort grandparents or friends to help out, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. If I really need him to, DH will leave work early or work from home if I have a networking do or something and need him to pick the kiddies up from nursery, bath and put them to bed. He’s the breadwinner, but actually when my work time is all accounted for, I can sometimes earn more than him in two and a half days a week, and he is well aware (thanks to good conversations and bad rows!) how important my job is to our financial situation as well as my own sanity, so it’s in his interest to be as supportive to me as I am to him.
Like most husbands, he mostly needs specific instructions on household stuff, but he is pretty good these days at mucking in and seeing what needs to be done around the house. I don’t think he actually knows how to use the washing machine, but he does iron his own shirts if I don’t have time! And although I cook, he’s a pretty good sous chef and is happy to chop onions and wash up. Again, if I request something of him, it usually gets done.
I use a big whiteboard in the kitchen for family dates so everyone (ie DH) knows what’s going on each week. This has hours of the day and days of the week, plus a section at the bottom for future dates. This is known as My Brain. My memory is not as good as it once was – too much stuff leaks out if I don’t actually write it down. I also use Outlook for birthday and anniversary reminders as well as work appointments.
My big regular clients who are more like friends know exactly what my weekly official office hours are. No-one else does. When I first went back to work part-time after having DD nearly four years ago, I got my knickers in a twist about letting everyone know when I was working and getting annoyed and resentful and stressed when they didn’t remember/know and wanted something done when I was on mummy time. Now I let people assume I’m available five days a week in normal hours, and just respond to emails and phone messages as soon as possible.
I do occasionally say, when relevant, that I need to pick the children up from nursery, but only when I know I’m dealing with someone who won’t have a problem with that being the reason. Otherwise I’ll simply saying I’m leaving the office at a certain time, or will be out of the office all day tomorrow, or whatever – just like they do. I’ve also done a fair bit of changing nursery days and hours over the past year or two to suit me and the children, and it gets confusing if people think they know you work all day Monday and then find out that’s no longer the case. So I don’t make a thing of it. It doesn’t hurt if people assume you are just busy and successful!
My office, by the way, is a self-contained ‘shed’ in my garden. It is just a few yards from the house but it has a door and a lock and a separate phone line, so the start and end of office time feel physically very defined for me. I do use the computer in the house to check emails, and everyone has my mobile number.
On paper, my life looks pretty well balanced, and I am broadly quite good now at keeping work and family separate, but when you’re running your own business part-time there are lots of times when you need to be flexible, not only doing bits of work when you’re meant to be in mummy mode, but also dropping everything when a child is ill or something else comes up. Sometimes this juggling act gets stressful, and I need to ask for help, change things so they work better, drop balls etc. Sometimes, I feel like I’m not giving either my kids or my clients 100%.
But it can be done, and a good week where everything has worked smoothly is enormously satisfying.