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Rule 16: Not Everyone Can Work From Home

Aug 11, 2008
Jen Dahlen, a wife and mom of twin boys, is a Denver-based designer/entrepreneur. She helps visually communicate brands among various industries and keeps her clients on their competitive edge.

If you want to succeed in your career while raising a toddler, work far, far away from home. All moms love their kids. And most love their jobs. So when the option to work from home arises, what could sound better?! That's what I once thought, anyway.

I was blessed with twin boys. I left my full time position as a graphic designer with an advertising agency to stay home with them and start my own graphic design business. I loved my job, but it just didn't make sense to us to hand over almost my whole paycheck to day care. I should spend the time with them...right? It seemed like a great time in my life to become an entrepreneur--new babies, new beginnings. I was very optimistic.

The first nine months were smooth sailing--even with twins. I stayed home all day and got plenty of work done. I bought a laptop so I could be in whatever room they were in. I loved having no one to answer to. And, I loved the freedom to have things on my terms. Then, one day, they began to crawl.

I remember my sister-in-law saying something about, "once they start to crawl, it's all over." At the time I just thought she was being a pessimistic, burned-out mom. Besides, I was a mom of twins, which automatically made me a Super Mom.

I think I was in denial about how difficult working from home had grown to be. Around their second birthday, I realized how much things had changed. My home had become a zoo. I finally admitted that two year olds and working from home just don't mix, and that soon I was going to go crazy. I felt I was cheating my clients, cheating my children, and cheating my husband, and therefore cheating myself. Then, I made a huge mistake.

I introduced my two-year-olds to the Thomas the Tank Engine website. My plan was to be the "fun mom" that day. It was one of the most fun moments of their lives, since they worshiped the tracks Thomas rolls on. But since that day, I could not open my laptop within fifty feet of my boys without them jumping up and down, begging for "a Thomas game." Of course, I cave in every time because it is such an innocent, fun thing they want to do.

So now my working-from-home hours are mostly limited to nap time and bed time. However, I have been able to brainstorm up a few activities to keep the little monkeys busy when I really need to follow-up on emails and calls during the day. Things they don't need assistance with.

A bag full of magnets and a few pizza pans make a good toddler activity. And when the pizza pans become boring, pull out some sauce pots and show your little one how to stick them on the sides. And after that loses its luster, show him how to put a piece of paper behind the magnet and then use it as a drawing template. This type of activity can be tweaked all day! Just change up the materials to keep it interesting and new.

I've also found that various small multi-colored things can occupy a toddler for a good while, like a bag of colored craft puff balls, a container of collected hotel soaps or a bag of uncooked pasta noodles in different shapes and colors.

So, the moral is this: Some ages are more suitable to combine with working from home. Toddlerhood is definitely not one of these stages. But if you really want or have to do it, just remember that while your work is important, your child will be with you forever. So find time that is dedicated 100 percent to your little one. Then find time that is 100 percent dedicated to your work. If you try to do both at the same time, you will feel like a failure at both.

It's difficult to balance, but nothing a latte won't fix the next morning.

As excerpted from "42 Rules (tm) for Working Moms" Super Star Press, 2008
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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