Reality check: The Work-At-Home life

Stuffed animals in disarray.
What my life feels like right now.

Greetings from the home front! Weekly routine has resumed, after much disruption and unusual activity in late December due to Christmas and my husband being on leave, etc.

As the caption above clearly states, this is how I feel about my current state of affairs right now. Everything is in disarray and all muddled, with unfinished business piled up high into one huge To Do mountain (the word “list” seemed too mild a word to describe the mayhem heh).

But I’m not really here to complain. We have enough negativity online, don’t we? To the contrary, I’m just here to share some candid stories with you.

If it’s your first time here, let me just give you little background by saying that I am a mother to a 2+ year old son and I maintain a home based career as a freelance writer while managing my child on my own during the daytime (until my husband returns from work at the end of the day, that is). That’s most of what you need to know, really.

Alright, let’s get on with it. Here’s what this post is essentially all about:

Working at home and its wonky consequences

Part of the reason that I started this blog was so that I could encourage you, my dear reader, through tales from my own life. This is one of my attempts to do just that.

Right now, my current lifestyle involves being homebound so let’s talk about that.

In particular, if you’re someone who’s contemplating whether the Work-At-Home arrangement is suitable for you, perhaps what I am about to say will help.

Let’s talk about what working at home really looks like, shall we?
For starters, there is no such thing as a typical day at home. Ironically. Haha.
However, I can share with you some regular features in my daily and weekly routine. Here are some of them:

1. Scrounging for time to work wherever I can. This is usually during my toddler’s nap times, after he has gone to bed at night or while he is absorbed in some play activity all by himself. The pockets of time that I normally manage to seize range from 5 minutes to perhaps 45 minutes. Anything block of uninterrupted time of a duration close to an hour or beyond is very rare indeed.

2. Multitasking: The unavoidable, lesser evil. For example, this morning, I had to prepare my invoice which I needed to send out to my client while nursing my still sleepy and slightly grumpy son at the same time. This meant balancing him on my lap while trying to type at the keyboard. Other examples of feats I have had to perform include cooking with multiple interruptions from my son or having to pause to check whether he has gotten up to anything mischievous while doing my best not to burn any food. Also stuff like eating lunch while standing or moving around the home doing chores (such as hanging out the laundry) at the same time.

3. Staying available on the phone to reply work related messages. I often settle work related conversations via WhatsApp which means sometimes offering divided attention to my son. What this looks like in reality: We would be eating lunch and as I coax him to keep feeding himself and keep a conversation going with him, I’ll also be hashing out ideas to a client about what content to put up on their Facebook posts.

4. Working in odd circumstances or conditions. Basically, not being fussy about when or where or how you work. When I’m desperate, I’ll write social media copy while relieving myself in the toilet or in bed when I get up in the middle of the night and realise I’ve unfinished work that’s soon due. Sometimes, I also write while sitting at the back of the car as my husband drives us to our destination.

5. We don’t cook as often as I’d like to. We manage only 3 homecooked meals weekly, and we eat 2 dinners each week at my parent’s place where my Mum would cook. Although we only cook several times a week, we somehow manage to salvage enough leftovers to cover lunch times on weekdays. So most days, Jamie and I eat leftovers for lunch in the daytime. Whichever other meals that are not homecooked or eaten at my parent’s are store bought.

6. The first thing to be neglected is usually chores. Since my time is divided between house chores, freelance work and minding Jamie, this is how things often gets prioritised. If you are the kind that cannot stand physical mess, this will likely irk you as it does me. I can tolerate a certain degree of untidiness, but what we experience over here often exceeds my threshold. But I have to live with it. Because being at home and working only on a freelance basis means we don’t have much extra cash to play with so hiring paid help to handle household chores is highly unlikely.

7. Child minding takes up most of my time. This is especially so if you have a toddler. They haven’t really learned patience yet. And they are almost always needing you or clinging to you. So if you can’t stand someone always being in your face, maybe leave childcare to a babysitter and keep that full time job so you can afford the corresponding fees. A win-win for you, since you will not go crazy dealing with the demands of a young child. Trust me, there’s a lot involved.

8. Lack of personal time. This is probably the pessimistic part of me speaking, but more often than not, you will not have any time to yourself. Even glancing through the notifications on your mobile device is a luxury. Being able to eat whenever you’re hungry is another thing you might need to sacrifice. Hobbies? Sure, but normally that’s only once all the necessaries have been dealt with, eg everyone in the family has been fed, essential chores are out of the way, no client is waiting for any deliverables from you.

9. Be prepared for interruptions anytime. This means that you will often have multiple tasks at various stages of completion at any one time. The interruption I am talking about is the kind that comes from your child. The sort of interference that you wanted to be at home for in the first place: To be there when your child needs you. But this also implies that other things will need to be set aside in favour of that. Tasks that might take only a few minutes can end up requiring double or triple the time to get done because of the said interruption.

Does all of that sound mighty gloomy to you? Well, it shouldn’t because being at home with your child has its generous share of blessings too.

Here are some of them:

1. I did not miss a single developmental milestone for my son. In fact, most times, I was the one who was right there to see him do something for the first time. The one I remember most vividly was when he sat up on his own for the first time. I couldn’t imagine how he might learn how to do it and was stumped on how to encourage him to achieve it. Then one day, while he was playing and rolling around on a mat which I had set up on the living room floor, he suddenly did it. The look of surprise and pride on his face when he had just realised what he had done was priceless. As was the memory of that incident which I hold to this day.

2. I was there whenever my son needed me. Being at the tender age of two that he is, he often seeks me out for all sorts of reasons: For comfort, to share with me a thought or feeling, to invite me to play, to ask for a hug or to be held. Although I cannot always meet his needs right away, I am available and near him and hopefully this helps him to grow up with a deep sense of security and confidence.

3. Because we are around each other 24/7, I get to observe his behaviour all the time and hence, am aware of tiny nuances of change in him. Children grow up so fast. Nearly every week or every few days, something potentially changes for Jamie. His preferences for food. The vocabulary that he uses. His thought processes. His physical skills and inclinations. I am also more likely to notice when he is about to fall sick or if anything is bothering him eg he is not sleeping well or has any insect bites or injuries.

4. A closeness that cannot be obtained any other way. I like the fact that Jamie is closest to me, and prefers me for most things. This isn’t always a good thing, and I still need him to be able to accept my husband handling him as well whenever I am not able to, but it’s a privilege that I enjoy immensely. That special connection that can only come from my son being around me 24/7.

5. Freedom from the superficiality of the corporate work environment and avoidance of time wasters like epic traffic jams. All because I am at home and can be more selective of who I work with and when I choose to be out and about (not during rush hour, as much as I can help it).

Alright, duty calls so I have to scoot. Hope you read all the way to the end. And that it has been eye opening. Hehe. See you again soon!

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