"I love working at home with my kids!" (said no mother ever)

As Jennifer Pinarski re-enters the workforce, maintaining a work/life balance has taken on a whole new meaning.

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What’s so hard about being a work-at-home mom? In a word, everything! Photo: Jennifer Pinarski.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

When my husband lost his job in April, I was fortunate to find a part-time job with the flexibility to allow me to work from home. My new employer also has young children and understands that kids can get sick and that bad weather means cancelled school buses. Secretly, I was glad to have the chance to still be home with my kids because, despite needing the income, I felt guilty about returning to work.

At six and three, my kids are very self-sufficient, able to fetch their own snacks and drinks, go to the bathroom on their own, turn on the TV to their favourite shows and — for short periods of time, anyway — even play together without fighting. But what they weren’t used to was my being at home and not spending time with them — they didn’t understand that I couldn’t drop what I was doing to watch them colour or ride their bikes. After three years of saying “yes, I’d love to come and play” (even when I didn’t want to play Lego for the hundredth time), saying no was very difficult for me.

Here are some of the other adjustments I’ve had to make as a work-at-home mom:

1. Learning to zip it when eavesdropping on my family: Now laid off, my husband is the primary caregiver and we do things very differently. For example, I’d much rather go to the beach early in the morning to avoid high UVs and sunburns. My husband takes the kids after lunch. Instead of butting in and telling him what to make the kids for lunch or when to break up a fight, I’ve had to tell myself to keep my opinions to myself. He’s an awesome dad — that’s what is important.

2. My kids will always think I’m a jungle gym: I took the accompanying picture on Monday while trying to work on my Calm the Eff Down post. Being a jungle gym is being a good parent, but a terrible employee.

3. Accepting that my home will never, ever be clean again: When my husband worked from home, I’d sometimes wonder why he wouldn’t take the laundry downstairs or tidy the kitchen — just any little household task. The problem is that when tackling household chores, it starts a domino effect because you realize that your house is a disaster and, by the time you’ve cleaned your house, a few hours have gone by — and other than a clean house you have no billable work to show for it. I’d much rather be earning money than cleaning my house and I’d much rather my husband be at the beach with my children. If something’s gotta give, I choose a clean house.

4. I’ll do anything for peace and quiet: My employer has a peaceful office 43 kilometres away from my house. Since we’re a one-car family, we agreed it’s more important for my husband to have the car during the day in case of emergencies. One day last week, I was so desperate for a quiet place to work that I rode my bike to the office. Bike commuting seemed like a great idea at the time when I left the house at 6:30 a.m., but when I rolled into the driveway at 6:30 p.m. at the end of the day — 86 kilometres later — buying noise-cancelling headphones seemed like a better idea than biking.

5. Working at home is not flexible: In theory, working at home provides the ultimate work/life balance. In practise, it’s easier to stick to a traditional 9-to-5 work schedule and get tasks done during the day. Since having children, I’m no longer the night owl I used to be. By 8:30 p.m. I want to be in bed, not working.

Do you work from home? What are your tips for managing your time while you work at home work? Tweet me at @JenPinarski.

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