Monday, July 2, 2012

Travails of a work-from-home mom


The art of conducting an involved conversation with a toddler from behind a closed door. Work related phone calls to the tune of background screeching and whining. Super quick bathroom breaks, before your toddler who’s convinced that mommy has vanished into dark oblivion, breaks the door down. Even quicker showers that leave you feeling that emerging from a whirlwind might be more relaxing. Protecting your laptop as you try and work, from pint sized elements who think tapping away at laptop keys is an exciting form of recreation. Coffee breaks with the Teletubbies.

Sounds familiar? If it doesn’t, welcome to the world of a ‘Work from Home Mom’.

When I first became a mother, along with the joys of endless nappy changes and sleepless nights, I was also introduced to the complex terminology used to classify different types of mothers. There were SAHMs or stay-at- home moms and WOHMs or working-out-of-the- home moms. And somewhere in between were the WFHMs, or the work-from- home moms, whose category I soon joined.

Initially, I was smugly satisfied about the whole work-from-home concept. After several years of killer commutes, long hours peering at a computer screen in fluorescent light and suffering the tasteless dishwater most office vending machines serve up in the name of coffee, working from home felt a little like having your cake and eating it too. With an extra cherry and frosted icing thrown in for good measure. I would get to spend time with my daughter without giving up on work I loved doing. Plus, with office being a hop and a skip away (quite literally), there would be no commuting woes; I could work in my pajamas if I so wanted from the comforts of my home and have easy access to freshly brewed coffee.

Working from home would be a breeze, I thought.

I was in for a rude shock.

While working from home has its unparalleled benefits especially when you’re a mother, it is certainly no cakewalk.For one, there is the small matter of getting afore mentioned pint sized elements to behave while you try and get some work done. Given that the PSE’s are prone to unreasonable tantrums and sudden urges to go potty, especially when you’re in the middle of an important call, the whole work from home jig can become quite challenging. Of course you can hire help to look after your kids, but that often throws up a whole new set of challenges in uncharted territory. Finding good help, for one. And then training said help to care for your kids while you work.

I remember emerging from a seven second shower (the norm, when you’re any kind of mom, unless you’re really lucky) once, eager to get some work done, only to nearly step on my daughter and her nanny who were both camping on the bathmat outside.
“We were waiting for you to come out and tell us what to do” said the nanny matter-of-factly when I demanded to know why my daughter was getting intimate with the bathmat instead of doing something constructive with her time.  “After all you are at home only, no?”

Being ‘at home only, no’ can be far more difficult than getting away to an office where you can neatly compartmentalize your home and work life. Not so much at home, where even if you are lucky to have a somewhat secluded space to do your work in, people always manage to find you. I made the mistake of having a dining table office in the first couple of weeks when I started working from home. Apart from having to share work space with the breakfast dishes, this also put me in the precarious position of being within easy reach of my open plan kitchen from where my rather chatty cook would feel free to strike up a conversation about the latest skirmish in the neighbor’s house or her son’s school report, whenever the fancy struck her.
Besides, when you are at home, you have increased visibility of the things that you could have happily ignored had you been away at an office. Like the dust bunnies lurking in the corners or the pile of growing laundry. Even if, like me, you are adept at ignoring these little housekeeping niggles, it can be tough to ignore the attitude of assorted people who will drop in announced just because ‘you are at home’ or call you whenever the fancy strikes them to give you elaborate updates on their dog’s gastric condition, completely ignoring the fact that you may be trying to get some work done.

Or people who give you the ‘yeah, right’ look when you tell them you work from home. As in “yeah, right, and I’m Santa’s little helper.”
“Its okay didi, I know” my cook whispered to me conspiratorially last week, when I reminded her for the umpteenth time to get on with her work and let me get on with mine, instead of giving me the latest scoop on building gossip.
“You know what?” I asked, slightly confused.
“I know what you really do. The lady on the 9th floor in whose house I work said that there is no such thing as ‘work from home’. She said you must be just doing some time pass on the internet.”

Yes, so being a work-from-home mom is not for the faint-hearted. And I’m not even getting started on the bad days when schools are shut, or the children fall ill or the help mysteriously disappear to their gaons for vague, unexplained reasons. So the next time, someone you know tells you she’s a work-from-home mom, give her an encouraging pat on the back. Even better, take her out for coffee or offer to watch her kids while she takes a luxurious ten minute shower. Trust me, she deserves it.

Originally written for 'The Punekar'

21 comments:

Pinku said...

hey....

so completely understand your situation. wish you were somewhere close, would have actually done that ten minute bath, baby sitting routine for you.

I am lucky that i run away to work and apart from a maid and a cook my mom is there to look after my toddler.


Good luck girlie!

work at home said...

As someone who has worked from home for years, I agree that there are both a number of advantages and disadvantages of doing so and you have highlighted both.
I suppose I'd want to add that if you are going to be successful at working from home you have to be disciplined and know when not to answer the door or the phone.

Vaishnavi Prasad said...

Wonderful read!

Shadan Syed Khan said...

Hey Mansi, very thought provoking post atleast for me. I am a first time expecting mother, and have been working for more than 7 years now, so on the first go, I am not able to really convince myself to be leaving office and working from home after i have my baby... moreover the Indian society notion that dont see work from home as real work... you can still expect your mom in law to ask you what will be for lunch or dinner or relatives/neighbours popping in for a cup of tea... endless. So don't really know what is in stock for me down the line, when i love working so much. Take care and enjoy!

AD said...

Welcome to the club :-) I've been doing this for a few years now and the only way I manage to get through each day is by literally locking myself in my 'office'. I come out to get my lunch only when the nanny takes the little one to her room for a nap. But I have a pretty awesome nanny who, if I remember correctly has knocked on my office door like 2 times in the last 6 months!!

Manasi said...

Pinku...Why thanks so much, that's really nice of you!:)There are good days and bad days, and also I DO tend to be a bit of a drama queen sometimes;)

Work at home...You're right, I've started to put my phone on silent mode now and I only answer it if its a call from my daughter's school. The door is a bit of an issue though, there are the pesky sorts who'll ignore a switched off doorbell and keep trying to break the door down!
On a serious note, I am grateful for the time this arrangement gives me with my child and thinking about that sometimes help get through a particularly trying day. Your site looks interesting, going to check it out.

Manasi said...

Vaishnavi...Thank you!

Shadan...Hi Shadan, congratulations! I hope you're enjoying your pregnancy. I hope you are able to continue working since you seem so passionate about what you do. I'm sure you'll find a balance that works for you, don't stop trying. The work from home arrangement,while it has its disadvantages for sure, is something that's really worked well for me and allows me to spend a lot of time with my daughter. Do what works best for you, and all the very best!

Manasi said...

AD...Oh for an awesome nanny like that! The last time I got a little suspicious with the unnatural quiet, I came out to find my baby plonked in front of the television while the nanny gave herself a facial in the bathroom! It was Adios Nanny ASAP! Anyway, I still live in hope!

Divs said...

OMG Manasi - you soooooo voiced the exact same emotions I go through on a day to day basis! I recently switched from WOHM to being a WFHM myself and while it sounded like the best of both worlds, it just so isn't! I have a maid who is pretty useless at keeping the said child away from my earshot especially while I am on calls! And the friendly neighbors too don't stop calling or dropping by! Sigh :(

Harini said...

:) Can completely empathise! I'm a mompreneur who s recently moved from Singapore ( where we had an amazing Filipina housekeeper cum nanny) to Helsinki
( haha ...talk about a nanny and people will think you've lost it)! Kids have been home the past 4 months and its been an interesting time ....setting up house, playing board games and balancing my laptop all at the same time!
A big fan of working from home....so hang in there.
Do check out www.vaibhavshriya.blogspot.com when you can
Harini

Swaram said...

Hugs and gud luck!:)

kmj said...

I really enjoyed your blog. i have a nephew who's 7 mnths old.
i'd like to share his video with you. this is the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jQfNw8TBQo.
Its kind of funny.
i wish you and your toddler good luck. take care. like to hear from you more.

Sandeep Shankar said...

I do not usually answer posts but I am going to in this case, great information?- I will certainly bookmark your site. Keep up the good operate!’s a Very good, very useful to me, Thank you very much post.
valuemart.co.in

Manasi said...

Divs...hey Divs, didn't know you'd made the switch- welcome to my club! :) And don't worry, it does get better with time and there are huge benefits of working from home. I do tend to be a bit of a drama queen, as you already know ;)

Harini...Hey Harini, good to hear from fellow work from home moms like you. It's a balancing act all right, and I'm mostly in danger of dropping the laptop! I'm a big fan of working from home too, and will definitely check out your blog.

Manasi said...

Swaram...Hi there, long time no see! And thanks :)

KMJ...Thanks :)

Sandeep Shankar...Thanks very much!

Shagun said...

Looks, sounds, feels like my story. Thanks for writing.

Jaya said...

your writing never fails to put a smile on my face. came here after a while and i'm glad i did :)

Manasi said...

Shagun...Thanks for your comment :) And glad to know there are more WFHMs like me out there, helps me get by on the really bad days.

Jaya...Why thank you Jaya :) Just the motivation I need to keep blogging!

Debolina Raja Gupta said...

Hi Manasi,
Debolina here...and absolutely agree! Especially those pee-breaks..uff!
I loved your blog and am now following you, here's the link to mine, would be sweet if you could follow me too :-)
Cheers girl...
http://mylittleoneandme-debolina-raja-gupta.blogspot.in/

Chitra said...

I can soooo relate to this. I worked from home for one year. Except for the maid part (cause I am an Indian living in Australia) cause I didnt have that option.
My son is now 5 years old and in school and after the first year, I went to work! As is was just getting too hard to manage. I like the compartmentalisation of work and home now. Even though often work has a nasty way of sneaking into your home!

neelum gulistan said...

I appreciate your effort of assisting people by writing your insights. I am impressed of your valuable posts. Your blog is super awesome. Keep writing more.
http://tinyurl.com/bna2y2e