Getting Real With Sara Haley

It’s always entertaining when I meet someone new and they ask what I do.  As a freelance writer and desktop publisher, I have the ability to work from home.  I am a single mother to an active, energetic four year old. And according to the rest of the world, I have it easy!

I’m amazed at the number of misconceptions that exist around work from home mothers.  While some “work from home mothers” are selling Pampered Chef products and gathering the occasional order for their Mary Kay director after playing with their children at the park all day, I’m sitting at my laptop each and every day doing something that my household depends upon.  If I don’t work, I don’t make money.  If I don’t make money, I don’t pay my bills.  If I don’t pay my bills–well, we all know where that’s headed.

Working from home as a freelancer is not a part-time gig for me.  I have worked hard to get where I am at.  As a previous stay-at-home mom, my current job did indeed start as a side business.  But when I separated from my husband and went through my divorce, I knew I could sustain a viable income AND stay home with my daughter (thus saving in outrageous daily daycare costs) if I was able to play my cards right.

There have been days where I have been awake well past my bedtime (and my daughter’s) wrapping up an audio transcription because it was the only time during the day I was able to give full concentration to what I was doing.  There have been days where I have woken up a few hours earlier than my daughter in order to start up a cup of coffee and knock out a few hours of content before she woke up and thoroughly disrupted my day.  There have been days where I have shamelessly let my daughter play her Vsmile and Xbox 360 longer than I should just because I was on a tight deadline and had to get something done.  There are days when the dishes don’t get done.  There are days when I order in pizza for delivery because I’m hungry and I need something I can eat with one hand and maintain the ability to click a mouse with the other.  There are days where I don’t even get the chance to shower until 10pm rolls around.

Being a work from home mom is thoroughly misunderstood.  Here are just a few of the phrases I hear from others that comment about what I do, or beliefs that many have about our day-to-day lives.

“So you’re able to join me for lunch today, right?”

Um, no.  If you want to schedule a lunch date with me, it better be about a week in advance.  And it might get canceled if I get bogged with a big project or fall behind on work because I had to reluctantly take a sick day.  I am not available at the drop of a hat.  Last minute plans do not always work for me.  Although my workload may change from day to day, I’m not always wide open for lunch, a play date, or even a quick phone call.  Don’t hate me if I cancel plans on you, and understand that my next rent check depends on it.

 “That must relieve the stress of working with other people or having a boss!”

Stress?  I’m very familiar with stress.  Especially considering my career is freelancing.  Which means no regular, steady, expected paychecks every other Friday.  I get paid as I get work completed.  Sometimes I get paid after assignments are turned in.  Other times I am prepaid.  I am even paid as I go with some of my clients.  But one thing is for sure–I’m never quite sure when I’m going to get a “paycheck.”  This, in turn, causes stress.  Am I going to have enough by the first to cover rent?  Do I have enough cash to fill up my tank with gas until I get paid again?  Should I just get the necessities at the grocery store or stock up?  Trying to figure out how to manage my money with fluctuating pay was difficult at first, but once I learned to just pay the next few bills with each payment I received, I was quickly able to determine when there was surplus to tuck away for more difficult months.  Oh, and being your own boss?  It’s hard, too.  Working from home requires a lot of self-control and self-discipline, since no one else is going to remind you turn in assignments or get your work done except you.

 “You must get to spend a lot of time with your daughter!”

In reality, I do.  But this is because I tend to work around her schedule.  Until my daughter started preschool this fall, I paid my mom to watch her twice a week for daycare so I had two guaranteed work days in which I could schedule larger jobs and projects.  However, on the rest of those days, it was up to me to find a work/life balance.  On days when there was less work or none at all, I took advantage of it and took my daughter for a walk to the park, a dip at the pool, an impromptu trip to the children’s museum, or even a stroll through the zoo.  But on days when my inbox was full, I found a way to pull double duty.  I’d sit in the living room with my laptop while my daughter played, which allowed me to converse with and watch my daughter at the same time.  While this did slow down how fast I was able to work, I was at least able to accomplish something, even if it took me four times longer than normal.  Now, with her in preschool three days a week until late afternoon, I schedule my work during the morning and do my best to have everything done before I pick her up for fun the rest of the afternoon and evening.  We use the days that she is out of school to enjoy lunch out or plan something exciting and engaging for the day.

 “Must be nice to be flexible enough to have sick days and vacations.”

Sick days?  Vacation?  Unlike the rest of the working world that gets to enjoy paid vacation time and sick days, these two things can be detrimental to my finances if I do not prepare for them accordingly.  A week of being under the weather might mean that I can’t set that $200 aside into my savings account because I’ll need it for something important.  When I don’t work, I don’t make money, and being sick and out of commission is definitely not something I’m happy about.  It’d be nice to have a paid day to sit on the couch and sip chicken noodle soup while mindlessly watching daytime soap operas.  However, this just doesn’t happen.  Especially with that energetic four year old running loose!  With vacations, I have been able to enjoy the benefit of being mobile.  I have gone to Minnesota to visit my grandma, bringing my laptop and taking my daughter down to the library to enjoy some quiet time and Wi-fi.  I have been able to take a trip to see friends in Arizona and managed juggling some jobs while my friends were at work for the day.  An extended period of time away from my work is likely not anywhere in my near future.

 “How do you get anything done with a child around the house?”

I have no idea.  Honestly, there are days I get quite a bit done and wonder how it happened, and there are also days where I had some work on my plate and a needy little girl and didn’t get a single project done–or started.  Thankfully, it is rare that I am on a super-tight deadline, so I have a little wiggle room when the unexpected happens.  And thanks to having a house full of fun toys and technological gadgets, my daughter finds a way to entertain herself while I’m working.  Other days, I don’t get five minutes to myself without a request for something to eat, drink, color, watch, or play with.  The only way I accomplish anything is by allowing my “office” to be mobile.  While other parents can enjoy a separate, secluded home office, I am unable to have that privilege.  Unless my daughter is in preschool, I am rarely working at my actual desk.  My laptop gives me the ability to work at the kitchen table, on the living room couch, and–no joke–in the bathroom.  Yes, I have even gotten work done on my laptop while sitting in the bathroom as my daughter takes her hour-long bath.  Hey, when you have work you have to do, you start to get really creative…

 “Do you get distracted?”

Why yes I do.  Who wouldn’t?  I’m my own boss, which can be a good thing and a bad thing.  I have shuffled away from my computer and crawled into bed with my pets to curl up for a bit and watch something on Netflix for a “brain break.”  I am very easily distracted by Facebook, where I am able to converse and interact with the real world outside my apartment, scheduling future play dates and get-togethers along the way.  I am often multi-tasking, taking a break to do a load of dishes, or switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer.  But I consider these no different than any other distractions a person would incur at the everyday workplace: carrying on a conversation about last night’s shenanigans with a coworker, running to the break room for yet another cup of coffee, or taking your 20th smoke break.  I like to think of Facebook as my “smoke break.”  It keeps me sane and gives me a few minutes to clear the brain before starting another project.  Oh, and make dinner plans with friends.  It’s good for that, too…

“Working from home isn’t a ‘real’ job.”

Excuse me?  Yeah, it is.  It is the only income I have.  It is the roof over my head, the food on my table, and the clothes on my back.  It is the money that pays for my daughter’s preschool, her dance classes, my utilities, and my insurance costs.  It is what keeps me afloat.  Just because I work from my home and typically enjoy doing so in my pajamas, it is still a real job.  I am assigned work.  I complete it. I get paid.  That sounds like a real job to me.

Before anyone starts judging what I do, spend a day in my shoes.  I challenge you to write 5000 words on common dental procedures (due by the end of the day!) with a needy four year old vying for your attention.  And once you’ve been able to do that unscathed, I dare you to do it each and every day of your life!