Home is where the work is

A year and a half ago, I started working at home.  Working, as in working at a job, I mean.  Every mother is a working mother and my husband always told the kids that I was the hardest working person in our home.  But being a wife and mother was my job, and it was the only one I’d ever wanted.
Don’t laugh, but I went off to college proclaiming that I was looking for a husband.  And I found one, too.  By the end of my first summer after graduation, I was a wife.  Eighteen months later, I was a mother.
I never wanted a career, or even a job, outside my home.  Those first few years, John was in law school, and I did what I had to do to pay the bills.  I enjoyed my jobs, but I hated leaving my baby.  As soon as John graduated and landed a job, I came home for good.  That was seventeen years ago.
People talk about making sacrifices to have a parent at home with the kids, and lots of times they are talking about driving cheaper cars or forgoing vacations.  For us, my staying at home has contributed to serious financial hardships.  I suspect many people do not understand the choices we made.  They were the right choices for our family, though–I am sure about that.
When John’s assistant quit and he needed someone to answer his office phone, I was happy to volunteer.  I had been saying for awhile that it was crazy to pay someone to answer phones.  It didn’t seem like this new responsibility would seriously infringe upon my time or my at-home mom lifestyle.
And I was right.  Once our clients understood that the phone would be answered only during business hours, and that messages left would be returned more or less promptly, the calls slowed.  Anyway, I could carry the phone around with me wherever I wanted to go.  And the kids quickly learned to be quiet when I put the office phone to my ear. (Usually.)
But one thing led to another.  No assistant John has ever had wanted to submit bills to the State of Tennessee for the appointed work he does.  There’s only a limited amount of time to file these claims before you just don’t get paid.  Having a vested interest in getting John paid led me to quickly figure out how to process and file three boxes full of these claims. Of course this required looking at the files, and seeing many more lost opportunities for doing a better job communicating with our clients, understanding their issues more thoroughly, and getting paid more to boot.  I started writing letters, interviewing clients, setting up files.
One reason I knew employment outside the home would be a problem for me is that I am a perfectionist.  I knew that I would expect a lot out of myself, that I would throw myself into whatever I was doing, and that I wouldn’t be able to be as present to my family as I have always thought it was my REAL job to be.  And even working at home–perhaps more so–this has proven true.
As I became more and more helpful and efficient, John was able to take on more and more cases.  We now have something like 140 open, and that means I now have a full-time job.  Yes, I am in an unused bedroom right next to my own room, with Lorelei playing on the computer three feet away.  Yes, I am still wearing my nightgown.  Yes, I can take breaks whenever I feel like it to write this blog post.
But . . . there is a room full of work that never goes away any more than the laundry and the dishes do.  I can–and do–write clients at midnight and send bills on Sunday.  “Why do you have to work so much?” ask my children, who are always seeking food and attention.
People believe that working at home is the best of all possible worlds.  I know that I am lucky to be able to do this.  I couldn’t–and wouldn’t–do it if it meant leaving the children to be in an office.  I love the flexibility that it offers.  But sometimes I long for the idea of reporting to a cool and quiet place at 8 a.m., where there would not be pretzel crumbs everywhere and ants in my coffee cup.  “If you think I am productive now,” I tell John, “you would not believe the amount of work I could accomplish under those circumstances.”
As if mothers didn’t need more reasons to feel guilty, I read recently that having mommy work at home is the worst of the three possibilities for children, because they don’t understand mommy being present in the house but not present to them.  I am terribly guilty of treating my children’s interruptions as intrusions into my “real” job, when really this job is what has intruded into my caregiving.
If I were working outside the home, I could spend (theoretically) evening concentrating on home and family.  I could set up similar boundaries on my working time at home, but that would negate the real advantages that come with this arrangement.


Finding Balance

Balance.  Does anyone have it?  You hear everyone talking about having too much on their plates.  Of juggling all their responsibilities.  Well, my plate overflows on a daily basis and I can’t keep all those balls in the air (in my case, it’s actually flaming torches).
Like any mother, I have a long list of job titles, even though I don’t work outside the home.  In addition to the usual “mother jobs” I’m also homeschooling my nine-year-old and for some reason I volunteered to start a Social Justice Committee for my parish (and I’m not doing a very good job with that right now).   Then in February I took on the job that put me over the edge.
It started with the decision that I would answer the phone for my husband’s law practice.  He is a “mobile” attorney, who meets with his clients in restaurants, at court, or in their homes, and does his paperwork in our home office.  I didn’t think answering the phone would be a big deal, and it isn’t.  I quickly established firm hours of operation and the after hours calls stopped.  I can carry the phone with me anywhere, so that responsiblity did not change my life much.
But once I got involved with the phone, I started finding other things I could do–keeping track of time, sending out long overdue bills, writing letters to clients, setting up new files and reorganizing old ones, doing legal research, interviewing new clients, drafting simple pleadings . . . before I knew it, answering the phones morphed into a  “Legal Assistant” position that probably takes about 20 hours a week.
I’m enjoying all this and it’s good for business.  And because we have an actual office directly off our bedroom, I get to work in my pajamas, start as late as I want, leave the office as needed and do the work later, and be with my kids.  What I cannot do is keep the house clean.  Something had to give, and that was the something.
I have also noticed that my five-year-old has become increasingly clingy since I started this.  She wants to come and sit on me when I’m trying to work.  And even though I am at home all day every day, she gets more upset when I go out in the evenings than she used to.  “I want to be WITH you,” she says.  I’ve never been one to play with my kids all day long, but something about the focused attention I have to give the work I am doing is more upsetting to her than the kind of attention I give to laundry, cooking, and dishes.
Oh, and this study really made me feel a lot better! (not)
This poem describes my life perfectly:
Robert Frost

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with~ hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.
How about you?  Are your arms (or your plates) too full?