My husband worked at home exclusively for more than five years. During this time he kept the kids a fair amount while I taught, but it never ceased to amaze me how much he wanted to hide the kids from his business associates. In his mind and perhaps the minds of others, it was only a “real” job if he could fool everyone into thinking that he was running his small business from a bright, shiny office somewhere. Apparently all the fake “real” offices don’t have the sound of GeoTrax trains vrooming by in the background.
I understand his position to a degree. He played with some rather large PPC players for a long time before the economy and some other factors diminished the business. However, I was always puzzled why he wouldn’t just tell his online associates he had to log off for a bit to give two boys a bath. What was the big deal? He works at home – it’s supposed to be everyone’s dream, right? And he has two small children who benefited greatly from his time around and with them. You would think it would be an ideal set-up he might be willing to share with others, at least when necessary. But he actually took great pains to hide the kids and even me at times if he was playing “shiny office that is certainly not the upstairs bedroom” that day.
Admitting to Family
It’s a sensitive subject to those of us who have kids. Should our family lives be relevant to our professional ones? Should our kids be part of our work image? Should we even introduce the idea of kids to business associates? It’s up to you.
The separation of work and family is certainly something to strive for, but it’s virtually impossible when you work at home and you have children. Even if you’re home during the day with your kids off at daycare or what not, you’re going to be rushed around pick-up time and your work schedule very obviously reflects the days you use childcare and the days you do not. Hiding your kids is a huge source of stress, especially if you believe that they will diminish your status as a professional.
Parents want to be taken seriously as professional adults. Unfortunately there is something of a stigma attached to work-at-home parents, which is why so many try to hide their kids and family lives from clients. If you’re a woman with children, any job you have from home can’t be nearly as serious as one you’d have in the office. You’re probably just a hobby writer who makes beautiful hair bows and sells Tupperware to other suburban moms in your spare time. (I secretly admire women who can make hair bows, incidentally.) Work-at-home moms have small businesses that make enough to buy some new yoga pants when her hubby won’t fork over some extra cash from his real job.
Work-at-home dads have it even worse when it comes to stereotypes. If they admit to being the one to watch the kids during the day while the mommy works away from home, or even if mom is home watching the kiddos and dad is working without major distractions, simply having children can diminish a man’s professional standing. How can you be cut throat and killer in business if you’re stopping to change diapers and make peanut butter sandwiches? Men are often told to get a “real” job when they work at home. When they have kids and also work at home, the pressure is even greater at times since apparently they don’t cut it in the professional world and their wives do.
What a bunch of bullshit.
The New Professional
I have built a (very) successful business that operates from 7 pm to 11 pm most days – even on the weekends. I just don’t do daylight hours – I prefer to separate business completely. I hardly ever talk on the phone with clients and judging by the time stamps on my emails and IMs, most of my clients appreciate the fact that I’m sitting at the computer when they are - late. My kids actually add to my exclusivity at times – I don’t work long days because I can’t. I let my clients know upfront that I very willingly and joyfully balance two jobs and two kids so I don’t do immediate turnarounds, but they can get in line for materials. Usually they queue up without any problems at all.
My children are never hidden in my work relationships, and often they are a common ground for chit chat when I’m discussing new projects and building relationships. You’d be amazed at how many other “cut-throat” business people have children at home and how many “professionals” work with toddlers in their laps in the evenings or on weekends. I swear it’s refreshing for them to not have to hide their children from me because I don’t hide mine from them. I’ve set up a big project over the phone with a client in Canada while he walked to pick his son up from hockey practice. I bonded with a very long-term client over discussions of new babies and buying houses to accommodate them.
I never apologize for my kids. I am upfront that I work only in the evenings, but that I try to answer emails during the day. Have I lost clients because I wasn’t available every moment of the day? Sure. Did I want that client? Probably not. But the vast majority of my clients keep coming back over the years in part because I’m honest and upfront about my obligations. I never use vague excuses – I tell them exactly why I can’t get that new post over in the next few hours.
Working with freelancers is a touchy thing for many business owners. They want transparency to ensure they are getting a good value, and as much as it might irritate them that I don’t sit at my desk all day awaiting their calls, I have been told a few times that communication and professionalism are two things that bring my clients back. They know they can trust me. And you can’t establish the kind of trust that leads to long-term work relationships by trying to hide your odd hours and broken IM conversations behind anything but the truth. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a toddler out of bed again – brb!