Ok, for those of you who aren’t bloggers or familiar with modern mummy parlance, you’re probably wondering what the heck this long overdue post is about.
Let me give you a clue: SAHM is shorthand for Stay At Home Mum. It’s an acronym adopted amongst mummy bloggers to quickly bring you up to speed on their work situation : working full time (and the rest!) looking after children, but not paid and not the job they used to do before having a child.
And I was one of those up until 2 months ago.
But then I got myself a wonderful paid-for piece of consultancy work, editing and writing a book for my former employer, a global development charity. If I told you what it was about, you’d probably fall asleep faster than a narcoleptic. For those vaguely interested, it’s basically about analysis tools that we designed to help our staff working in unstable countries to understand the context they are working in. By doing this, they can then design projects that are ‘conflict sensitive’ and don’t feed into conflict dynamics.
I set up that project before I had kids, left it in very capable hands for 10 years during which time the tools have been used all over the world and vastly improved, and now they’d like me to put together a book on the tools, what they are and why they’re so useful. It seems some other humanitarian agencies and staff at places like the UN are interested in it.
If you read my Things I Discovered post for March, you will already know this, as I snuck it in at the end under the subject of ‘Things I Discovered about myself’. Let’s just say this piece of work has been a bit of a God-send, one that reinforced my belief in there being a season for things, and, more importantly, that you can’t force those seasons.
The deadline that I have to work on this, with my colleague in Seattle, is quite tight, meaning I’m working whenever I can during the day whilst the kids are at school (If I work at night after 8pm, I have trouble getting to sleep. I know. Really annoying. My brain’s need for a long time to download is a right pain).
And so I’ve become a WAHM – a Work at Home Mum.*
This has brought its own set of challenges and learning curve.
Not least being that I have far less time to blog or read other blogs. Or rather, far less time to think creatively: to allow words to be paired up with thoughts, or even for those thoughts to be formed at all. I know it is just for a season, so I’m ok with that, but I do miss writing creatively, as well as keeping up with reading the blogs of people I’ve come to know and admire from afar.
Then there’s the challenge of sticking to my self-imposed, much needed boundaries around work time. Simple when your colleagues are in the same time zone, but less simple when every single person I’m emailing bar one is in a different one from mine. And the challenge of doing the work within the time I’ve set. Again, simple before I had children when I worked from home full time for 4 years. But now, my home is another type of work place, where that washing, that dried out cereal bowl or that letter from school cries out for my attention.
None of this is insurmountable, and its amazing how quickly you can adapt.
But the main challenge I’ve found to this new routine is to find focussed time to work. When trying to stitch multiple ideas together into a coherent form that the target audience will read and respect, it takes focus. More than a couple of hours here or there. So I try to carve out decent periods of time to work. Otherwise, I’m right in the middle of a thought process, or re-structuring a chapter, and heck, its 3pm and i’ve got to run to school, grabbing a not-too-unhealthy-but-can’t-be-dealing-with-the-whingeing-if-its-deemed-a-boring-snack.
This has been my biggest challenge.
Occasionally I’ve had people ask if I’m alright, as I stand there in the playground at 3.15pm with a strange, far away stare, a slightly furrowed brow belying my difficulty extracting myself from the last paragraph I was writing.
This is multi-tasking brought to a new level. What’s new about it for me is the dizzying contrast of subject matter that I’m juggling with in my head at pick up: from what to serve up at our dinner party on the Saturday, to whether I told the teacher that my son won’t be at school the next day as he has an eye appointment, to the importance of participatory macro-level conflict analysis for humanitarian agencies. All within the space of about 5 minutes.
I now know how so many thousands of other women around the country feel every day of every week, as they juggle an incredible array of responsibilities.
Of course, we work out a way of compartmentalising those decisions and things-to-do by carving boundaries around our time and our thought life. If we didn’t we’d be permanently distracted and harassed, and our kids would end up with baked beans on toast that’s been spread with nutella for tea (they’d probably quite like that actually!)
But I’m all too aware of the small miracle that takes place daily in each and every household where children are fed, clothed, taken to school, returned from school, taken to after school clubs or do homework, fed again, listened to, cuddled, read to, unclothed and put to bed, and in between time, a mother does a brilliant job working on something totally different.
Thankfully, and rather intentionally, I’m not trying to work whilst my children are at the age where they can’t get dressed, read to themselves or take themselves to bed. But for so many women this isn’t a choice, they have to work to make ends meet. Many of you reading this are in that position.
And I realise how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to work from home so flexibly, at the hours that suit me, around the children. That is amazing. Even if it is sometimes a bit lonely (cue violin strings).
This work-motherhood juggling act is quite something isn’t it? I can’t help thinking we weren’t educated for this. None of us. We were educated for jobs – use-your-brain, money-making jobs. Not how to rear kids and run a household, then returning to fulfilling money-making jobs whilst rearing those kids and running that houseful (that we weren’t trained to do). Where was that in my school timetable?
But on the brighter side, this work-motherhood juggling act isn’t always stressful or exhausting. It can be fun, exhilarating and stimulating. I love the fact that after working on serious, sometimes dry subjects, I get everyday to enjoy the company of smaller human beings with a different take on life, who come out with ridiculously funny observations, delight in the small things of life, and whose perspective is simple and uncomplicated. They also like to squabble and fight over the ridiculously miniscule of matters that turns my hair grey but we won’t go there just now…. Without that, I’d become a dull, very serious grown-up I fear.
So, do you work from home? If so do you have any tips on how to keep the work and home life separate? Or are you a working mum in an office with tips to give on the art of extreme multi-tasking?
Or if you’re a stay at home mum, do you get bored? How do you allay that boredom (apart from blogging, of course!).
Let me know by dropping me a comment, I’d love to hear from you (when i’m NOT working of course!)
* I don’t think the acronym WAHM exists, I just made it up!