From SAHM to WAHM!

Multi-tasking Mum

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!

17 thoughts on “From SAHM to WAHM!

  1. I always thought I’d be a SAHM… and I was for about 15 months. But I started writing a book on HG (something I have personal experience of but no medical knowledge about) when my son was 3 months old and began volunteering not long afterwards. And I was still freelance writing. But it was mostly unpaid work so I considered myself a SAHM. Unfortunately I had to return to work for financial reasons and for a while I worked part-time. My son had just turned 2 when I had to up my hours to full-time and whilst I enjoyed the opportunity to go out and do something other than “mummy duties” (and I found I cherished the time I had at home so much more for not being able to be there all the time) it was hard work. My health started to deteriorate and I switched to working full-time from home earlier this year. It is a job I love, and my son goes to nursery 3 full days a week so I can fit most of my hours in those days, but I do still have to work bits and pieces around his naps. The book is now with the publisher (co-written with someone who is currently travelling in the US, so totally understand the time difference issues!) and I also had several volunteer responsibilities to finish up from before I went full-time. It has been pretty immense and I have felt like I had NO time at all and was rushing from one thing to the next and desperately missing the SAHM days. But I do love the work I do, and if I have to work (which I do) then I couldn’t ask for a better job, even though it is extremely stressful in nature. It’s hard though, balancing work and family life, especially when you work from home. I expected it to be easier than going out to work, but it isn’t because you’re just reminded of all the odd jobs that need doing (washing up, laundry etc). I don’t really have any “advice” or “tips” for you other than to just see how it goes… you find your own rhythm as time goes on, though trial and error, and you realise what YOU need to prioritise that way too. It takes time, I still don’t have the balance right, but as you say we aren’t shown how to do this and so we just have to jump in with both feet and hit the ground running and hope we’ll find the right pace at some point. Good luck with it all – the book sounds like it will make a massive difference to a lot of people!

  2. Well done you on everything you are doing! What a juggling act – but it sounds like you are managing it. I find that there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is without having a job to do as well. Although i do crave a way of being creative or using my mind and I really miss that aspect of work. I guess i imagined that when the boys went back to school after home-schooling for so long that I would have lots of ‘free time’ but it hasn’t worked out that way because Miss T seems more demanding than ever and there is a never ending amount of housework to be done.

  3. A great post and lovely to be reading you again. I think your project sounds brilliant, and I know you’ll write a great book….. I laughed when you mentioned that far away stare…. that’s what I’m like if my head is still in a chapter and I’m trying to do something else; its quite the juggling act switching inner worlds too. I am a SAHM, but this will all change when Little A begins school in September. X

    • Thanks S. I can’t believe you call yourself a SAHM and not a WAHM too, as you’re definitely a WAHM, even if you’re not paid just yet….funny, i hadn’t realised it was an official phrase. Judith has put me straight on that. PS Don’t rush into full on work once A is at school. I found the first year was a good one to go easy on myself and not go hell for leather, but it depends on whether your work ‘feeds’ you or not. My guess is that it does, very much! Sx

  4. Wow, sounds like a really fun job to do at home! Especially if it actually consolidates things that you set up yourself 10 years ago. WAHM is actually a thing, I think I joined a facebook group of WAHMs. 🙂 Something that has helped me a lot is to plan my work and plan *when* I am going to do it. Then at the allotted time I am not allowed to do anything else, even if the washing up is piling up and there is no clean mug for tea. If I start doing something else then the time just goes. Then I also try to “plan” time with the kids when I am not allowed to do work. It is very easy to be constantly feeling like you should be working and never give the kids your undivided attention… Hope any of that helps. 🙂

    • Thanks J! And yes, good advice about ignoring the dreaded washing up or whatever that quietly nag at you when you make a cup of coffee or come in from the school drop off. I do have allotted time, but i need to be good at not doing anything else during that time. I’m not bad at it, maybe my problem is i don’t have enough time to work….sound familiar?!! Sx

  5. Loved reading this as I have very recently become a work at home mum. For me I’ve gone from a ‘going out to work’ mum, so that’s been different too. I love working at home and am surprised that I don’t feel lonely. I’ve learned to do as much of the housework as possible before school and to not look at it if it’s still there when I get in from dropping the kids up – I can clear the last breakfast things away when I clear my lunch things away. I’ve also learned that I cannot work when the kids get in from school – there’s three of them and they’re just too noisy. Plus my daughter needs to go to dance class every day!

    • Thanks Sarah! Yes, this is the trick. Being totally strict with those ‘clean me, tidy me, phone me’ nagging requests that pop up and quietly whisper at me, even when i stop to go to the loo! I’m v good at not trying to work once the kids are home, so i’ve got that one right. If i can do the tidying before school drop off, now that’s a good idea….just got to get up a bit earlier! PS What do you work on? What’s your job? Sx

  6. I think it’s brilliant for women to go back to work after having children in whatever capacity that is…….it is so important to use your grey matter,feel valued and get paid ! Good child care is vital ,though.Reliable,dependable and affordable.I work from home on a Monday and teach the next 3 days….couldn’t do it at all,without a fantastic kids club in school,a flexible husband and a reliable teenage daughter.

  7. Welcome, welcome, welcome to being a WAHM!!!! I reckon it is harder to start it when the kids are older, as they miss all that extra ‘mum time’. Mine have had limited ‘me’ access for so long that they don’t know what to do with it when I have down time now and give them a list of questions about their days at school!!!!

    My only tip for survival in the working from home/juggling time-zone calls and being mum is planning ahead as much as possible. This is so that dinner is planned first thing in the morning and out and defrosting, those pick up times are set in stone and laundry is put on, whilst making that cup of tea in your 5 minute break!!!!

    Keep going with it though as it is great to get the brain working on other things for a season, as well as continuing to ‘be mum’. love Ali x

    • Thanks Ali. Yes, i do all those things re dinner and pick up times, and when I forget, hey, its baked beans on toast (without nutella!). And thankfully my kids have hardly noticed the difference as S said just yday “Mum, you know how you don’t work….”. I’m clearly doing a great job of not letting work take over home life!! Sxx

  8. Yet another way we are so similar Siobhan. I love the added pressure/excitement of getting my teeth into something else whilst the kids are at school but it is really hard to juggle everything and achieve the standard which you’re happy with. I generally work in the office which helps me to come home and switch off but I also delve into various other charity/church commitments which I do from home – not least writing and editing our magazine! I like the challenge but sometimes find it very stressful. I hope you work out a way, sorry I have no tips for you! x x

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