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Parent trap: Walking the line between kids, work

  • Story Highlights
  • Working at home may create as many problems for parents as it solves
  • Workday is chopped up into tiny slivers, says work-at-home mom of two
  • Issues include: Unclear work-personal boundaries, sacrificing advancement
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By Jeannie Ralston
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( -- I work full-time at home. I have a babysitter for Gus, 7, and Jeb, 5, so that, in theory, I have eight hours a day to write freelance articles and run our family's lavender farm.

If parents aren't fully prepared, working at home may create as many problems as it solves.

If parents aren't fully prepared, working at home may create as many problems as it solves.

But that much daily schedule in one day is a pipe dream. In just the past two hours here's what I've done instead: took Jeb to the dentist, picked up Gus from school, gone charging out of my office upon hearing a window-rattling scream from Jeb (his sweet brother had hit him with a yardstick), helped Gus fix the chain on his bike, and calmed Jeb (who's angry that we took the training wheels off his bike, and who then had to be shooed out of the office when he came to tell me that he doesn't want to be anything when he grows up because of what we did to his bike).

Their babysitter is like their second mother, but my kids want only me for certain things, and they know where to find me (or how hard to yell to bring me out of the office).

My workday is chopped up into tiny slivers, into which I try to squeeze maximum productivity, which leaves my brain overheated from sprinting and stopping, sprinting and stopping.

But this is the life I've chosen as a work-at-home mom, a member of a rapidly expanding subculture in the workforce.

Friends and neighbors tell me I have the best of both worlds: I've found the middle ground in the ferocious pull between working and staying at home.

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But I know better. I know that every mom who works at home makes trade-offs.

For all its many advantages -- from having a flexible schedule to feeling like a more involved parent -- there are difficulties that often go unaddressed, from not being able to draw boundaries between the two spheres of life, to sacrificing earning power and career advancement.

Working from home is no magic bullet. If you aren't fully prepared for the tightrope act, it may create as many problems as it solves.

"If you're switching back and forth between two roles that are important to you, it may become difficult to manage both," says Stephan Desrochers, Ph.D., assistant psychology professor at the University of Maine in Farmington. "You may get confused over where to focus your attention at any given moment."

Right now, for instance, I'm wondering whether I should be writing this or going to the garage to put the training wheels back on my son's bike.

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Copyright 2009 The Parenting Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Jeannie Ralston, a contributing editor to Parenting, works -- or tries to work -- from her home in Texas.

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