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Work from home moms face a juggling act too

Story highlights

  • Moms who work from home face unique work-life balance challenges
  • According to a study, about 10% of American workers now regularly work from home
  • One misconception is that moms who work from home can do household chores and their job
  • Writing up a prioritized "To Do" list the night before is one way to make work from home work

When you hear the term "working mom," what image comes to mind?

Is it of a woman, perhaps dressed in a suit, dropping off her kids at school or day care before hurrying to the office?

Or is it a mom, possibly dressed in yoga pants, booting up her computer from the confines of her own home?

I bet many of you would pick the former -- the woman who works outside the house. I admit I tend to have that image in mind whenever I write about the juggling act facing working moms. But each time I do that, I am leaving out the women who work from home who face their own unique work-life balance challenges. (According to a recent Stanford University study, about 10% of American workers now regularly work from home.)

Take the case of Lela Davidson, whose children are 13 and 15 and who has been working from home as a published author, freelance writer and blogger since her children were in elementary school. Recently, she has been recruited for a few jobs, which would require her to work in an office.

"My daughter told me, 'Oh Mommy, if you get that job, I'm going to be so proud of you, like you're going to have a real job,' But I have a real job right now," she told me while working during a vacation with her family. "But I realized how different it is, because of the way the media portrays women and work ... corporate women hitting it hard and that's what my daughter sees."

"It's a little bit more glamorous if you are leaving home because you get dressed. Maybe I should get dressed every day," she said with a laugh.

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There are a host of misconceptions about working from home, said Alex Iwashyna, a mom of two and freelance writer and blogger. One of the biggest, she said, is the sense that you are available to take care of all the household matters while also doing your job.

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"You are really juggling everything at once with no lunch break, no coffee break and you don't go home at night," she said. "Your office is right there and you have to learn to turn everything off, which is, I think, one of the biggest challenges."

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Too often, Iwashyna, whose children are 4 and 6, would get back on her laptop after she put the kids down to finish up all the things she didn't do that day, but that meant she wasn't spending important time with her husband.

"You don't realize how much that time together, even if it's sitting on the couch watching bad TV, matters," she said, adding that she had to start scheduling evenings she doesn't work to make sure she and her husband have one-on-one time.

Scheduling is a must to make working from home work, said Davidson, who blocks out her day in the morning or the night before. "I have my little Google calendar, which makes my life happy."

She also said she needs to leave the house, on occasion, and work from a local coffee shop -- but it's not because she feels isolated. She works online and in social media, so she feels very social, she said. Heading somewhere other than home helps her focus.

"I go out and work in public coffee shops or with friends because I feel like that accountability, when there are other people around me who have gotten dressed, with their bag, gone into a place, I feel like I know they're working, so I can't play on Facebook," she said.

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Who works from home and how they do it

Holly Reisem Hanna, publisher and founder of The Work at Home Woman, recently named by Forbes as one of the top 75 career websites, said if you are thinking about working from home, you need to figure out if you have the personality to make it work.

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"While working from home cuts down on typical office distractions for many individuals, for others the lack of physical boundaries and a manager standing over their shoulder may not be enough structure for them to effectively work," she said.

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The biggest benefit of working from home, hands down, is the flexibility. "I have 24 hours in my day and I can structure them as I need to," said Davidson, who said she can work in between picking up the kids from school, attending school functions and cooking her children a healthy meal for dinner.

Iwashyna bought a portable wireless device that allows her to be online anytime and anywhere. "I carry that around with me so if I'm early to pick up the kids, and I have my laptop with me, I might get a little work done in the car," she said.

Hanna, who launched a blog in 2009 devoted to helping women make telecommuting and home-based businesses work for them, said working from home gives women flexibility and freedom.

Work from home and still be part of the office

"Having a flexible schedule helps families to have more quality time together," she said. "It provides greater overall satisfaction and it helps to lessen the guilt that many parents have because they're unable to do everything."

It also, in Davidson's case, allows you to do something else -- set up a yoga studio right in the office. So, whenever her neck starts to hurt from sitting too long in her chair, like mine is starting to do as I finish this column, she cues up a podcast and rolls out the mat right in her home office.

"My mat is always there next to my desk," she said. "I probably wouldn't do that if I were wearing pumps and in an office."

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