Working from Home isn’t as Simple as it Seems

Working from home when you have small children can be broken down into two big pros and cons:

Pro: The kids are home, and you’re there with them.

Con: The kids are home, and you’re there with them.

OK, so that’s an old joke, but as someone who has worked from home for 18 years while raising three children, I know it’s also true.

What to Do

Writing is a fairly straightforward profession to operate out of the home. It’s a way for me to use my particular talent and training to bring in some extra income. Other women I know do the same thing using their talents and training. One of my neighbors is a much in demand part-time decorator. She not only gives advice and does targeted shopping, but also makes custom window treatments and silk flower arrangements.

Another acquaintance of mine is a trained CPA who keeps the books for several small businesses. Yet another is a dog groomer who works in her friends’ homes or picks up their pets, grooms them at her house and takes them back home. I know several women who operate small hair salons from their homes as well as two who offer sewing services, tailoring and costume making for local community theaters and theater schools.

For those who may not have such obvious opportunities, Loriann Hoff Oberlin, author of Working at Home While the Kids Are There, Too (Career Press, 1997), says to look around your community and try to find a need. Here are some of her ideas:

  • Errand service: Offer this for families where both parents work outside the home. Services can include shopping, picking kids up from school and shuttling them to activities or any type of errand a family would run.
  • Cooking: Could include providing home-cooked meals to busy families, setting up a coffee and muffin service at a local business or even catering.
  • Making and selling gift baskets.
  • Office work: This could be a mailings, copy or errand service.
  • Tutoring: There is an increasingly lucrative market for this service, especially for women who may have higher level degrees.

Jen Singer, author and founder of, a Web site for stay-at-home moms, suggests networking with the people you’re around the most – other moms.

“Professional people network all the time,” says Singer. “When you’re picking up or dropping off your kids or when you’re at an activity with lots of other parents, get the word out that you’re looking to do something from home to earn money and see what comes up.”

Now what not to do. Avoid those ads promising you can make hundreds of dollars from home per week. Also be wary of any work from home offer that requires you to pay them first. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it’s probably a scam.

What to Do With the Kids

Oberlin says it’s a mistake to think you won’t ever need child care when you work from home. If nothing else, you need someone to offer support and a break from doing it all, especially if you’re a single mother as she was or if your husband travels or works long hours, as is the case with my family.

“For your own sanity and the sake of your business, you need added support,” says Oberlin. “In some cases, the mom and dad work different shifts where the dad comes home and takes over the children so Mom can get to work. In other cases, work-at-home moms can pull together and take turns watching the children and working. Take advantage of friends and family as much as possible.”

Without that support, notes Oberlin, you may have to take a good hard look at what work you choose to do from home. Because her youngest son was premature and needed a great deal of attention, she had to give up a lot of client-based work.

Here are a couple of other ideas:

  • Hire a college or high-school-aged girl to come in for a couple of hours a week after school.
  • Look for local Mother’s Day Out programs, often sponsored by churches.
  • In an emergency, such as having to make an important phone call, have a special basket of toys or special video tape tucked away that you can pull out and will keep the children busy for at least a bit while you deal with business.

“You have to get out of the 9 to 5 mentality when you work at home,” says Singer. “There aren’t uninterrupted blocks of time to get things done. You’re never really fully at home or fully at work. Once you can accept that and just do whatever you can do at the moment, it gets much easier.”

Both Oberlin and Singer note that it’s important to be focused when you do have time to work. Forget about the house, yard and whatever standard of perfection you would normally hold yourself to.

Getting Started and Looking Ahead

You may find something you can do from home you can jump right into, but most businesses are going to require some pre-planning. Oberlin says it’s important to put together a business plan to make sure what you’re doing is a realistic idea – especially if you’re going to seek financing. She uses herself as an example: For a long time she had an idea that she’d like to start a newsletter targeted at a particular profession. After doing a business plan she realized that the only people who needed it couldn’t afford it.

As for looking ahead, remember that your life is not always going to be the same. Kids will eventually go to school, they’ll get old enough to make their own snacks, help clean the house and even drive themselves around. Now that Oberlin’s kids are older, she’s gone back to school to get a graduate degree in counseling and plans to work as a counselor in addition to writing.

Singer also thinks it’s important to plan ahead and to always have some kind of job. You never know what’s going to happen in life, so it’s never a good idea to get too rusty or completely shut yourself off from the ability to make a living.

Party Girls

I’ll admit that I let out a little groan when I see one more invite to a neighbor’s house for a demonstration of kitchen products, decorative groupings or eye makeup. In fact, I should be more respectful of the historical significance of that invitation. These in-home parties were one of the first opportunities for women to make a little extra income, or even support their families, at a time when working outside the home simply wasn’t done and the few jobs available to women were low-paying and inflexible.

Gisella Del Frate of Richland Township, Pa., started selling Pampered Chef products a few years ago when her husband was laid off from his job. She knew he would find something else, but she wanted to bring in some extra income in the meantime. She has a Master’s degree in finance, but she definitely didn’t want to work full time or have to deal with going into the city, where parking and stress are both at a premium. After some research, she decided to give home sales parties a try because she felt it fit her personality, required no initial investment and allowed her to be involved in every aspect of a business.

It was a good choice for her, and now she works as much or as little as she chooses. She says she makes as much as she would working part time in an office, but she is able to work her business around the family schedule, which is very important to her.

“You can’t go into a business like this and think you’re going to make a lot of money with little effort,” says Del Frate. “You get out of it what you’re willing to put in, but that also means that you can fit it to your life.”

To Del Frate, it’s rewarding to be able to do this, and she’s found it’s helped her family beyond the financial aspect. Her sons, Christopher, 11, and Alex, 8, have become closer to their father because they spend time together when she’s hosting parties. She thinks home product parties are a great way for women to test how dual employment will affect their family and are also a good way to keep a hand in professionally while the kids are small.

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