by Barbara Brabec
Many moms have told me that the trick in successfully working at home with kids underfoot lies in being flexible. "I won't postpone my creative instincts until my children are adults," says one mother. "I've simply changed my perception of work, altered my view of distractions and interruptions, and adjusted my work schedule to accommodate the needs of my children. This means, of course, that clients must be chosen carefully. We think about the kinds of jobs we can handle and those we can't." Here are some practical tips shared by Moms in my home-business network:
- If your children could ruin the business illusion you are trying to create, a separate business phone should be considered. And don't let children answer your business line until they're educated in the proper way to do it. The last thing you want is a child yelling into the ear of a prospective client, "It's for you, Mommy!"
- Develop a series of hand signals you can use to communicate with young children when you're on the telephone with a client. One Mom told me that her girls grew up knowing that a ringing telephone meant that the TV or stereo or most recent fight over a toy or article of clothing went off immediately, and they learned hand signals early on. One signal indicated business (when they were expected to disappear into another part of the house); another indicated they could play nearby quietly.
- To get extra uninterrupted time for your work, hire a baby-sitter or mother's helper for a certain period each week. Except for emergencies, give the sitter the authority to handle whatever comes up. If your child will be at home under someone else's care during your uninterrupted time, choose for your workspace an area of the house where you aren't in sight. At the appointed hour, close the door and try not to listen. (This gets easier with practice.)
- To ease stress, take a nap. The smartest thing she ever did, says one Mom, was to start making the whole family take a nap every day. "Every afternoon we turn off all the phones and whoever is home has to lie down and at least rest so Mom can nap," she says. "This is a real mind-rester for me, and it gives the kids some relaxation time, too."
- Lighten your load by making your children responsible for their own laundry duties. Years ago when her children were very young, a mother of five accomplished this by giving each child a personal basket for carrying dirty linens to the laundry room and carrying them back when removed from the dryer. She put shoeboxes into drawers for her youngest children to hold their unfolded underwear and encouraged them to make a game of matching socks. Today, this home-business mom says she folds no laundry except for her husband's T-shirts and their bathroom towels, and irons only a few special shirts and dresses.
- Consider giving your son or daughter a tiny corner of your office or workroom so they can "play with mother" all day long. One mother told me she gave her daughter her own little desk, toy typewriter, an old, defunct telephone, and lots of blank paper, pens, pencils, crayons, paints and colored markers. "Because she was free to touch and play with everything she could reach--except the papers on my desk--she learned to respect this at a very young age," she says. "By the time she was four, she was extremely bright and artistic, confident, and secure, owing greatly, I feel, to the fact that I was always with her during her formative years."
- If you need to see clients on a regular basis with no children around, consider using an incubator facility. I'll never forget the mother I met at a home business conference who explained how she handled client meetings. At that time she was renting an office in an incubator facility one hour at a time as needed. And she had this interesting little box that contained a couple of pictures for the wall, a calendar, and desk accessories--all those little office touches a client would expect to see. She set everything in place just before the client walked in the door and, at the end of her meeting, she packed her little box and went home. Her phone setup was also amusing. In order to legally advertise her phone number, she had all her calls forwarded through the incubator facility. The only problem was, after fifteen minutes there was an automatic disconnect--which meant that every time her phone rang, she had to start a fifteen-minute timer, and if a call happened to run long, she had to get inventive and come up with a good reason to hang up so she could call back.
- Set time aside for children's activities so they don't become resentful of the homebased business. To avoid missing anything important, keep a calendar for each child showing all ball games, practices, meetings and other appointments so the whole family has a clear view of what's happening each day.
- As your children grow along with your business, try to get them involved in it by giving them certain responsibilities and paying them accordingly. In addition to the tax advantages of hiring your children, this will give them a greater respect for what you're doing, and may even spark entrepreneurial efforts of their own. Don't take advantage of a good thing, however. Sue, the owner of a sewing business, once told me about her youngest child, Jason, then five, who had been brought into the business as a "runner." Her business was spread all over the house, on different levels from the garage to the attic, and Jason's job was to carry work in progress from one location to another or "gofer" things other family members needed as they worked. One day when I was speaking to Sue, she told me Jason wasn't happy at the moment. On that day, he had literally stomped his foot and said he was tired of doing all this "home business stuff," tired of running all those errands! Hiding her amusement, Sue simply gave her youngest some time off--plus a special reward for being such a big help to the business.