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Cheerios, Greenstuff, and Work At Home Pitfalls

By: Marcie Downing


There are cheerios under my desk. In fact, if I roll my chair in any direction, I leave what would appear to the untrained eye to be little piles of brown sawdust. My carefully selected work clothes for the day, are a red shirt with little brown Teddy bears across the front, and black and white zebra-striped fuzzy pants...the kind of pants you'd never want to be seen in by anyone...except maybe your lifetime partner. (And then, only if you both were given a matching set by a favorite grandparent!)

You'd never guess by this attractive ensemble, that I am in fact, working. By work I do not mean being a Mom, because while that is the world's most important, (and thankless!) job , that sort-of just goes without saying. I am in actual fact, AT work. You know, the kind of work that brings-in that "greenstuff"- for food, Veggie Tales Sing Along CDs (or zebra striped PJ's!)...

I love working from home. It's a choice I made when my first child was born, and it's a commitment I stand by. I want to be at home with my kids until they are old enough to go to school, and even then, I would like to be at home when they come in the front door at the end of each day, full of stories and things to share. There is nothing like being there for your child's most important moments. Having to hear the recount of an event from your babysitter/day care provider, can cause you to spend the rest of the night wishing you could have experienced it for yourself, and questioning your decision to work outside the home. While the economy seems to have made double incomes a requirement, there is a major flux of women choosing work at home careers, as a way to be available to their family, and ALSO make some additional income.

The rewards of working from home are being discovered worldwide. In fact, many large corporations are realizing the value in telecommuting positions, and this wave of acceptance is allowing the stay-at-home mom many more options for work at home careers. Envelope stuffing, or MLM companies are no longer the complete list of possibilities. Jobs can range from assembling crafts, to owning your own business, to being a virtual personal assistant!

There are, however, challenges specific to a work-at home mom's situation, and if this is an option you are seriously considering, here are 7 tips to help you avoid the same pitfalls I encountered at the start of my work-at-home "career".

Pitfall #1: " The longest day in history"

This is what happens when a mother works from home, but hasn't set any specific work hours. While most telecommute positions do offer very flexible hours, it's important to work out a specific work-day. You can fit it in wherever you would feel most productive. Does your little one watch a morning cartoon? Are Barney and Big Bird regular visitors to your living room? Set-up your office area, in such a way that you can keep an eye on your little one, but not right next to the TV...after all, I'm sure that account exec you have on the phone, already knows his ABC's! Does your child still take a nap? This is a great chance to be productive, in a quiet house. I recommend doing any of your business calls during this time.

Pitfall #2 : "Superwoman Syndrome"

I'm not sure who passed this pamphlet out to women worldwide, but I am here to tell you there was a MISPRINT! It was not supposed to read: "Women must do everything to perfection, without receiving any help of any kind from partners/husbands/parents/friends." I have it on good authority, that it was supposed to read:" Women can do anything to perfection, but it's done BEST with the help of partners/husbands/parents/friends." It is unreasonable to expect yourself to maintain the same workload, in ADDITION to a work at home job!
The thing about working from home, is that it's easy to undervalue the work. Just because you don't commute, and you are doing your work in your PJ's, doesn't mean you aren't working! Be sure to re-evaluate your total responsibilities, and ask for help sometimes. If you're a single mom, "burnout" is a real possibility if you don't take some time off for yourself. Take advantage of a "naptime" every now and then, to just spend time doing something you enjoy-take a hot bath, watch a favorite show, do something creative or even catch a quick snooze!

Pitfall#3: "Tug of War"

Picture this: You're sitting at your desk in an office somewhere, and every 60 seconds or so, the phone rings, and you are interrupted by something or someone at your home in need of your help or input. It would be a challenge just to KEEP that job, let alone be SUCCESSFUL! Anytime there is a change in the way a home is managed, everybody needs to adjust. This includes the children! If your kids are old enough to understand : "worktime", then ask them to help you by respecting that time, and keeping things quiet....explain that you are there for them, if something important comes up, but if they can sort-it-out themselves, that would be great! If you have a toddler like I do, reasoning is....ummm...well, a waste of energy! I suggest either keeping your non-phone work to the times he/she is up and being active, and save any professional phone conversations for when he/she is sleeping, or having "quiet time" in their room. The other alternative, is to hire a "mother's helper"-usually, this is someone too young to be left completely on their own, but old enough not to have to mind every minute of the day. This is most easily accomplished during the summer, since school hours make it hard to coordinate a schedule. Another option, is to join (or start!) a babysitting co-op. This way, if you arrange one day of a babysitting swap per week, then you will have one whole day to do anything you need to-housework, office work, an outing just for Mom...Then, on the day when you are watching the other Mom's child, you can have extra quality playtime with your little one! This set-up is a good way to avoid babysitting charges, to help your little one develop great social skills, and to provide you with an essential "break".

Pitfall#4: "Pennies a Day"

When is the last time you went to an interview at a company's office, and after they said they'd love to have you on board, they asked you for money!?
This pitfall is especially tricky. Whether you are working for yourself, or for a company, it is important to remember that your time is valuable, and compensation is not optional! This may seem strange, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to work for pennies a day! Remember: Be very leery of any "jobs" wanting you to buy something, or asking for a fee to join. There are legitimate training courses, where you are then certified in that particular work, but I would research it very carefully before investing any money in it. Be sure to set a financial goal, and pay attention to how much time you are putting in, versus the financial reimbursement. The best situation, is to work for a company that offers a weekly or bi-weekly base pay, plus commission. This allows you to budget your household, and provides you with a chance to earn what you're worth!


If you see this ad, run as fast as you can, IN THE OTHER DIRECTION! Anything in life needs a good chance to get started-to grow and flourish. The same truth applies to your own business, or a work-at-home business. Give yourself, and/or your carefully selected career an opportunity to grow. Especially if you are working strictly on commission at first, allow yourself 3 to 6 months to build clientele, and figure-out which work schedule works best for you and your family. If you are having trouble getting started, I recommend joining a discussion list for work at home moms-they have probably been through it before, and can offer you valuable insight and information. Most of all, be patient with yourself. Think of it as a "gestation" period!

Pitfall #6: "Write it off Baby!"

One of the great things about working from home, is that many of your household bills, such as phone, electricity, heat, and sometimes even rent, can at least in part be claimed as a business expense! If you make a run to your nearest office supply store, to pick-up a printer cartridge and some pens, those are business expenses! Be sure to save the receipts! I have one of those large brown envelopes tacked to my message board-whenever I pick up anything that will be used, (even in part!), for my business, I stick it in that envelope! The H&R Block agents duck when they see me coming, but you'd be surprised at the difference it can make! This also includes things like lunches with clients, gas money for any long trips to meetings, even necessary business attire. If you spend household money on your business, you are entitled to compensation!

Pitfall #7: "Who ARE you?"

It is easier than you could imagine, to lose yourself within the walls of your home and home office. When everything you are doing is within a couple thousand square feet, it's so easy to forget there is a whole world outside! Remember to get-out, and have some kind of social life. I would suggest that you get out once in awhile on your own-without the kids, or your partner. Do something that feeds your soul and inspires you to keep moving forward. Something that will make you feel powerful, and competent. After all-you ARE!

Working from home is a challenging, but very worthwhile decision. I wish you all the best as you pursue your dreams, and accomplish what so many others only aspire to! I hope the above "Pitfalls" were of help to you, and that you feel encouraged to SUCCEED!

Here's to Motherhood and your Success!

Marcie A. Downing



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