Working within controlled chaos
Because my husband is in the navy, I often find myself as a Solo Mom. And when I left my part-time job (which I hated) to work from home, I had visions of my daughters playing together peacefully while I worked and revolving my hours around my sons’ school and sports schedules. Previously, this would have required me to either find child care or call out of work for the time that he’d be away, but now that I work from home as a writer and social-networking manager, I still get to work and earn money to help support my family. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, some days are really great and easily managed, but there are two words that more accurately describe the majority of my days as a work-at-home mom: controlled chaos.
During my own time in the military, I learned how to withstand a lot of controlled chaos, which now helps me manage my own brood of four, especially when my children are screaming, chasing one another around the house, and refusing to keep the soccer ball outside.
Build up your team
Your team is your family—your children, mom, dad, brothers, sisters, whomever you have. But your team may also end up including your best friend and your next-door neighbor. You need to keep your team inspired and on your side to make things happen. We have a weekly family night where my kids take turns choosing dinner and games, and we watch a movie together and eat popcorn. My older children also have daily chores that they have to complete before they go outside, play games, or watch TV. This way, the children are motivated by the family-night selections to behave, and their chore requirements ensure our home stays clean. This gives me a little less to worry about while I try to get my work done.
For our family that resides outside our home, close friends included, we do our best to treat them right in return for all that they do for us so that they know we appreciate them. We send our dinner leftovers across the street to the family that helps us pick up our slack, such as when we need someone to pick up the kids from school, and I bake a lot of muffins for the single sailors who have helped us with the kids or house. And, of course, there’s always the option of cash, too.
Set flexible working hours
My children know that in the evenings I will be working. During these times, they set off to do their bedtime routines, and though I have to remind them to get moving, they’re pretty good about holding it together long enough for me to respond to e-mails, write a few paragraphs, and schedule my social-media posts. The babies are typically sleeping during this time, and the house is pretty quiet as we reflect on the day and prepare for the next, so it makes it a perfect time for me to squeeze in work. Of course, during the day, if an idea comes to me or the babies go down for a nap while the boys are playing outside, I don’t hesitate to seize the moment and squeeze in some extra work. By trying to work at the same time every day, my children get into a routine. The younger ones play with dolls or watch cartoons for a short period time, and the older ones often read or play on their own devices if I must work during the day while they’re awake.
Realize that the world is not your office
I see so many people posting online about how they’re working from the playground or poolside where their kids play, but that doesn’t work for me. I work from home so that I can spend more time being present in my kids’ lives, and I’m not being present for them behind a screen while they’re trying to show me their awesome new cannonball jump or how they mastered a cartwheel. My work is confined to my home and, in some cases, a coffeehouse, but I do my best to keep it separate from our family fun.
Prepare yourself for mishaps
Just know that for the Solo Mom, Murphy’s Law will almost always be in play. You will find yourself pausing your work because your three-year-old decides she can’t wait an extra minute for chips, so she’ll pull them off the counter and spill the whole bag on your floor. And when your older child yells at her because he “got there first,” she’ll start crying and drop her bowl, which, of course, will brake. Or your car will get a flat tire on the way to the school, the dishwasher will explode all over the floor, or the person who is scheduled to help you with the kids so you can get some work done will cancel at the last minute. When mishaps occur, and they most likely will, the first thing to do is step back, take deep breath, and remain calm because if one thing is certain, your children are probably watching and learning from your example.
Keep your sense of humor
Finally, above all, keep your sense of humor, and spend as much time as you can with your children because before you know it, they’re going to be grown-ups themselves. I hope that when my children are adults, they have fond memories of me spending a ton of time with them while still being able to bring home the bacon, and I hope they remember me as fun and silly—not as the crazy, frazzled mess I often feel like!
Tara Glenn is a Solo Mom of four who currently resides in Pensacola, Florida. She has a background in public affairs, writing, and photography. Tara spent five years in the Navy and now volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol as a public affairs officer. She enjoys working with small businesses as a ghostwriter as well as encouraging her children’s love for aviation in her free time—the running joke being that she only creates pilots, as all of her children love to fly!
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