The reality of being a Work At Home Mother
As mentioned before, I had the opportunity to start working part-time from home a few months ago. Part-time IT work is a bit of a holy grail – most IT companies are more inclined to expect you to work extra unpaid hours, not less. It’s a male-dominated industry and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to compete on an equal footing if you’re not putting in the extra hours like everyone else. Working part-time from home was a rare chance that I couldn’t pass up, and so the experiment began. It all seemed a bit too good to be true, and it’s certainly been a bumpy road this far. Actually finding time, and peace, to do some constructive work has been even harder than I anticipated.
The first month was a long and not a very productive one. I was grabbing hours here and there. We were off on holidays very soon and I really wasn’t getting where I wanted to be when it came to the work side of things. Why not? Quite simply, because I have a toddler. Just like all toddlers, he has the uncanny ability to sense when I have a time limit or deadline that needs to be met. The response to my utter lunacy of committing to anything other than his needs, is a total escalation of his demands. Planning on spending a couple of hours working once the toddler is in bed? Well, this toddler has decided not to go to sleep anymore unless his Mammy is sitting right beside him all night. Forget about trying to sneak off after a while. Toddlers can sleep with one eye open. You will be caught. There were quite a few depressing late nights where I sat in the dark spare room, lit only by the dim glow of the laptop screen. I slowly read documentation and tested code with a toddler sprawled alongside me, occasionally aiming a sleepy kick at the screen. Not exactly conducive to producing my best work.
The clingy toddler continued to thwart my best intentions to get work done day or night. The practicalities of part-time work take getting used to aswell. It’s a lifetime habit to think of how much work you’ll get done in a week based on normal working hours. Adjusting your perception of time to allow for only doing the equivalent of one week of work per month is difficult. You have to keep mentally adjusting timelines in your head. Faced with a couple of hours here and there to accomplish tasks, you really can’t afford to waste any time at all on work that isn’t absolutely necessary, and the highest priority. No spending a day or two following an idea down a rabbit hole of code configurations and interfaces to see if it leads anywhere good. In order to make timely progress you need a crystal clear idea of exactly what you’re going to do, and exactly how to do it, before you open up a code editor. It’s a much more organised, less creative process than writing code would usually be. There’s pressure to make some kind of visible progress measured by hours instead of days in each week.
It also quickly became obvious that the battle to maintain a good work/life balance was going to kick off straight away. There are never enough hours in the day for a busy business, so obviously they can’t help but desire as much work as you’re willing to give. It’s hard to stick to your limited availability. Employers also find it difficult to adjust their expectations of a reasonable timeline for delivering code when it’s based on reduced hours. In a young start-up company the overall plan or direction tends to be loosely defined, and liable to change at a moment’s notice. This doesn’t sit well with part-time hours with clearly defined work that doesn’t change often. There’s a fundamental conflict before you even start. And as always, there’s the workplace politics to consider.
About three months in, and the experiment hasn’t been particularly successful as a longer term venture. With a demanding toddler, I can’t afford to get pulled into longer working hours. Unfortunately a start-up company by its nature tends to be a black hole that sucks in time from anyone around it. Add in to the mix that the majority of work has been, and will continue to be outsourced to a remote team who aren’t always on the same page, and it makes for a difficult full-time job, never mind part-time. It’s hard to define a clear role with good boundaries so that both sides will get good enough value out of the contract. In this particular case I’ve had to recommend bringing a full-time employee onboard locally to play a very involved role in keeping the business moving in the right direction. Something I can’t commit to doing myself.
I’m glad to have given the whole WAHM scenario a shot. Ultimately this particular work isn’t the best match for my current situation though. I’ve dialled back on my involvement for now and am going back to my previous plan (pipe dream?) of spending what time I can on investigating part-time work that is based more on being self-employed, with all the freedom that not having a direct boss provides. Not that I really have any time these days between cooking, cleaning, and keeping the toddler boss happy 24/7.