Managing Life as a Work-at-Home Mom: How to Juggle It All, Part 1

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As I shared last week, I think that working-at-home is an amazing and viable opportunity for many women who wish to (or need to) work but still want to remain at home with their children.

Today, I want to get really practical and start sharing some of the things you can do to really make it work for you. There’s no denying that it is a challenge to manage the tasks of maintaining a home and a business, while still having time to care for and love on (and even homeschool) your kids.

Goodness knows, I don’t have all the answers, nor do I implement all of these suggestions perfectly. These ideas are the result of 4 1/2 years of trial and error, glaring mistakes, reading good books, and learning from others. Most of them aren’t revolutionary. They just work. I need to be reminded of them as much as I want to share them with you.

Getting the Help That You Need

I resisted this for the longest time, for two reasons.

First, we often feel that it is a sign of weakness or that it is unacceptable to get help. Admit it. We want to feel like we can handle everything ourselves.

Problem is, we can’t. We need to stop trying to be superwoman, change our attitudes about this and be willing to get the help that we need in order to carry on in a balanced and healthy way.

The second is that I mistakenly believed that I had more time than I had money, and therefore should do everything myself. This is a flawed idea.

If it takes me 6 hours and much frustration to do a design project that is mediocre and may result in less sales or a less professional image, but it takes a professional designer 2 hours to create something stunning and highly effective, that money is well spent. I can focus my time on the things that I excel at, the things that build up my business and ultimately make more money, and her superior design may result in more book sales, more clickthroughs, more pageviews on my website, etc. which in turn might generate income that easily makes up for the expense of the designer.

Making these decisions to hire help becomes easier when you calculate your hourly wage. I know, nobody is keeping tabs of your hours and handing you a neat and tidy paycheck in a home business situation. So, you’ll need to calculate it yourself. Figure out the average number of hours that you work per week or per month, calculate the average amount that you earn in the same period of time (your profits, after your expenses), then divide the earnings by the number of hours worked. Voila. You have your “hourly wage”.

This calculation was instrumental for me in making the decision to hire my first assistant. If I could earn “X” number of dollars per hour, but could hire someone to take some of the workload off of me for less than what I was earning, didn’t it make sense to allow them to do those things, freeing me to do more of the things that grow my business? In both of our (very different) home businesses, my husband and I have found this to be true over and over again.

Does it feel like a risk? Yes. Have we ever felt that we truly didn’t have the money? Yup. And I would never, ever suggest that you put yourself into any amount of debt to make such decisions. But, if you can do it without going into the red, and you can see that it could be financially worthwhile when you really analyze it, don’t be afraid to hire the help that you need. 

(There are also plenty of ways to make this more affordable- barter or trade services, try hiring virtual help from someone in a developing country for less than you would pay here- more on this in the comments section, find someone who is just starting up their business and charging less in exchange for a testimonial or review, hire a skilled high schooler, etc. but this could be a whole other post in and of itself!)

What Do I Hire Out?

I have an assistant, Lindsey, who works about 5 hours per week and helps me with things like moderating comments, emails, research, book promotion, giveaways, and running my private advertising program. I hire out practically all of my design work, as well as my technical behind-the-scenes website issues and upgrades, to a husband and wife team. I’m completing my 3rd eBook with the help of an eBook designer who is also taking care of all formatting and file conversions, plus I hired a wonderful editor rather than attempting to edit the book myself.

I have a mother’s helper who comes once a week for an afternoon. She cares for my children and performs one housekeeping task for me each week, like vacuuming or mopping. As I write this post, I have suddenly found my schedule piled up with some unexpected work for the music school we own, in addition to the blog’s deadlines and projects, and so this afternoon I will be making some calls for a house cleaner to come for the next few weeks. I don’t usually hire someone to clean, but I have no qualms about doing it when needed, either.

family pic downsized

Keeping Your Family a Priority

If there’s one thing I have learned, keeping my husband and children a priority is absolutely crucial as a work-at-home mom. There have been seasons where my work kept me too busy and distracted, with little leftover to offer my family relationally and I don’t want to every do that again.

These are some of the ways that I intentionally keep my family a priority:

  • Create my work schedule in such a way as to not be on the computer while I’m with my children. I do this to the best of my ability, and yes, sometimes I do work a little bit when I’m with them, but by and large I avoid this as much as possible.
  • Our mornings are kept sacred, as a time when I eat breakfast with the kids (and my husband, when he’s home), and we focus on homeschool, devotions and chores until lunchtime. No computer allowed, unless it’s for homeschool purposes.
  • My husband also works from home, and so we work hard to communicate about what we each need, help each other out in hectic seasons, and take turns having special time with the children. We really have to respect one another’s work space and needs, and the better we get at calmly expressing those needs and coming up with solutions together, the better we work as a team.
  • Learn to walk away. When I used to work on the computer near my kids, I found myself going into “uh-huh” mode too frequently. They became frustrated because they knew I wasn’t really paying attention, and I became frustrated by being interrupted. That’s why I don’t do that anymore. If I do happen to pull out the computer when they’re with me, I have to be willing to shut it and walk away to give them 100% of my attention if they need it.
  • Take time off when you need it. As a family of entrepreneurs, sometimes we just need to call a family day and leave the work behind. We do this occasionally- stop homeschool, plan something fun and just get out of the house together. We always find it refreshing. Holidays are important, and over Christmas, I took a week where I barely even checked my email, let alone did anything else. I’m also planning to take a one-month maternity leave when this new baby arrives in the next 4-6 weeks (but don’t worry- there will be plenty of fantastic content, from both myself and other writers).

I simply had too much to share to keep this to one post, so next week I’ll share more about working productively, scheduling work time creatively, letting go of things that aren’t necessary, and also give some recommended resources.

Do you have a hard time choosing to get the help that you need (this actually applies to all moms, not just ones that work from home)? How do you keep your family a priority in your schedule and daily routine?

Top image by Marina Pics. Other image is our family this summer.

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. I believe we are twins in spirit…..I too am a homeschool mom of three and an entrepreneur. This post was FANTASTIC regarding getting help when you need it, esp. regarding the fallacy of doing everything because there is more time than money. Here’s my question: how do you decide which kind of help is the most important?

    I LOVE the cleaning recipes you have shared and have learned new ideas . Many Blessings to your work and family! I look forward to reading your blog again.
    Truly,
    Marie

  2. Fantastic post. Just fantastic. I’m making a concerted effort this year to organize things better for the benefit of all of us. Thank you for blessing us with your insight. Obvious to you, perhaps, but this was filled will ideas that I couldn’t organize my time to even THINK about :)

  3. I have noticed that our days go more smoothly when I don’t get on the computer while my toddler son is around. Even if it is just for a couple minutes and he is busy doing something else, he notices that my attention is otherwise engaged and starts showing me he doesn’t appreciate it. :)

    I am curious who qualifies as someone to hire as an assistant for moderating comments, emails, promos, etc.? I like the idea of contributing to our income while being a stay at home mom, but creating and maintaining a blog doesn’t seem like a realistic way for me to do this. I don’t know of many other ways to enjoy working at home but am wondering if I would be able to do behind the scenes work.

    • Technically, anyone could be an assistant for a blogger. The main requirements are consistent internet access, ability to commit to the number of hours/days that they need (and this is usually flexible), solid computer skills (particularly web related, but also just understand how blogs work in general- but you don’t have to be a blogger- my current assistant isn’t one), good organization, basic administration/office type skills (emails, communication with clients/readers, working on schedules, etc.). This ebook is really helpful if you’re thinking that you might like to look into doing this- http://www.hirebloghelp.com/.

  4. Stephanie,

    I appreciate this series and your behind the scenes. I love those the best. What is challenging is growing a blog sustainably from the get go. Ie: not compromising your health or relationships in the process (I think it’s slower this way, at least for me) and therefore you’re usually not growing big enough, fast enough to hire out help. Does that make sense?

    Once you’re earning a steady-ish income from your blogging you can consider hiring out design help and what not but with no steady-ish (because your growth model is slow, steady and sustainable) it takes awhile to get to the hire out stage. And in the meantime you are having to juggle those roles yourself.

    Just something I’ve been thinking about while reading this series.

    • Yes, I definitely hear you about the delicate balance of trying to grow fast enough and not yet being able to hire out help. There was probably about a year where I felt that I was sort of sitting on that fence, making some money but it felt hard to justify putting it towards help when I still wasn’t making a lot of money for the hours I was putting in. I think at that point, you just have to find small, inexpensive ways to get at least some help so you don’t work yourself to death (hiring a young girl from church, trading favors with friends, only hiring out the things that take you the longest and trying to find people who are still really affordable, etc.) and be willing to give up some of what you make in order to build up the business.

      We have found with our family-owned music school that it’s been necessary to keep the personal salary that we take from it very small, and we haven’t really increased it hardly at all since the beginning (it’s been two years now), because in order to grow our school sustainably, we have to keep pouring back in. It’s hard, to see the growth and know that we could be taking more, and instead spend it on hiring and training people, developing new resources, pouring into the website and marketing, etc. but I think it’s the right way to grow a business. Slow, steady, not expecting much for yourself in the early years. It will pay off in the long-term.

      It probably also needs to be said that there are times in running a business where you DO pour in the extra time and energy and let yourself be a little unbalanced. We still have short seasons where we both just work our tails off, more hours than we want, less sleep, less family time, more videos for the kids. We honestly hate those seasons, but they seem to come a couple times a year, for a few weeks at a time. We just get by the best we can, try to take care of ourselves and nurture our relationships whenever we have a chance, and know that balls are going to drop and we’re going to be tired and it’s not going to be ideal. And then, once we’re worked ourselves silly and gotten through whatever it was that needed to be done, we go back to pursuing that greater balance and peacefulness as quickly as possible.

  5. This is something I’m really struggling with right now, and I’m taking a few steps to make my blogging run more efficiently.

    I’m considering outsourcing a few of my blog to-do tasks that would take me a long time to get right, but probably would be fast for someone else.

    I think it is worth it to put some of my blog earnings back into my blog, so that I can have more of my own time freed up and a better blog overall.

    Thank you for this series! Looking forward to hearing how you make time for it all. My children do not sleep all night and they seem to hear me if I’m up in the morning, so it’s tricky.

    One thing I’m doing that’s helping is I made a list of all possible blog activities I need to do to keep it running. I’m eliminating some things, automating others, and maybe outsourcing still others. It’ll help me pare down my task list and help me focus on what’s important.

    This year, my blog goals don’t have any particular RSS increase or page view increase, or even an amount of money I hope to earn. My main blog goal is to find a way to fit my blog in my day, in a way that benefits, not harms, my family.

  6. Hello, I love the idea of working from home! As you stated, it is the best of both worlds…earning income and staying home with the kids. I just don’t know what it is that I would do if I was to stay home! Most of my skills/gifts are service oriented. And it is complicated by being a single parent. It would require a great leap of faith to take on this endeavor. That is why I would love to know concretely what it is the Lord wants me to do! I’m willing to start almost anywhere, just to get started in general so I won’t sit here dreaming but actually moving toward the goal of staying home.
    Anyway..thanks for you posts! I enjoy them.

  7. I look forward to being able to hire help eventually. My first project will be to hire a designer this first quarter of the year. I really struggle with the tech end of things so it ends up taking me forever. I have been a stay at home mom forever (20 yrs), and only now am I adding a home business. It is challenging making it all work, so thank you for your insight.

  8. I’m just curious for your reason behind hiring someone from a different country for lower wages than someone in the United States. I don’t want to jump the gun. And how much lower do you suggest we pay those people?

    • Yes, it is for lower wages and here’s my reasoning: I am all for supporting people in the local economy as much as possible. In fact, most of the help that my husband and I hire out is local, either from Canada (where we live) or the US, and we’re happy to pay the standard going rates. We employ quite a good number of people as local business owners and we are thrilled to be able to do that and contribute positively to the economy! But, we have occasionally hired outside of the country for some jobs that we simply didn’t have the money to hire locally (especially when we first started up), because they simply had to get done. By doing this, we were able to provide valuable work and income to a skilled worker in a country that has a less stable economy than North America, and we were able to get the necessary work done to grow/sustain our own businesses, so that we can stay in business and continue to support our local economy in the future. I don’t love the idea of outsourcing as a general or long-term business plan (unless it is fair trade), but I do think that there can definitely be a time and place for it.

      As for what to pay these people, we have always done it through a bidding-style site, like eLance or Rent-a-Coder (for us, it’s always been computer/technical work). On these sites, we put up the job that we would like to have completed, and then we accept bid offers for that job, then we compare the offers and the skills of those applying, and choose who we feel is the best fit. What’s great about this is that they set their own price. SInce they have the opportunity to set their own price, I would expect that they are setting them based on a wage that would feel fair and acceptable to them, based on the exchange rate with their currency. And occasionally, we have people from developed countries (ie. North America, Britain, etc.) bid for comparable wages, so clearly the rates are somewhat competitive and people are willing and eager to work for what we are paying. It isn’t peanuts, but any means, it’s just a little bit more affordable than some professionals would charge us locally. Hopefully that answers your questions a bit better!

      • Thank you for sharing this more detailed response about hiring workers from developing countries. I have to admit I was put off when I read that in your original blog post, so I am glad to hear your thoughts and how you do so. I’m wondering if others felt a bit conflicted when reading this in your original blog?

  9. Great tips! You are so right about keeping family first!

  10. I just came to this realization that I MUST hire help. My husband’s been begging me to do it for weeks. I hired an assistant yesterday (semi-local) and also a mother’s helper. My assistant will work 3 – 5 hours a week and my mother’s helper will come in two mornings a week for a couple hours. I plan two have two mornings for outings with the kids (just fun/school, no work) and one morning for chores/rest/a little work if I must. I always hire out my design work — I don’t think like that and I want someone who does to just do it for me. (We found an excellent designer who was fresh out of school and my husband’s childhood best friend who does work for us.)

    Something else to think about — if you can, when you are growing your business, re-invest most or all of your profits into the business in the form of hiring help. We’re using our money to pay our designer and our assistant, because then I can spend my time writing posts and books and doing stuff that will ultimately make us more money, while someone else handles my basic email, promotion, and other “stuff” that needs done. If I didn’t have that, I’d spend over half my time on that basic stuff and I wouldn’t be able to do the creative stuff that will expand my business! It’s important to think of that if you think you can’t afford help. If you really want to grow your business, then at some point you HAVE to hire help!

    • It’s true, you do have to put money towards growth and be willing to keep less for yourself. We do that to some degree with both of our businesses as well. We used to have a hard time justifying it, but more and more now we see how it’s worth it.

    • I work from home and would love to find a mother’s helper for a morning or two a week, but I have had terrible luck using SitterCity. Any suggestions for how you found your mother’s helper? I don’t know where to look.

  11. Having only one child helps. ;) My main issue is that I’ve been dealing with Computer Vision Syndrome for over 2 yrs now, and would really like someone else to do my backlinking tasks but I’m not making nearly enough $ to hire anyone to do it.

  12. I am not ashamed to ask for help:) But you are right on Stephaine…keeping the family a priority is first on my list! Thank you for all of the great in post links. I can’t wait for part 2.

  13. I think it is always hard to ask for help, regardless of whether or not one has children. I know for me I am always very hesitant to ask for help even when I know I am stressed, drained and want to cry thinking of tackling one more task at hand. I am getting better but still hard some times!

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