The Mistress of Time and Space--What's So Great About Working From Home
One of the things I have loved most about staying home with my kids has been the control I have over scheduling—or as I prefer to think of it, being The Mistress of Time and Space. Now that the kids are in school most of the day, and with the oldest heading to college in just a few short years, I’ve been looking at those hours in the middle of the day with new purpose. Going back to an office job part- or three-quarter-time would have several advantages, but here’s why it’s not the right choice for me…
Conventional jobs usually pay considerably more than work-from-home opportunities, but think about how much of that paycheck gets eaten up in associated costs. Let’s start with commuting. The only public transportation in my neighborhood is the city bus line, which would involve walking several blocks and waiting for my ride. Nothing wrong with that—it’s certainly one of the greener alternatives--except that with three kids in school, one of whom has high-functioning autism, I’d rather be more available to show up at school if I’m needed for some sort of emergency. (It does happen, less frequently now, but still often enough to be a consideration.)
Austin happens to be a bike-friendly city, but I, unfortunately, am not a bike-friendly girl, so that’s not an option for me. So let’s look at taking my minivan into town every day—or more likely, driving out to another of the growing suburbs surrounding Austin proper. Having my own car gives me the freedom to come and go as needed, and is probably the best commuting choice in terms of time saved—but the additional mileage and wear on the vehicle, plus more expensive fill-ups and more frequent maintenance, will add up to extra costs against my paycheck.
Then there’s wardrobe. Right now, my wardrobe is particularly unsuited to an office environment—even an Austin-casual workplace--composed as it is of jeans, t-shirts, boyfriend cardigans, and my daughter’s outgrown Toms with holes in the toes. I would need to invest in a few pieces just to get through the first few weeks of an office job, and it’s likely that a couple of those investments might require dry-cleaning or other special care, necessitating additional laundry and dry-cleaning costs. That’s more money out of the paycheck.
Childcare costs are another consideration for me. Although we live within walking distance of my children’s schools, all of them attend different schools and my youngest gets out of school more than an hour before her older siblings do. That would mean walking home alone to an empty house and staying there alone for an hour or so until her brother and sister get home—which is not a comfortable scenario for me, even without the autism factor. We could get the grandparents involved—they live half a mile away—but their recent health issues make me reluctant to add to their personal responsibilities. We could find a sitter/nanny/au pair who specializes in special-needs cases, and who could also take all three kids to their various extracurricular activities, doctor appointments, and play dates, but now we’re spending money again—on the sitter’s salary, gas, mileage, and special qualifications.
Finally, there are the intangibles. I’ve already discussed my daughter’s condition, but there’s also my own. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and while my particular case is considered mild in terms of joint pain, inflammation, and impaired mobility, the fatigue associated with this auto-immune disorder makes it difficult for me to be as productive in an office setting as I am working from home. There are days when it is all I can do to get showered and dressed without needing a nap afterwards—having to commute to a job instead has, in the past, resulted in lowered productivity and eventual worsening of my condition over time. Being able to take my kids to school in the mornings and rest afterwards, then get to work at home has meant more efficient use of my limited energy and better health overall.
I do miss the camaraderie of office friendships and the sense of accomplishment when team goals are achieved and hard work is recognized and rewarded. I’ve learned to recreate these elements by working with non-profit organizations and volunteering at my children’s schools as I am able, and the subsequent gratification of a job well done has far exceeded anything I experienced in the workplace. I also have to serve as my own IT guy, which in my case means having Nerds in a Flash on speed dial to come and save me from myself. And sometimes it’s hard to explain to family and friends that I am, in fact, working—and not sitting around folding laundry and posting on Facebook, waiting for their call so I can drop everything and visit. Right now, I’m not making much money—but fortunately my husband has been supportive of my efforts and quietly encourages the kids to be more independent, especially when their wild-eyed mother is typing up a storm to meet a deadline.
I realize that this issue falls into the category of First-World problems, and I reiterate that I know how lucky I am to be able to make these kinds of choices—but I also know that I can work harder and more efficiently from home, thus keeping more of my take-home pay than I might with a more traditional job. I make my own hours and my own choices about how to spend those hours—and I’m modeling excellent time management skills to my children. And honestly—is there really a job title out there as awesome as Mistress of Time and Space? I think I’ll have some business cards made up…