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Working at home: Blessing or a curse?

QUESTION: I have read about the trials of women who must rush back to work and leave their small babies with strangers. I am lucky in that area, -- I work from my home. I love being able to nurse my five month old when she needs it and my son wouldn't know what to do if I wasn't there when he got home from school. But I miss having a break from the family and I am really wearing out. Short of giving up my flexible job and abandoning my kids during the day, what can I do to get the break I need?

ANSWER: Your question is one that begs to be addressed in this new technological age of computerization. Working from home does indeed provide advantages for families, especially, as in your case, when nursing a young one. But meeting work deadlines and projected goals is still necessary, which means creating boundaries to achieve this work is also important. The suggestions below will help you better organize your environment to make working from home a realistic possibility, rather than an organizational nightmare!

1. Set specific times for uninterrupted work and a consistent schedule

Let your family know when you are working and what the rules are about interruptions. For example, you may not be interrupted except for an emergency for three hours in the morning, or two hours in the afternoon. Schedule this time and let family members know you are not available. Schedule appropriate family breaks when you are available, and keep them consistent and regular. Save an hour in the afternoon for helping a child with homework or half hour breaks for breastfeeding your baby during the day, but keep a regular schedule which avoids energy wasted in endless last minute adjustments and reorganization. Decide how much time you should spend on work, and stick to this schedule.

2. Maintain a separate workspace

Work in a separate area of your home dedicated for this purpose. Be able to close a door for your own concentration and to indicate to others that you are not to be interrupted. Taking yourself out of visual range is likely to be necessary, to avoid frustration from family members who see you but cannot interact freely with you. Create a peaceful working environment where you can be productive rather than frazzled!

3. Do not try to do two jobs simultaneously!

Arrange your office so you are not seen when you are not to be interrupted. Seeing you, but being unable to get your undivided attention can drive family members, (not to mention yourself), crazy! Do not make the mistake of encouraging others to see you as "available", when you must concentrate on the work task on hand. You will only end up feeling that you have failed at doing your job well, and frustrated with parenting. When working from home, especially with a child not yet in school, hiring competent people to support you is a must. A good babysitter, mother's helper or housekeeper is in order!

3. Maintain a separate phone line for work calls

Communication is important when working from home. Having your own business line will reduce conflict with the home environment, especially with teenagers who love to be on the phone. It will also help you establish a calm and professional atmosphere around your work.

4. Maintain consistent and regular times when you are available to your family

Let your family know when you are available for talking, information sharing, and family rituals, like dinner or specific activities that are child or family focused, during the day. This is the upside of working from home. You can make their needs important and schedule flexibly. But remember flexibility still includes your work responsibilities, too. You can change or rearrange schedules, but you cannot abandon them. Maintaining predictable boundaries around work and home activities is essential for smooth and effective organization.

5. Do not overwork!

Be realistic about what you can do in the time you schedule for work and for family activities. Anticipate your needs when "learning curves" are thrown your way for new work projects. Keep your own needs for sleep and relaxation, and your family focused time free of work responsibilities.

Do not give in to the temptation to work all night, while others sleep! Instead, organize your time so that your work and family life can be satisfying instead of frustrating.

Remember, unless you are taking care of yourself, you will be no good to anyone else!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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