If you happen to follow artist, Megan Carty, on Instagram (HINT: you totally should if you aren’t), then you’re familiar with scenes from her daily life balancing new art pieces and spending quality time with her children. It seems that Megan has figured out the secret to effortlessly juggling her role as business owner and Mom, but like many of us, she faces struggles, too! Below, this clever creative and talented artist shares her perspective on attending to both of her “babies”: her brand and her children.
There’s a toddler under my desk making siren noises while crashing his toy ambulance into my chair. My daughter just got home from school and is begging for me to make her a hot chocolate. And my middle boy…he’s twirling around the studio slamming his beloved light saber into any surface he can find. It won’t be long before there are tears because one kid needs a snack, the light saber battery has died or the hot chocolate has spilled. If it isn’t clear yet, working from home can be chaotic!
As an artist, I always dreamed of working from my peaceful home studio filled with light and warmth. I pictured my kids playing quietly at my feet, busy with games, coloring and reading books. I would, of course, look satisfied at the stack of paintings I had finished that day, all ready to go to their new homes.
Yet, back to reality, I discovered early on in my work-at-home parenting journey that my daydreams were quite far-fetched (though well-intentioned!). Being able to sit and focus on any given business-related task is an undertaking as each thing takes longer to do than it used to before kids. Constant interruptions, fights, noise and needs fill the day (and some nights) to the brim. Why not put my kids in daycare or get a babysitter? Well, for now it’s not financially viable for us. Furthermore, I like being the one my kids come to during the day. I want to be there for them when they need me the most. So, how, then, do I go about being an attentive parent while still being a dynamo entrepreneurial artist (who still maintains a sense of sanity)? I’m sharing my top tips and tricks below!
1. Recognize and embrace that kids are…kids!
As often as I daydreamed about smiling children who sit quietly with books and crafts, that is simply not reality. My vision was unrealistic, unfair and setting myself up for frustration and anger. Kids are loud, often messy and have lots of needs. It’s nature! Learning to accept that I could not control every little thing they did took a load off my mind and helped me to relax. I was constantly getting angry whenever my kids acted like…well…kids! I was spending my days exasperated while the kids were acting out from being yelled at all the time. I learned to let go of my controlling tendencies and embraced the fact that I had to work among interruptions and some noise. I’ve learned to cope by playing soothing music in the background, indulging in aromatherapy, meditating (breathe, breathe, breathe!) and taking breaks for coffee or a snack.
2. Be aware of self care.
Speaking of taking breaks, when you are surrounded by children while trying to be productive in your business, you must blow off steam. Taking a break and going on a walk with your kids does everyone a world of good. Take several smaller meal breaks in a day instead of a couple of big meal breaks. Stop occasionally to stretch and do a little dance or jog in place. The trick is to give yourself a chance to get some blood flowing, change your perspective and have little indulgences to look forward to. This keeps your mind fresh, light and positive. Nothing makes someone more cranky than being hungry, stressed and left with little space to breathe.
In our “off hours,” my husband and I divide family/house tasks up so we can get some decompression time. Or perhaps he’ll take the kids somewhere on a Saturday so I can go do something by myself. He’s very supportive of my need for a break here and there. I try and do the same for him.
I’ve found that planning for a healthy business is important, but planning for a healthy family life is even more essential. Without proper planning, I feel like life runs me rather than me running my life.
3. Give yourself grace.
Part of caring for yourself also means having realistic expectations of yourself. There is only so much you can accomplish in a day! Being an at-home parent is hard enough without cramming in a day job on top of it, so you need to give yourself plenty of grace and permission to be imperfect. This all sounds great, but how do you do it?
- The Big Three: Each day choose the top three most important business tasks you must accomplish that day. Do the largest task first, and work on the rest of the tasks bit by bit until they are done. Perhaps there will be time left to squeeze in a few more to-dos that weren’t as important because you used your time wisely.
- Invest in Help: I have one kiddo in school full-time, the other is in preschool three full days per week and my toddler goes to a babysitter for one full day per week. This allows me windows of time where I can be productive in peace. I cannot afford full-time childcare for all three, but I figured out what we could afford and decided it was an investment in my business and worth the expense. I know people who trade babysitting with friends so they can get pockets of time to work. For example, one or two mornings per week you can take your friend’s children until lunchtime so she can have some time and then she takes your children for two mornings so you can have some time. The kids then have friends to play with and you get some productive time that didn’t cost extra money. Win-Win!
- Plan Ahead: I plan each day’s tasks the night before. That’s when I figure out my “big three.” But it doesn’t stop there; I also plan out a handful of activities I can do with the kids. I’ve found that if I spend undivided time with them, they can then play on their own for quite a while before needing their next Mommy activity fix. I get most of my work done in between these activities when they will happily play on their own. I refer to my business tasks list from the night before and focus on ticking them off one at a time. Because I planned things out, I don’t waste time figuring out what I need to be doing next and I have everything ready to go.
- Chores: Household tasks are another thing that you can do with your kids as “together time”; they can help with laundry, spraying down surfaces, putting toys away, vacuuming and all that good stuff.
4. Utilize your off-hours.
Personally, I don’t like to work in my “off-hours.” That is the time I spend with my family and show them they are my priority. It’s my time to be with my husband and show my love for him and our marriage. It’s the time I do things I enjoy like reading or learning new skills. I also get so tired during the day; I need to be in bed early and get as much sleep as I can. It’s just how I need to roll.
Utilizing off-hours means filling them with purpose. We like to plan one or two date nights per month. We call our babysitter and put the dates on the calendar well in advance so we have those times to look forward to. If I can schedule a dentist appointment and keep it, then I can certainly schedule time with my husband so we can connect without the kids.
We also try to do similar planning where we build in private time doing something special with each child. I need them each to know that they are important to me and they matter. Building special memories is important, as we’ll never get this time back! I’ve found that planning for a healthy business is important, but planning for a healthy family life is even more essential. Without proper planning, I feel like life runs me rather than me running my life.
Include your kids.
My last suggestion for becoming an attentive work-at-home parent is to include your children in your workspace design. My studio is large, so I have the luxury of having a child’s table and chairs equipped with jars of colored pencils, markers and paper. I have a handful of lovely quiet toys at hand for imaginative play, and some other things like Play-Doh at the ready.
Kids love to be near their parents as much as possible, so I’ve embraced this fact and made a point of sharing my space with them. They feel welcomed and encouraged to express themselves while I am working. They know they will soon have “together time,” so they take advantage of the kid area to keep themselves busy while they wait for the next activity. I like that they are learning to be patient, to play on their own and to not rely on their mom for every little thing.
Being a work-at-home parent isn’t easy. It can be filled with interruptions, frustrations, noise and messiness. But it can also be a time that’s meaningful, special, purposeful and educational. I’m not perfect. I have lots of bad days where I yell way more than I should. There are days when I’m so inattentive I feel guilty. These days happen; it’s all part of the game.
I wrote this article as much for myself as for anyone else! The benefits are there: my children see their mother is setting goals and following her dreams. They see the discipline it takes to plan a business while being a loving parent. It can be intimidating and overwhelming at times, but I know I will never regret putting in the extra effort if it means I can be there for my children and achieve my dreams at the same time.