How to deal with family frustrations when you work at home

by Angela L. Allen

Making the change from working a "traditional" job to launching your own home based business can be difficult. It is easy to remember what makes it difficult for us - we are working on marketing plans, designing web-pages (possibly for the first time), organizing that little corner of a room for business use, getting creative with financing, learning new skills, re-thinking our "professional identity", etc.

What is NOT so easy to remember that the spouse/significant other and the children are also affected by our choice.

Many of you MADE the decision to go "home-based" to improve your quality of family life and your interaction with those special people. But, once the decision is made, it's often difficult to remember your reasoning, especially when the three-year-old interrupts you for the fourth time in five minutes to "look" at that same something - AGAIN.

Before you lose your cool or (worse yet) decide that the home-based venture is impossible, try a few of the tips below:

It's all too easy to want to 'just' finish this or that job.

Are you communicating enough?

Tell the children about your decision, and that they are a big part of why you want to work from home. Even the youngest child understands that you want to be closer to them. Let them know that it's going to be tough work, and it will require sacrifices, but that they are worth it.

How best to keep everyone informed

Keep the family informed of what you are doing.

My own sons came to me and asked (I should have had the forethought to tell them) because their friends asked them what I did all day at home. All they knew was that I worked "on the computer."

Make sure that they understand, in simple terms, what you do and why. Make them comfortable answering questions by peers.

Besides, focusing your business description so a child can understand it is a wonderful way to define your business when creating your own marketing materials and networking with adults!

Share the success

Let them share the excitement when you land your first contract, or make your first sale.

My own children, who had been bemoaning the fact that I was "always working on that computer," gave me ecstatic "High-fives" when I told them that I'd landed my first contract.

After that, they would check in to see if I had anymore clients or prospects and would inquire about my project's progress. Talk about built-in external motivation!

Ask for their opinions

Here is how and when...

  • Let your family know that you value their opinions, not just with family issues, but on a business level. Make the questions age-appropriate.
  • If you are designing a graphic for a client, and have narrowed the shades of blue to two that you like, let the youngest decide WHICH of the two is prettiest - and use their suggestion.
  • With older children, you can let them read a copy of your text and ask them for their advice on the choice between two "ways" of saying something - which adjectives do they prefer, which are more vivid, and why?
  • My 13-year old listened as I complained that I couldn't properly relay what I wanted in my logo design to an on-line graphic artist. My son asked me to sketch it. I did and he got on a paint program on the computer and created a great logo - exactly as I had described. I sent it to the designer to "clean up" the rough edges and it's the one I use today. My son and I are both quite proud of that fact!
  • Adolescents can also be "hired help" for filing, copying and scanning. Pay them a base salary for work they do well and keep the records to minimize your taxes at year-end.
  • Discuss your "approach" on a project with your spouse or significant other and listen to their opinions.

Working from home can be a solitary existence, pull in some outside advice - and begin with the people on the other side of your office door.

Make business hours

Here is what works for me...

  • Begin with as few hours a day "locked away" as possible - and expand them as you need to so the children become "gently" accustomed to you being "off limits" certain hours of the day.
  • Explain that you are not available if the door is closed and are available if it is open.
  • Then be sure that the door is open occasionally. When you are filing and doing routine tasks, be available. Reserve the closed door for creative and intensive work when you cannot tolerate interruptions.
  • When it's closed, a good rule of thumb is: "If it's not something that you would have phoned me about when I worked in my office outside the home, don't knock."
  • Keep a pad of paper near your door for "non-essential" situations to be recorded. When you open your door, review the paper and discuss it with the family member that posted it.

Help them understand

When my 11-year-old became frustrated because I could not be interrupted while doing creative work on product descriptions for a web-site, I decided to show him why I needed the uninterrupted time. He loves writing poetry, so I asked him to write a poem for me. Once he started, I kept calling him for this or that reason - all non-essential - until he became quite frustrated.

Then I sat down with him and asked him what was wrong. He told me he was angry because I kept interrupting him. He said he would start to write something, and before he could get it down, I'd interrupt him and he would lose his train of thought.

About that point he looked at me and a light bulb went off. I asked him if he now understood why I became frustrated when he interrupted me. He smiled and nodded. He has been much more thoughtful about unnecessary interruptions since that little "exercise". 

Have designated meal times

Enjoy meal-times with your family - all THREE meals. Begin your day with an un-rushed breakfast, visit with your favourite people, and nourish all of you for a busy day. Close up shop for lunch at the same time each day and spend that time with the children. And finish your work in time to close up shop for the evening and eat dinner with the family.

Have family time

From dinner time until the kids are in bed, spend that time with them.

Yes, you are swamped! ...That contract is just "hanging there" waiting for you... There is more marketing to be done... You need to check your e-mail... The office line is ringing... etc. So - invest in an answering machine for the office phone, power down the computer, and CLOSE THE DOOR to your office from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Enjoy your family! Sure, you can return to work after the little ones are in bed if you must, but don't get so involved in your business life that you forget YOUR life.

And remember: If the family sees you working, understands what you do, and is asked to help, then what you do when you are "locked away" becomes less of a mystery. And THEY become more accommodating!

Angela L. Allen now runs www.wickedwriter.com

Images courtesy of: Symphony of Love