Lessons from Being a Work-from-Home Mom

OK, working mamas. Mute your Slack channels. Take your break. Hide in the closet from your kids. Let’s check in. How are we doing?

I personally can’t believe it’s been a year since I started working from home. What started as a flurry of timid texts to my boss asking if I should come into the office quickly snowballed into a company-wide declaration that we would work from home indefinitely…and that avalanched into a year of no in-person contact, no commutes, and no makeup.

Even if you’re an essential worker and not working from home, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced some adjustments in our lives since March 2020. I’m finally learning to navigate all the twists and turns of our new normal—but it certainly wasn’t without its growing pains.

Here are a few of the past year’s most memorable work-from-home lessons:

The Law of Cats and Toddlers

Our cat Sullivan, the instigator.

In preparation for a presentation this fall, I kicked my husband and 2-year-old out of the house. I had learned from a previous work call that my toddler could easily divert meetings by yelling, “HI! HI! STAR WARS! HI! GOT A SOLID POOP! HI!” I was wiser. Conditioned. More prepared.

I settled in for my presentation with coffee and my PowerPoint notes, sans child. But as soon as I started, our cat—starved for attention usually given by the aforementioned toddler with the healthy bowel movements—decided to announce to all of my colleagues that he was being neglected. I had barely started before he let loose with the most pitiful, full-volume “MEOWWWWWWWWWW.” And those meows lasted the entire ten minutes. I had to tack on an extra 30 seconds to apologize profusely and swear we were good cat parents who bought the expensive cat food. Luckily, it was a presentation about Halloween, so the cat screeching did add a spooky ambiance. Very Pet Sematary.

Lesson: Interruptions are going to happen when you’re working from home. Hope for the seasonally appropriate disruptions and not the poop-related ones.

The Pavlovian Conditioning of CoComelon

Despite my manifesto early in the year to be better about managing my work-life balance, SURPRISE, I did not grow or change. I’m looking forward to trying this goal again for my New Year’s…OK, St. Patrick’s Day Resolutions. But keeping the line between my work and home life colored a deep gray has yielded some unfavorable and strange results.

If you are also a parent of a young child, you might be familiar with the YouTube-turned-Netflix-sensation CoComelonIf you do not know what a CoComelon is, congratulations. Anyway, during “Beach Song,” a sound very similar to the Microsoft Outlook email notification plays in the background. Let me tell you, that little ding is a TRIGGER. I’m just trying to bond with my kid over creepy computer animations* and “bounce bounce bouncing a beach ball” when suddenly—ding—I get an urge to reply all with too many exclamation points and “PER MY LAST EMAIL.” Boomers and Gen-X-er’s, this is akin to watching Elmo teach your child the happy dance while Big Bird demon-rasps “YOU’VE GOT MAIL” in the background.

Lesson: A healthy work-life balance is an important part of maintaining your mental health…and skip Season 1, Episode 2 of CoComelon.

The Advantages of Maternal Selection

Aaaaaand how it’s going. No fancy desks here.
How it started…

Just as humans have benefitted from experience-based lessons like do not touch fire and refrain from cutting bangs in moments of crisis, I think being a mom uniquely prepared me for many of the challenges I’ve faced while working from home.

I learned to be flexible from being a mom. I multi-task. I’m prepared for anything. Much like how I used to stash a granola bar near my breastfeeding chair, I keep a tube of mascara nearby for a rogue “cameras-on” suggestion. And just as the granola bar never truly solved my hunger problems, the mascara is a mostly-ineffective Band-Aid, too. It is deeply unsettling to see a woman with full-blown lashes framed by Medusa-esque hair that has not had even a kiss of dry shampoo. And while I’m sorry for that image, I think everyone gets points for trying in our New Normal.

Lesson: Be prepared. But if you’re not, hope for a team lacking in enthusiastic morning people.

Finding the Silver Lining

Last year had plenty of sharp left turns that left me spinning in circles. A pandemic, adjusting to social distancing as an extrovert, a new way of working, and still managing the ups and downs of life…all of it made me dizzy. But despite all of last year’s challenges, I’ve loved my time working from home.

I love that when I hear my son and husband laughing, I can pop out to see what’s so funny. I love that I can walk with them to the park during my lunch break. I love that my commute for the past year has been replaced with 260 hours at home, a cumulative total of almost 10 extra days with my family. I love that my coworkers are still the same delightful people behind a screen as they are in real life. I love that I can listen to a presentation while prepping a lasagna for dinner. I even love when the cat lies next to me during meetings, as long as he tones down the drama.

Lesson: We can do hard things. And they might just turn out to be the best things we’ve ever done.

For any parent juggling their work-from-home or in-person career, their family, and their news alert notifications, you’ve got this. Hang in there. You’ve been rocking this for a year now, and I bet you’ve had some memorable moments and lessons of your own. Feel free to share them in the comments below!

Photo by Becca Blackburn Photography

 

*Seriously, the computer animations of CoComelon are leaving me with more questions than answers. Why do some of the animal characters have eyebrows and others do not? The chimpanzee is missing his eyebrows. It makes him look very untrustworthy.

Valerie Stark
A firm believer that the Midwest is all that and a tator tot casserole, Valerie moved to KC after graduating from Mizzou in 2013. She’s been married to her husband Josh since 2015, and together they’re raising an adorable, tiny human firework named Finnian (1). Valerie spends her workdays making funny greeting cards while Josh wins at the stay-at-home-dad game by teaching Finn words like “yee-haw” and helping him style his Snapchat filters. When she isn’t tracking down a new place to drag her family to, you can find her blasting showtunes, sharing (very poorly) wine with friends, reading, listening to true crime podcasts, or near cheese. You can’t find her playing kickball, so don’t even try. Valerie, Josh, and Finn shoot for put-together, but settle for put-on-pants—and they love every second of their reasonably-chaotic life.

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