Three years ago, I was working for a child-focused nonprofit as a full-time remote employee. Initially, it seemed like the best of both worlds — I was making a regular salary, my commute was a few steps from my kitchen to my office, and I was home to see the kids off to school and welcome them home again.
But I made one crucial mistake in the way I looked at my work and family life: I mistook proximity for closeness.
I thought being home was enough to show how much I loved my kids. Maybe if I had worked full-time outside the home for awhile and then started working remotely, it would have been. This could be unique to our particular blend of personality types and love languages. (In short, your mileage may vary.)
For us, being physically located in the same building or within 50 feet of one another doesn’t say “I love you.” I feel disconnected from them when they go straight to their rooms after school and don’t emerge except to forage for food. And they felt disconnected to me when I didn’t listen, when I was consistently unavailable and when I didn’t put forth the effort to be at their activities.
It didn’t register how off my priorities were until my oldest son broke down into tears one evening as he pointed out I had missed nearly all of his concerts that year. It was my son’s first year in the most advanced division of the Boychoir representing our city, and while I had been at a dress rehearsal here and there, I missed their big concerts. He wanted me there, but I didn’t recognize it until it was too late. Shortly after, I lost that job. It was a much-needed reset, which led us to a candid family discussion in which the kids told me they felt like I cared more about other kids than I did about them.
That was not OK. I had wandered far from my personal values and let my work steal the top spot on my priority list from my family.
Family, Freedom, Flexibility
This is a common challenge for parentpreneurs (and entrepreneurs). It is too easy to give up the very thing we started our businesses to pursue. I wanted freedom and flexibility, but I didn’t realize that to keep it, I had to remain vigilant. If I didn’t manage my schedule according to my values of family, freedom and flexibility, others would manage it for me to support their priorities.
Today, I’m running my own marketing and communications agency, and I’m actively protecting “My New MORE.”
These days, it looks like this:
- Putting my phone down and looking my kids and husband in the eye when they want to talk. I physically turn away from work and turn toward them.
- Turning off email notifications. I am working on a new habit of only working in my email for a certain amount of time at a certain time each day, instead of letting notifications work me.
- Scheduling work around family time. I had to take charge of my calendar and get used to saying “I’m booked” whether the thing on my calendar was a gym class, lunch with my husband, volunteering at a class party, a half-day set aside to spend with the kids at the pool or a family dinner. (Obviously, I have to make exceptions, but I watch that carefully lest the exception become the rule.)
- Modeling what it looks like to be a professional and a wife and a mother. I want my kids to see and know that I work hard, keep my commitments to my clients and enjoy what I do. I also want them to see that since they are the only ones in the world who get to call me “mom,” that affords them special priority in my life.
It has taken time and effort to build new habits and patterns, but I’ve retaken control. Time management will probably always be a work in progress for me. I’m not yet where I want to be, but my family is healthier, my relationship with my kids is healthier, and my business is healthier too.
Two years after my son and I had that teary conversation about missing his concerts, I volunteered to be a permanent choir chaperone for a full season. I committed to being at every rehearsal and every concert and traveling on every trip for a full season. I worked my schedule around his choir schedule, and we are closer than ever. Now, if only I could find something like that for each of the younger two!