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Making It Work to Work

Working at home.
But what do you do if you work at home? Four million or more corporate employees work from home at least part-time - lots of them mothers - and many other moms run home-based businesses. To stay both relaxed and productive, try to minimize interruptions that are not work-related, like letting the phone machine pick up a call from a friend that you'll return later. Make it clear to your children, friends, and husband that even though you're home, you're still in worker mode and need to have your time and focus of attention respected. If you feel isolated, call or e-mail people at the office, get out of your home - even if its only to do some business reading over lunch - or perhaps arrange for a coworker or assistant to come see you. It's especially important to keep your manager posted on your output if you're not in the office. Finally, don't let work fill your home like a bad case of Bermuda grass: schedule specific times to be on the job, and keep work materials in specific places, like inside a home office or on a particular desk.

Stopping home from spilling over onto work.
Fathers seem generally able to drop any concerns about children on their way out the door, but many mothers have a harder time doing that because of their visceral connection to their kids. If there's something you really need to pay attention to during the day, like the status of a child who may be too sick to stay in childcare, then so be it: make discreet phone calls and give your manager a heads-up that you might have to take a long lunch or go home early.

But if it's one of those common but more diffuse problems - like wondering why your four-year-old still has a case of the terrible twos - you could make a mental appointment with yourself to think or worry or plan about it at a specific time that day, like during lunch, or at your desk for fifteen minutes (no one has to know what you're pondering). And do what you can to have your husband handle a big piece of the problem himself: maybe it makes more sense for him to set up an appointment with a doctor, or make a few calls to start the ball rolling on getting a different baby-sitter.

Some work sites are friendly places where people feel quite open about their personal situations, whether it's grousing about a balky car or comparing notes to see whose child is the pickiest eater. But some aren't so chatty, and it's prudent to err on the side of caution because - unfair as it is - it's not hard to stir up doubts about a woman's capacity to focus on her job if there are any issues with her children. You can always choose to explain something in the future, but once you've spilled your guts about a problem at home, it's all out on the table and there's no way to unsay it. Besides, it's your private life. You don't need to apologize, or preempt anticipated criticism from others by doing it first to yourself: I'm so sorry, my baby got sick again. Babies get sick, toddlers freak out because they just can't stand it any longer not seeing their mommy, and preschoolers fall off of jungle gyms - and not one bit of it is because of you, and a fair-minded and neutral person would say that it's always more important in the larger scheme of things to take care of your child that day than it is to take care of some task at work. If you've got to leave to handle something, make your apologies with dignity, and then take care of any unfinished work as soon as you're able. That's all anyone can do.

Shifting gears from work to home.
During the transition from work to home, use the commute to send your mind in a more relaxing direction by listening to books on tape, inspirational talks, or soothing music. Think about your children, how nice it will be to see them, and how you'd like the evening to go. When you get home or to the childcare center, perhaps wait a few minutes to clear your mind, go for a short walk, or simply relax in your car with a magazine. Walking up to your front door, imagine that you are placing any job worries into a basket outside your home, where you can retrieve them on your way to work in the morning - if you really want to. When you first see your children, whether at childcare or in your living room, try to let them have your full attention for a while; once they've had a recharge of mommy juice, it's usually easier to slip away for a bit to change clothes, flip through the mail, or make a quick call.

Getting help from your husband.
When you're going off to work, you really need a partner who does his share at home. While fathers whose wives work tend to do more than fathers whose wives are full-time mothers, working mothers still typically do more total work than their husbands. Tell him that researchers have found that dads who help more with children have greater well-being than dads who do not.

Handling business travel.
The biggest transition from work to home occurs when you walk through the door after a business trip. This scenario is more common than ever, since millions of women - many of them mothers - take one each year. To ensure that going out of town doesn't mean going out of your mind, try to arrange the details in advance with your husband, like a written note listing the kids' vitamins. Many dads step up without a quibble, but if your husband grumbles, remind him that your business trip is a both-of-us-problem, not a me-problem, and it's more than fair for him to do his part without dropping any guilt bombs on you.

For the kids, you could show them on a calendar when the trip is coming up, the day(s) you'll be gone, and when you'll be back. Try to be understanding about any distress; on the other hand, while you may regret that you need to travel, you don't need to be guilty or apologetic. For your time away, try to leave daily notes and treats from Mom, and maybe a present to open each night. Most children old enough to talk will appreciate a daily phone call, perhaps both morning and night; some out-of-town moms also like to send e-mails. Or - wild idea - take the kids with you. Maybe your spouse could come along, or a friend with children, who'd be happy to take your child along on day trips while you're in meetings. If it's just you and your child, look into childcare in the city you're traveling to, or neat activities for kids; perhaps your employer will pick up some or all of the bill.

For yourself, really enjoy the nice parts of business travel, like room service, peace and quiet, and someone else doing the laundry. This is a chance to catch up on some long-overdue self-nurturing. And you might like to bring stuff from home to feel connected: photos, kids' drawings, a mug decorated by a child, and so on. Stop your imagination from running away into catastrophic thinking - Ohmigod, the house has burned down - but feel free to call home, even at odd hours, to reassure yourself.

Nonetheless, even with all the clever strategies in the world, sometimes its just not right to go out of town: maybe there's a performance in the Christmas play at preschool, or the third trip in four months is simply too much. You're not alone in saying no; two in three parents have turned down a business trip that conflicted with some activity of their children's. Talk with your manager as soon as possible, and see if anyone else can go or if there are any alternatives, like videoconferencing. Over the long term, you may want to join other parents at work to push for policies on business travel that take families into account, like not having to spend an extra night in order to save on airfare.



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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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