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Working from home with…Kristen Levithan

by Kristen on October 2, 2013

Welcome back to our Working from home with… guest post series! Today Kristen of Motherese (also a contributor here at The Happiest Home) shares her tips for couples who both work from home. Enjoy!

working from home

Reflections From a Work-at-Home Marriage:
5 tips for couples who work from home

In June, my husband and I made over our lives. He left his college teaching job to start writing full-time. Meanwhile, I shifted the focus of my freelance writing from essays and short assignments to researching and writing a full-length book. And, to top it all off, we packed up our lives in Ohio and moved to Connecticut.

With all of these changes, this summer was one of adventure, discovery, and – yup – stress as we simultaneously tried to navigate the streets of our new town and the realities of our new lives as work-at-home parents. We’re only three months into our grand experiment, but we’ve already learned a few things about making working at home work for two parents and three kids, six and under:

1. A Room (or at Least, a Desk) of One’s Own

With the exception of our kids’ afternoon nap time, my husband and I rarely work at the same time. Because of this, we had planned to continue sharing a single desk as we did in our old house, but I leapt at the chance to squeeze another desk, bookshelf, and filing cabinet into the bedroom. Being able to leave my work spread out in my own space makes it much easier to pick up where I left off and to work in the small chunks that I sometimes need to. (It also forestalls discussions of who spilled Coke Zero on whose notebook…)

2. Who’s the Boss?

Because I haven’t worked full-time since our oldest son was born in 2007, I’d assumed the position of Household CEO. I did the grocery shopping, paid the bills, managed our finances, made doctor’s appointments, and ferried the kids around town. When we first arrived at our new house, my inner control freak held on to these responsibilities even though neither of us now has a set work schedule. Even though my husband is an eminently competent and responsible person, I’ve been really bad about letting go of some of these tasks, but an essential element of our new lives is figuring out who’s in charge of what and then trusting the other person to get it done. (Without nagging or passive-aggressive reminders…not that I would ever do such a thing…)

notebook

3. Do What You’re Doing

I may be the worst multi-tasker known to (wo)man. Probably my greatest challenge as a mother of three is that I find it nearly impossible to do two things at once – even if those two things are as simple as, say, making a PB&J for my daughter and listening to a client voice mail on speaker phone. (I know, I know, I’m pathetic.) Even though, for me, multi-tasking means doing nothing well, the flip side of that is that I’m really efficient when I’m focused: I get work done quickly and knock out household tasks so that when I’m with my kids, I can really be with them, laptop off, iPhone stored.

4. Weekly Check-ins

Every Sunday night, my husband and I sit down to talk about what’s on our calendar for the coming week. Taking into account regular activities like school pick-ups and weekly community softball and one-time events like birthday parties and client phone calls, we decide who is on kid duty when. Although I’ve adopted Sarah’s awesome calendar plan and my husband can see my Google Calendar whenever he wants, our check-ins help us feel like we’re on the same page about what’s on our family’s horizon for the week and give us a chance to touch base about how we’re feeling about our routines in general.

two glasses of wine, wine bottle

5. Date Nights

Because we’re both at home all day, my husband and I see a lot more of each other than we used to, but, because most of our waking hours are filled with taking care of the kids and working on writing projects, we don’t necessarily have any more time to connect with each other than we used to. In our former lives, we had made it a priority to have a weekly date night, but we let that habit go when we moved. A couple of months in, though, we realized that having a regular night out pays great dividends for our relationship and helps foster an environment of communication and good will for the rest of the week.

Who knows how this experiment will go or how long it will last? If we can’t make things work financially or if we’re not happy with the way things are going, one or both of us will go back to teaching next fall. But I think we’re off to a good start. We don’t have all the answers, but the answers we’ve found work for us, for now.

Three months down, the rest of our lives (?) to go!

Thanks, Kristen! You can find more of Kristen’s writing at her blog, MothereseWant to say hi in a tweet? Click here to thank Kristen for sharing her work-at-home tips!

Want more work-from-home tips and ideas? Here’s Meagan’s series from this summer, with everything from time management ideas to some gentle get-it-in-gear inspiration for those of you who want to launch a work-at-home adventure of your own.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Christian Toto October 2, 2013 at 9:13 am

My wife gets in “The Zone,” a place where she gets great things done but is sealed off from the outside world. I bug her about it but that focus is something I admire. Me? I’m a multi-tasker who falls into your category — too often doing nothing well. I’m not sure I can ever reach my wife’s full zone potential, but it’s a great reminder to do one thing at a time and really rock it. Good stuff!

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Kristen October 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

Thanks, Christian!

I recently fell into a conversation with another mom at kindergarten pick-up. She was telling me about a study she heard about that found that women were proven to be much better at multi-tasking, while men were better at uni-tasking. In my case – and it sounds like in your wife’s as well – those findings couldn’t be further from the truth.

Best of luck to all of us in being efficient – and keeping our sanity. :)

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Lindsey October 2, 2013 at 9:19 am

I love this! Love this series, love Kristen, and the combo … well, awesome. I work form home too and appreciate the mix of larger-issue philosophy (what do you really want to value?) and concrete tips (Google calendar) here. xoxox

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Kristen October 2, 2013 at 9:37 am

Thank you, my dear. The love, as you know, is mutual. xo

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Nina October 2, 2013 at 11:11 am

I’m jealous! I’m sure the grass is always greener, but yours is actually my ideal situation, whereby both parents work from home and this whole work and life balance points aren’t at polar ends of each other and instead and more cohesive.

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Kristen October 2, 2013 at 11:41 am

It’s really been great so far. There is definitely some juggling involved to make sure everything gets done that needs to, but I feel really lucky to be in this situation. Now, to keep my fingers crossed that we continue to enjoy it and can continue to make it work financially!

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Meagan Francis October 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I love this, Kristen. Jon and I are slowly working toward a scenario where we are both home 90% or more of the time. Right now he works remotely a couple of days a week, commutes into Chicago a couple of days a week, and generally takes a day off to be more hands-on help with the kids. We’re also working together on a few projects, which has been interesting! Cool to see how you guys are making it work. (We are all about the “business meetings” which are really dates. :)

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Kristen October 3, 2013 at 9:43 am

That’s awesome, Meagan. I’ll look forward to following along and learning how you guys work it out for your own family. And here’s to dates masquerading as business meetings. Cheers to that!

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Cecilia October 8, 2013 at 9:07 am

Congrats on your set-up, Kristen! I hadn’t realized that your husband is now working from home too. I enjoyed your post and can relate well, as my husband and I have been literally together 24/7 for nearly a decade now. (Do friends ask how you make it without killing one another? ;-)) A lot of good points here. I’m especially glad that you mentioned the issue of husband-wife power struggles – er, I mean – teamwork. Like you we evolved from me being the stay-at-home parent to us both being a work from home parenting team. It was hard for both of us to find a place where we could both feel equal and competent but in time we fell into a comfortable rhythm.

There are pros and cons to any arrangement but overall I feel very privileged that we can work from home. I remember visiting our friends in Japan one summer in the middle of the day and my then-6 y/o son noticed that the father was not there. When I told him that his father was at work and that actually most dads work outside of the home, he said, “But then how can he [his friend] be happy?” It made me realize how my son’s view of the world has been affected because of this one step we chose to take. He sees my husband cooking and doing housework too, which to him is also totally normal!

I hope it all works out for you and your husband! Thanks for sharing!

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Kristen October 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

Thanks so much, Cecilia. I actually thought about you guys a lot when we were making the transition to having both of us at home.

I love the example you give about your son being used to seeing his dad do all of the household chores that have traditionally/stereotypically fallen to the moms. It’s a gift, I think, to be raising kids in an era where so many different household arrangements are coming to be seen as “normal.”

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Amanda October 9, 2013 at 9:37 am

What a wonderful partnership!

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Kristen October 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

Thank you, my dear!

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lisa October 9, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I applaud you and your hubby for coming up with a system that seems to work awesomely. I think it’s brilliant. Anytime parents can work from home is a godsend. But you might think about spreading out those stress events next time……just say’in. ;-)

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Kristen October 11, 2013 at 11:06 am

I know, right? In general, we have relatively low-stress lives, but we do tend to group big stressors together. Might want to think about that approach next time. :)

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pamela October 9, 2013 at 4:48 pm

How did I not know you were working on a book?? How cool!! Is it on women writers? Can you divulge? I so love these bits of wisdom. I don’t think you both need to work at home to learn from them. Thank you so much!

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Kristen October 11, 2013 at 11:07 am

Yes, it is – on women who were both writers and mothers. I’m loving it so far!

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Contemporary Troubadour October 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Your arrangements sound terrific — I find myself torn between time working on my work (book projects, business plans) and time doing all that home management (bills, laundry, feeding people). I do split some of the heavy lifting with my husband, who does the big grocery trips and is our resident nightly veggie chef and weekend grill master (I season, he wields the charcoal). But child care is my job all day every weekday until he gets home. Thank goodness for having a two-nap baby still …

I look forward to hearing how you continue to adjust your work-at-home life. Here’s to that date night :)

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Kristen October 11, 2013 at 11:10 am

The two-nap stage is great for being able to get a few things done at home, but it makes getting out quite challenging, right? As my kids got older and gave up that second nap, I felt liberated being able to make plans in the morning. And then – soon enough – they started preschool and that big window of time was mine again. As I’m lstill earning about motherhood, every stage brings opportunity with the need for adaptation. :)

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Christie Tate October 10, 2013 at 11:45 am

We just got a second desk for our bedroom too. Our bedroom looks random but we found we both needed our own space. And sounds like you guys are doing great. Thanks for the tips.

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Kristen October 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

Isn’t it funny how empowering it is just to have a few feet of real estate in your own house? My husband was pretty much fine with sharing a desk, but I felt very Virginia Woolf about the whole thing: if not a room of my own, give me six square feet!

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Nina October 10, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Really great tips, Kristen. I especially love the reminder to do those check ins. Everyone has to be on the same page.

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Kristen October 11, 2013 at 11:12 am

Thanks, Nina!

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri October 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Kristen,

You offer practical tips that most can implement with ease. Check-ins are great for other areas as well. My husband and I have a monthly budget meeting to determine the what, where and how of our finances. It works.

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Kristen October 14, 2013 at 9:07 am

Glad you’ve also found success with regular check-ins, Rudri, especially in an arena as potentially sticky as finances. I am still our household CFO, but I feel like my husband and I are much more on the same page about all the goings on around our house now that we’re both at home more often.

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