By Heather Smith
I began my journey as a work-at-home mom 4.5 years ago when my oldest son was born. As a designer I was given the opportunity to continue my job, designing websites for art galleries from home. After his birth, I thought I was going to rock both working from home and caring for my son because I never had to leave our apartment.
I was delusional.
For the first two years of my son’s life I refused to leave the apartment during business hours because I was afraid that my boss would try to contact me and I wouldn’t be available. Even though I was available during business hours, I was not always working business hours. Because I was busy with my son during the daytime, I would have to work nights and weekends just to meet deadlines. I became incredibly lonely. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my dedication to my job was actually harming my work. Previously I’d always drawn inspiration from my co-workers and meeting with other creative people. Now I wasn’t exposing myself to other creative people much less leaving the apartment.
At the time we lived in Brooklyn, NY and due to the cost of childcare we did not have the luxury of hiring a nanny or sitter to help out with our son during the day, I was all he had. I longed to join a mom’s group or a toddler class so we could meet other parents but I was afraid of what my work would say if I wasn’t there for them.
As a result I was unhappy and tired. I missed simple things like commuting into the office, watching TV at night and being able to enjoy the whole weekend. I was becoming resentful of my husband because I wanted to enjoy the downtime I saw him enjoying.
When my son was two, I signed him up for a soccer class. The first time I took him to his class I was so nervous to be out during working hours — but in fact the world did not end and no one missed me at work. His class ended up being really small and some days he was the only one that was there but I didn’t care…we were getting out of the apartment!
Leaving the apartment helped break the day up and allowed me to become more creative since I was exposed to various art forms on the way to class that inspired creativity in my designs. It also helped that I was able to have other adult conversations which took my mind off what I was currently working on so I would go back to the computer with fresh eyes. We soon joined a music class — I just logged my time away from my computer as my lunch. It was so freeing.
I finally felt like I had everything under control as a mother and professional designer when my second son was born. His birth brought on new challenges since he wasn’t content in the swing and was a terrible sleeper. I remember one day when I was trying to get my youngest to sleep and it was taking forever. I finally got him down and came out into the living room and saw that my oldest had rubbed lotion all over our new Crate & Barrel sofa.
I found myself wondering how I was going to get any work done and felt like my work was lacking something. It didn’t help that my oldest son was learning how to be an older brother and the transition wasn’t easy.
I worked very hard to get my boys on the same schedule and after a about three months they were both taking afternoon naps at the same time. It was exactly what I needed to jump start my creativity again.
Unfortunately as a result I ended up designing myself out of a job when I designed the base website template that my company started using as the base for all websites they developed.
Once I lost my job as a web designer we decided that we could not afford to stay in the NYC area and moved to Atlanta, GA to be closer to family. Now I am a full time freelancer and the stress of the 9 to 5 has been replaced with finding steady work. However I constantly remind myself that this is just a season of life and I will blink and it will be over. I still get the familiar feelings of loneliness and isolation but I’ve found a way to get out of the house, balance work, and find new sources of creativity.
Heather Smith is the owner of the blog and small studio, Laughing Lemons, http://laughinglemons.