Happy St. Paddy’s – a couple of days late! This year I made corned beef and cabbage for the first time, and it was painfully delicious. Painful because, well, it’s not exactly health food, is it? But soooo good. I don’t know exactly where my ancestors are from (though I suspect many are from the Scottish Isles in truth). But with my red hair and ruddy complexion, I can pass for Irish, and on May 17th I often do. And as for Hubs, well, corned beef an cabbage is the better part of a Reuben, so there you go!
He and I have become a bit Celtophilic since we made a trip to Ireland a few years ago. We toured the Guinness brewery while we were there and it brings back fond memories every time we sip a pint. So if you didn’t get a chance to toast anyone Monday night, I’m holding up a glass right now. Slainte!
I’ve been swamped the last couple of days doing one of the most ridiculously time-consuming activities on the planet: preparing a bunch of used children’s items for a giant local consignment sale. That means I get to work for days straight washing, sorting, ironing, hanging, inventorying and tagging little individual shirts and pajama sets… only to realize after pulling an all-nighter that one of every three items has a stain, tear or damage that can only be seen in the morning light, and therefore has to be pulled and donated. Which is probably what I should have done with all these clothes anyway. I ran a quick calculation in my head and I figure I stand to make about 70 cents an hour with this project. For ironing.
I don’t iron my family’s clothes at any other time — my kids often go to preschool wearing clothes that look like they were fished from underneath the passenger seat of the van (which in my defense, is rarely true); but for that 70 cents, baby, I iron. It’s funny, I actually taught a class recently on time management and prioritizing high-value activities. If anyone in that class is reading this blog: do as I say, not as I do. 🙂
I do know many people who do those consignment sales regularly and actually do make it worth their time. (If you are one of those people, please share your
delusions tips in the comments). Those people must be far more organized and efficient than I am. And maybe their kids don’t go sliding down the hill in the front yard on their knees every day like mine do. Perhaps there’s a gene I’m missing, which makes sorting and pinning little tags on clothes relaxing.
But if you’re like me, and work (for pay) from home, you know that every little activity that doesn’t directly involve either your business or time with your family had better make its value known, fast. We entrepreneurial types, who don’t have the accountability of a boss standing over us, have to ask ourselves “what does this cost?” every time something or someone wants our time. If I have lunch with a friend or go to Jazzercise, that equals two hours of non-work time, which could be up to 2,000 words not written. Which is okay in both those cases, because it’s good self-care and feeds my writing. But there are hundreds of less-valuable things pulling on me every day. There are things that I think I ‘can’ or ‘should’ do, because I work at home, which I would never consider doing if I worked at an office.
The trap I often fall into, being at home, is to compare myself with SAHPs (Stay at Home Parents). SAHPs are heroes in my eyes, and they do an amazing job I’ve only ever been able to partially embrace. Having done a little of both, I can say that the job of being an at-home parent is much harder than the job of being an at-home writer on almost every level. As an at-home parent, for example, you get far less free time than I do. On the other hand, when you do get some time to yourself, there is a bit more freedom to choose how you spend it. I’ve known at-home moms and dads who keep impeccable houses, who have organized every family memory into scrapbooks, who take on volunteer jobs at their kids’ schools every single week and pack perfect, healthful lunches. Parents who make it to the gym every single day, come hell or high water. Etc., etc., etc.
But I’ve never met a parent, at-home or otherwise, who could do all of those things successfully. Being a parent is stressful, hard, wonderful work. None of us are perfect at it, none of us can be the best at every aspect. Trying to produce income for your family on top of that adds another layer of challenge. And when you work at (or out of) your home, people tend to assume that your time is always free and flexible. They call for long chats in the middle of the afternoon, or ask for favors they wouldn’t ask of someone who clocked in at an office from 8 to 5. I love having the flexibility to be there for my friends and family; I’ve also learned that I have to set boundaries for myself around the blocks of time that I need to successfully write. Of course, I also block off times for my family during which I don’t touch my phone or computer so that they know how important they are, too.
On weekdays, I can (and do) take breaks for lunch and coffee with friends; I volunteer to help at the boys’ school once in a while (not “room mom” though – wow, that was a mistake!). And I’ll own it: I even occasionally run to the grocery store in the middle of the day while my kids are at school. Sometimes it really is nice to be able to get a cart full of groceries without once having to say “Let go of your brother’s head,” or “Take the plastic bag out of your mouth.” But I also work at night after my family is asleep and in the morning before they wake up. I work weekends while the boys are playing in the yard with Hubs. I work whenever the opportunity presents itself. Because I can. Because I love it. Because every minute, every word, is an investment in my creative process and (fingers crossed) in my family’s future.
It’s all about choosing the activities that pay off for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, there are a thousand safety pins and wire hangers calling my name…
I’m M.J. (Manda) Pullen, an author and mom in the Atlanta, Georgia area. When I’m not turning my home into a weird sort of voluntary sweatshop, I blog about writing, publishing, parenthood, life and the many lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
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My current roster of books includes The Marriage Pact series, a trilogy of Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction novels. You can find them for all eBook formats and in paperback here.
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