The Internet is ablaze with talk about Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. As a disclaimer, I have not yet read the book, but from the discussions I’ve participated in on Twitter and the reviews, articles and blog posts I’ve seen, I understand that it mainly focuses on women “leaning in”—upping their participation in a traditional corporate workplace, asserting themselves and pursuing leadership roles.
As a lifelong telecommuter and work-at-home mom, I suppose I feel that those of us who operate out of the comfort or chaos of our living rooms are left out of these conversations. And yet, we are every bit as ambitious and passionate about succeeding in our careers as our counterparts with 9-5 office jobs; maybe even more so.
If it’s already a challenge to stand out, be assertive and be taken seriously in a male dominated workplace, just imagine having to do the same with young kids in tow, and outside of the regular workforce. Not all of us who work from home can afford a nanny or full-time childcare. Or perhaps, we just don’t want to! Yes, we wish to have it all—to take care of our children on our own while pursuing a career, and we don’t want to miss a beat in our careers.
That said, for all the advantages of working at home, there are times when it can be a huge challenge. Maybe your baby decides to vomit just as your conference call with your client or boss starts. Perhaps your babysitter doesn’t show up, just as you’re ready to walk out the door to go to a meeting.
Read Related: Are You Cut Out to Work From Home?
Well, I can remember plenty of times when I’ve “leaned in” and risen to the occasion. Perhaps it was at the expense of my emotional sanity, as you can see in the picture above that accompanies this post. I have a certain deranged look in it, but I felt happy. That’s how I worked for a few years: I wrote books, did translations, collaborated with a newspaper and even did language interpreting gigs, all with those two beautiful girls of mine underfoot.
When I think of some of the things I pulled off, sometimes I wonder how exactly I accomplished them, but here are some examples of leaning in as a work-at-home mom.
More than once, I found myself typing away to meet a tight deadline, while breastfeeding my baby. It was certainly not conducive to feelings of relaxation, but I had to make a living and feed my kid. My children thrived and I got the work done.
I’ve written entire books while my babies learned to crawl. I eventually bought a large play yard in which I sometimes sat with my laptop, hammering away at the keyboard while my kiddos played safely. Of course they also spat up, slobbered on my clothes and cried for attention.
I’ve attended business meetings and met with interviewers and interviewees alike, carrying my youngest in a baby backpack. I just pretended it was the normal thing to do. Thankfully, she mostly behaved and I always made sure to be ready with distractions for her so I could focus on the people I was meeting for work.
I’ve gone to work interviews with both kids, one in the stroller and the other holding my hand. Of course as a freelancer and a creative type, I can probably get away with more than a person seeking an office job would, but it’s also a matter of how you conduct yourself. I stepped up my assertiveness every time I had the kids in tow—and it worked.
Now that my kids are a bit older (my eldest is soon turning 12), they’re more than used to having me work with them around, and they’re also more involved in their mom’s profession than most children. They are grateful that I’m flexible and that I can go cheer them on during a basketball game, and in turn they’re patient with me when I’m busy with a Twitter party at bedtime instead of cuddling with them. I believe I´m also more relaxed, as you may see in picture number two with my kids today – nothing like experience to gain confidence!
In the end, it’s all about embracing our strengths, standing our ground and realizing that, perhaps because we are able to juggle all the chaos, planning and multitasking it takes to be a full-time work at home mom, we’re much better at our jobs as a result. If we can do that, we can do anything. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!