I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Marianne for several years and have loved watching her journey as a work at home mom. Her career working from home as a teacher gives her the flexibility she needs as a mom of two and lets her use her skills as a teacher in a way that is both challenging and rewarding.
Tell us a little bit about what you do as a work at home mom:
I work full time as faculty for an online university—Western Governors University. I also do a lot of unpaid work administrating for a creative writing open mic/writing community (Speak For Yourself Open Mic) and as cofounder of a small nonprofit called Provo Poetry.
I spend a lot of time on the computer—grading papers, helping formulate assessments, contributing to committees, promoting events, reading and workshopping creative work, and writing (technical writing and creative writing).
What does the typical day look like for you?
Well, there’s a school day typical day and a school holiday typical day. During the school year I get up at 7 am and get my children ready and out the door for school between 7:45 and 8 am. After that I take a minute to breathe, eat my breakfast, read scriptures, say my personal prayers and get centered. Usually by 9 am I am on the job but I’m typically still in my pajamas. In fact, I often don’t get dressed until lunchtime because either I need a shower but I have a meeting or I haven’t exercised yet and what’s the point in getting dressed if you’re just going to get sweaty? I work until 3 pm with some sort of break in the middle to get dressed, grab something (anything!) from the fridge to eat for lunch, and maybe take 20 minutes to work on a creative writing project. At 3 pm I am usually desperately dashing out the door (school gets out at 2:45 but the long line of cars waiting to pick up kids is so long that there is no point in losing work time to go sit in the turn lane). From 3 pm to bedtime it’s all Mom Time with piano lessons, homework, dinner etc. This is when I try to get in some creative writing time or work on my unpaid projects too. After I get the kids down for bed (8:30 or 9) I spend about a half hour on my creative or unpaid projects and then dive back into paid work for about three hours. During the summer I get up at about 8 am and almost literally roll out of bed and onto the computer. The children are supposed to do their music practice and chores before doing other things but they know that my attention is elsewhere so they are pretty much feral children. They especially love it when I have a meeting where I might have to talk because this means I will have the office door closed and they will have even more freedom! I usually work until 1 or 2 pm and then go out, enforce music practice and chores and possibly take everyone on a little adventure. Once I get the kids to bed (9 or 9:30) I hop back onto the computer for a couple more hours. I am constantly trying to log off earlier and go to bed earlier but the allure of a silent house where my work does not equal ignoring my children is too much. I never quite get to bed “early,” which is why, try as I might, I can’t get up early and work before my kids wake up.
How did you get started working from home?
I fell into it when my second child was born and I was suddenly a single mom. I couldn’t bear the idea of putting her in daycare at such a young age so I did a lot of freelance work and lived very frugally. A friend told me about WGU, a university that was relatively unknown at the time (certainly unknown to me), and it was a wonderful fit for my circumstances. Everyone on my team works remotely and at all sorts of odd hours. In fact, most of us are working moms and dads who really value parenting time. It’s a great work culture to be a part of so I kept increasing my hours when I got the chance and was able to phase out my other freelance work. After about 3 years I was offered a full time position. With the incredible flexibility of the job and the fact that the pay was considerably higher than my job as an adjunct at a brick-and-mortar university, it was an easy decision to make.
As a work at home mom myself, I love see what other mom’s workspaces. I feel like it really gives us a glimpse into your day and I love being inspired by what other moms do to create their workspace. Can you tell us a little bit about your workspace (and share a picture if you have one)?
I love my work space! I began with a fold-away type desk that sat in the center of my living space but eventually was able to have a huge dedicated office that is separate from my living space. It’s so nice to be able to leave work and really *leave* work. My sister found a huge executive desk at a second hand store that I bought for $40 (it was once a bank manager’s desk).
It has a glass top on it and so I got a gorgeous piece of fabric in colors that I love (turquoise!) and put pictures and sayings that I found inspirational on it. I love that I have space for several monitors and all the other crazy stuff I have going on.
Eventually I decided that a standing/walking desk would be better suited for me so alongside the desk I put a treadmill (a giant, ancient one that I got for free from my parents) that I modified with a small desk across the handbars and a tall table for other screens or papers beside it.
I’m usually walking at a very slow pace whenever I’m working. If I’m listening to something and don’t have to type I’m often jogging.
About five months ago my office flooded, though. Three times in two months. This means that now, while I’m putting everything back together (painting, flooring, etc) my office is actually a corner of my bedroom with a tiny little tall table that I use as a standing desk. It does the job but it means that my bed never gets made (because the dog seriously will just pull back the covers anyway so she can sleep in her favorite place all day) and I’m never quite away from work. Plus I don’t get to walk while I type! It just isn’t the same to walk in place.
So I dance instead.
And when my office is put back together (it takes a long time to do home improvement stuff when you are working all the time) it will have walls the color of Tahitian Sky so maybe it will be even better than it was before.
What is the most challenging part about working from home for you? Is there anything that would make that problem less frustrating?
The most challenging part about working from home is when I have to switch back and forth between my Mom Hat and my Employee Hat. I feel like I am always failing someone when those two roles are competing for my attention. That’s what makes summers hard. In the school year I can work almost exclusively when the kids are away or asleep. In the summer I always feel like someone is getting the short end of the stick. What would be perfect is if I could get a summer break from my full time employment too! That would be pure bliss!
What do you enjoy most about working from home?
I really love being able to take a 15 minute break from work and do something like forward my laundry or clean the kitchen. My grandmother always said that a change is as good as a rest so I don’t feel like doing housework on my breaks is not taking a break. What it’s doing is allowing me to keep my house running without having to do it all in the evenings when I’m trying to do kid stuff too. I also like that I can scrounge in the fridge for lunch and not have to worry about planning that out in advance or packing something. I love not having a commute. I love being able to work at night when the rest of the house is asleep but not having to go somewhere else to do it. I’m in my safe, happy place.
I also like being able to create my own workspace—not just the desk but the music and the energy. And I love having my cat and dog as snuggly coworkers.
What advice would you give to moms who are interested in working from home as a teacher?
I would tell them that they shouldn’t expect to be productive when their kids are around. This may mean getting childcare or working exclusively when the child is otherwise occupied but those pictures you see of non-harried mothers working in pristine offices with happy, well-groomed children playing quietly in the corner are totally works of fiction. That is NOT how it looks when you work with kids in the house. When my little girl was 2 or 3 she ran wild when I worked and when I logged off we would clean up the mess. And it was quite a mess!
You can’t be 100% there for two different all-consuming things. It just doesn’t happen.
The other piece of advice I would give all moms is to read the book Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte. In fact, I have been known to buy paperback copies in bulk and give them as gifts. It describes the predicament of modern mothers to a T and gives some wonderful insights into how to combat this feeling of being overwhelmed that so many of us struggle with.
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