Seek Extra Help If You Need It
5. Plan for Interruptions
Every WAHM has a similar horror story: She's on an important call, her toddler wants to watch Elmo or is suddenly starving, and her boss is left listening to a whining child and Mom's apologies instead of her bright ideas. Their advice? Hit the mute button during conference calls to avoid any unexpected yells of "Mommmeee!"in the background. If your child is fussing while you're on the phone, end the call and reschedule if you can. That said, you can usually count on a more compassionate response from another parent. When she first went back to work, O'Donnell would hide that she worked from home from her clients. Now she's up-front with them, explaining that her kids might interrupt. She's found that, in general, people are understanding.
Some moms don't want to play the "parent card," admitting to clients that a finicky child is preventing them from meeting a deadline. In that case, it may be best to keep the fact that you're working from home out of the conversation completely. Give your child a nonverbal "Do not disturb" when you need quiet time. Perhaps you could wear a tiara when you're on the phone to signify that kids are not allowed to make noise or interrupt -- unless there's an emergency. If you have an office door, tie a red ribbon on it when you're not to be bothered. This tactic is best for older kids; toddlers won't understand that they can't always have your undivided attention.
6. Ask for Assistance
You may think working at home means you can skip child care, but you'll have days when you need help -- and that's okay. When Jonas was about 6 months old, O'Donnell hired a responsible high-school student to watch him two or three hours two days a week. The teenager charged half of what an adult sitter or day care would, and it meant O'Donnell could concentrate on answering e-mails and returning phone calls.
Another way to get affordable child care: Pool your resources with several other working moms and hire one babysitter to watch all your children at the same time. Even without the sitter, you can get together with other WAHMs and let the kids play while you all work. "I found that if a child has a playdate, he or she is often amused long enough to allow you to do work that doesn't require extreme quiet," says freelance writer Melissa Dutton, of Columbus, Ohio, who also sometimes swapped child care for her two kids with another working mom a few hours a week. "I knew that she worked from home, too, so I offered to take her kid first, and it grew from there."
Your partner can also be a great source of support. When Samuelson's husband, a teacher, arrives home at 3:30 p.m., she relies on him to take over kid duty. He can ferry their two children to the park and get dinner ready, and Samuelson will emerge a few hours later feeling finished with her day's to-do list. If your partner gets home after dinner, ask him to oversee bedtime -- you'll fit in at least an hour of work before the kids yell "Mom!" And once they do, you're there for the call, with no rush hour to race through.
Originally published in the September 2012 issue of Parents magazine.