A Work-at-Home Mom's Guide to Setting Boundaries

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A Work-at-Home Mom's Guide to Setting Better Boundaries

I was on a conference call the other day when my iMessage app popped open with a text from my son. “Mom, practice ended early. Can you please pick me up at school now?” So, I hopped in the car – still on the conference call – and drove to school, only to discover that my son got a ride home in the seven minutes it took me to get there. Once again, I found myself trying to do two things at once – and not doing either one very effectively. It was no big deal, really… but it gave me an opportunity to fix a few things that were broken in my routine. Namely, my boundaries.

Whose fault was that little misunderstanding? What should I have done differently? Should I have told my son to find a ride because I was on a call? Or should I have ended the call because my son needed me and it was already 4 pm, which is typically the end of my workday?

It’s difficult to answer that question if I don’t have a clear understanding of my own boundaries. I’ve written before about how to set better boundaries when you work from home. But before you can set boundaries, you really need to define what those boundaries look like – for you personally. Because MY boundaries won’t work for YOU. You have to figure out what works best in your life. And then – here’s the important part – you actually have to tell people your boundaries!

“If you can’t articulate these (boundaries) to yourself and others, it may be unrealistic to expect others to respect them or even figure them out.” -Essentialism

So, what are your boundaries? Use these eight questions as a guide for defining your own personal boundaries:

  1. What are your work hours? I know you probably love a flexible schedule, but establishing regular work hours gives you the structure you need to separate business from personal. Are there days you do not work at all? Are there days you reserve for a specific type of work? Spell it all out. You can always make exceptions to your hours – but you have to establish them first.

 

  1. Where is your workspace? Personally, I work in my office. I don’t take my laptop to another room or the back porch for a change of scenery. My family knows that if I’m in the office, I’m working. Do not disturb. But some people like to be mobile; they like working in Starbucks one day and on a park bench the next. It doesn’t matter what your ideal work environment is, as long as you can define it for yourself. That’s what helps you avoid checking Facebook while you’re working – or returning business emails during family time.

 

  1. How do you want people to make appointments with you? I know it sounds silly but it’s important to have a process for scheduling an appointment with you. Otherwise we get lost in a never-ending chain of emails, texts and phone calls and it takes more time to schedule the meeting than necessary. Not everyone has an administrative assistant to manage this. So we have to be creative. Try a scheduling app like Timetrade or Doodle. And try to schedule recurring meetings for several months or a year at a time.

 

  1. What are your email policies? Even if you are a solo-business, you should have a policy around email. (If you currently have more than 50 emails in your inbox, then you will love having an email policy!) Technology has blurred the lines between work and family – and it’s up to you to protect those lines. Do you read and respond to emails after business hours? Do you check email throughout the day or only at certain times? Do you have a system for acting on important emails and removing the clutter from your inbox? Do you have separate email addresses for business and personal use?

 

  1. What are your phone policies? It would be nice if someone would answer our phones for us, but technology is a good substitute for most home-based businesses. Personally, I don’t have my ringer turned on (my phone doesn’t even vibrate). So I don’t ever answer the phone unless it’s a call I’m expecting (or I happen to randomly see the incoming call and I can tell who it is and want to talk!). I let my voicemail serve as the first screen for both business and personal messages. Usually, I can respond via text or email later. Your situation might be different and you may need or want to answer your phone. So what are your boundaries around that? How quickly do you respond to phone messages? Do you use a separate phone for business and personal? Do you give clients or employees your cell phone number?

 

  1. What are your rules around texting? Or social media? I got a text from a professional colleague one day that read “Please call me.” I thought it must have been urgent. But no, he just wanted to talk about something that could easily have been handled via email or waited until our next meeting. I also received a text from someone who offered unsolicited business advice. It was not a conversation that was appropriate for texting. In fact, I shouldn’t have even responded to it, but I did. I’ve let texting get a bit out of control and I need to draw better boundaries with it. The same goes for social media – I’m finding that people expect that I see everything they post on social media, especially if they tag me or invite me to an event. The truth is, I don’t see everything because I don’t feel compelled to read every notification I get. If that means I miss a party, I guess that’s the price I pay for protecting my own time. So what are your rules related to texting or social media?

 

  1. What about lunch dates or coffee dates? If you are a solo-business owner, you probably enjoy the socialization of a lunch or coffee date every once in a while. I know I do! But I am very selective about how often I schedule these dates. I’m also particular about who I meet with and what the agenda is. Sometimes it’s just a chance to catch up over a meal – which is great! Or a chance to network or get to know a new friend, which I love to do on a limited basis. But if I feel like the other person has an agenda or wants to pick my brain or wants to ask for my support on something, I try to get clear on that before we meet. So I know what to expect and can decide if that’s the best use of my time. Do you accept lunch or coffee dates? If so, what are your personal rules or boundaries around them?

 

  1. What are the rules you have with your children so their crisis doesn’t become your crisis? I tell my kids they have to give me 48 hours notice when they need supplies for a school project or food for a class party or bake sale. And I’ve been trying to train them to give me advance notice when they need a ride to school early or other unusual requests for rides. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a start.

 

What other rules do you have in place to protect your time or stay focused on your priorities? I have several personal “rules” that I don’t really tell people but they help me make better decisions. For example, I don’t accept invitations to direct sales parties. I don’t even look at my calendar to see if I’m available. If I really want some new jewelry or a skin care product, I know who to call. I don’t need to sit through a demonstration in order to make the purchase. And I don’t make plans on Sundays unless they involve my whole family. I’ve made exceptions to my rules on occasion but they are still guidelines I use to keep my priorities in check.

 

What is one of your personal rules or boundaries? I’d love for you to share it here!

Copyright 2016 Theresa Ceniccola

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About Author

Theresa Ceniccola is The Christian Mompreneur—a mentor to moms who are running a business that supports their values of faith and family. As president and founder of the International Christian Mompreneur Network, she empowers entrepreneurial moms to build profitable businesses with wisdom and grace. Join the International Christian Mompreneur Network for free and receive the Ten Commandments of a Mompreneur toolkit!

17 Comments

  1. This is so well-timed; in 4 short weeks my 8th-grader will graduate and it will be summer vacation and he’ll be busy thinking that since I’m in the house, I’m at his beck and call to drive him to All The Places. During the weeks he’s at day camp, it will be easy for me do get my work done during those hours. But on the free days, there WILL need to be boundaries. Those will be useful for me, as well, so that I don’t let my work expand to fill the time available. I manage my time much better if I set boundaries on it!

  2. Good luck, Barb! Summer is definitely more of a challenge. My kids have learned that Mom says yes to ALMOST anything as long as they have a ride and they don’t forget sunscreen:-) Probably not the best parenting style but it has worked so far – haha!

  3. I love this idea of writing out my boundaries. I’m going to start an evernote note on it and then articulate it in my bullet journal. I daresay, this is probably as important as writing down goals!!!

    Thanks so much for outlining this.

    And you’re the second person to quote/recommend Essentialism. Guess I should probably just dust it off and actually READ IT. 😉

    • You’ve both got me intrigued about this book now–and when I looked it up, I found a bunch of summaries (Cliffs-Notes style) available as well. It’s rather telling, isn’t it, that we don’t even have time to read the books that will help us better manage our time…

      • Barb, I don’t know if it’s available as an audiobook but I would never have time to read as much as I do without audiobooks. It’s what I do while folding laundry, making dinner, running and grocery shopping.

        • It actually IS available as an audiobook, but I’m a visual person, and I value my quiet when I can get it! I do listen to podcasts sometimes when I do chores like laundry, cooking and washing floors. I went for the print version of the book, though 🙂 It’s great that we can find different formats to fit our own preference.

  4. My boundaries and hours have always been one blur! I have known that I have needed this for years. Thanks for the encouragement to follow through with a written, thoughout plan.
    Emails and social media are a constant back and forth, to and from both worlds. This will be hard.

  5. What a wonderful, helpful, practical article! I think one problem for a lot of mompreneurs is that we don’t realize that we should call ourselves that for a while.:) I know lots of bloggers/writers/podcasters like myself for whom entrepreneurism has sneaked up on us slowly over time. We suddenly find ourselves spending every free second on our laptops and phones trying to keep up with the emails and meetings and deadlines. And all the while we continue to dream big and say “yes” to new things and kind of gloss over how much time all of those things will actually take. Maybe that was just me? 🙂

    I think it’s important early on to be self-aware enough to set boundaries when starting a business or (like me) answering a call to be more intentional with your work online. I, for one, have really been burned (or maybe my husband and kids were:) by me ramping up my work online in the past and not “professionalizing” it by setting boundaries with my time, attention and energy. I spent all of my free time on my computer, and honestly I didn’t even realize how much I was stressing myself out and also letting things slide in the home.

    I don’t currently make any money from any of my projects, and we don’t have the budget for regular babysitting, my husband works (not by choice) very long hours an hour away, and I also have all of my young children at home with me (and homeschool). I recently stepped way back from blogging, radio and podcasting commitments that I simply don’t have time and energy for. I’m stepping all the way back to blogging and podcasting only when I have time and energy, without being accountable to a regular publishing scheduling whatsoever. And it feels good:)

    When the Lord does give me the green light to ramp up my ministry work again and take on new projects/roles in that, I’m going to make sure I do it the right way–and refer back to this article! 🙂

    • That’s the case for so many moms, Erin! We start off with a ‘hobby’ or ‘project’ and then it grows into so much more and we don’t see it happening. Good for you for stepping back when you felt called to do so! And for the record – there’s no ‘right way’ – it’s all a learning process:-)

  6. Boundaries Comments

    In response to the author’s comment: ‘It’s difficult to answer that question if I don’t have a clear understanding of my own boundaries’ seems a bit circular. Before setting boundaries, don’t we need to understand all the variables? Such as what are acceptable/unacceptable interruptions – such as this son’s phone call. Was the call the problem or the fact that he wasn’t there when you arrived the problem? Or was it in the communication of the problem and the resolution? It appears that you readily answered the phone and consented to the pick up only to be annoyed with the fact that he wasn’t there when you got there. And that is a different issue – where was he, what were the rules on coming home with someone else even though he had called you and why couldn’t he wait? How would write a boundary based on the fact that he made a poor choice and therefore worry and anger set in on your end?

    In essence the basic question for many mothers is: for how long am I to be held responsible for my children? And to what degree? What ages? Am I comfortable allowing someone else to help with these responsibilities and supervision while working? What do their responsibilities look like? If working from home, am I still responsible for the supervision of the children or have I provided alternate supervision? And to what degree? If working from home, do I allow interruptions – for what and why – or not? Young children are not predictable – when and why they suddenly need us is sometimes mysterious but real. So all of these variables make it very difficult to define boundaries unless the children are old enough to basically be on their own with only indirect supervision.

    Can we really have it both ways – trying to be present to our children while hoping and expecting against interruptions? How do we do as Mother Teresa (Saint) taught: “Do small things with great love.” You showed great love by going to pick up your son; things got derailed when he didn’t obey you and wait making it seem that the interruptions were the problem.

    This is sort of a tough love response and I hope it is not taken negatively. I remember several years ago, a young mother wanted to keep working for this organization (non-profit) that I was involved with. She had the baby and asked the company to allow her to bring baby to work. We would have had to modify space for her to breastfeed comfortably, etc. As Chairman of the Board, I had to say that we could not do that for multiple reasons – financial, practical, etc. Mom eventually had to choose between working full time or staying at home which is what she was trying to create at work. At first, the mom was unhappy with my decision, but thanked me later for helping her to come to realize that baby needed her and so did we but she had to make a choice rather than avoiding one. .

    Why this example. Only because as we think we have to write boundaries to get through our day, perhaps there are some underlying issues that need to be decided on first.

    • You are right about underlying issues, Linda! That’s the whole point of this exercise. It gives us an opportunity to examine all those issues and map out a plan that works for us.

      As for having it both ways – I believe we absolutely can be fully present to our children while hoping and expecting against interruptions. God calls us to do whatever our hands find to do – with all our might! So when I’m with my children – I try to be fully present. When I’m at work, I try to be fully present. Of course, I realize there will be interruptions. So I need to decide in advance how I respond to those interruptions. And I acknowledge that I will fail. The story I shared was intentionally shared to show where I had failed…and as an inspiration to dig a little deeper as to why.

      And thank you for bringing up the multitude of variables. That’s one of the reasons we need to continually re-define our boundaries. As our children grow, the variables change. And I find myself setting new ‘rules’ all the time. It’s all part of the blessing of being a work-at-home mom!

      • I have to say that I’d blow up at a kid who called for a ride, was told he’d get one and then left with someone else. But that would lead to a discussion about being where you say you’ll be, and as kids grow into their independence, they have to learn how to work those things out with their parents. I’m not sure you failed in that situation, Theresa–that’s a kid fail, right there. You had no reason to expect that your son would choose to accept a ride from someone else without telling you after he asked you for a ride.
        It all boils down to communicating those boundaries, as you mention in the article. My son just asked me if I’m looking forward to his summer vacation, when I get to “deal with him all day long” as he puts it…how long until camp starts? 😉

        • Yes, he got an earful about riding with someone else, Barb! Although he really thought he was doing me a favor. But still – I need to know when he’s in the car with someone else! You are so right about the independence. I never seem quite prepared for the next phase of development – it always seems to creep up on me! And it takes something like this for me to say “we need to talk!” *sigh*

          But my fail was not making a decision – not choosing between the ride and the call. I am as good at multi-tasking as the next mom – but some things just need 100% of my attention.

          I love summer because even though they are around more during the day, the evening activities are not nearly as crazy. For some reason, the evenings are such a logistical challenge and they wear me out!!

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