Today's WAHM is Rita Arens who recently transitioned from being a WOHM to a WAHM when she accepted a position as assignment and syndication editor for BlogHer. Her writing has appeared in Scholastic Parent & Child, Babble, The Kansas City Star, SuperEco,The Rockhurst Review and other outstanding print and online publishing venues. Her personal blog, Surrender, Dorothy, has won her attention in Forbes Woman, Businessweek online and The Wall Street Journal. She is the editor of parenting anthology Sleep Is for the Weak (Chicago Review Press, 2008) and a contributor to Kirtsy Takes a Bow (Bright Sky Press, 2010). She lives with her husband and daughter in Kansas City.
Welcome to WAHM-dom, Rita - how's the transition so far?
I've been working from home exclusively since last December, so I'm at about the nine-month mark. I love working from home, actually. I think it takes a certain kind of personality to enjoy it, though.
You've written a lot about working outside of the home and the many challenges, particularly as a mother, that you faced. Can you talk a bit about that?
Had we been able to afford it, I think I would've been a SAHM when my daughter was a baby. I really hated taking her to daycare. At this point, she's school-aged, so it's a little different. Now I'm more focused on making sure she's enjoying her childhood, and I try to make sure she's not just watching me type all the time. Working from home definitely makes attending to her needs easier. If she gets sick, I'm nearby. If she needs to go to the doctor, I don't have to add an hour round-trip from driving home from the office to take her and then driving back. I'm just closer, and that is really, really important to me.
How has that changed now that you accepted a position with BlogHer?
Being a parent has gotten easier, but learning to walk away from work has gotten harder.
Tell me how your day works now.
Well, there's definitely an official start. We all get up and the focus initially is on getting my husband ready for work and my daughter ready for school or summer camp. She goes to full-time childcare when she's not in school. I make her lunch, put sunscreen on her, make sure her hair is brushed and she's wearing appropriate shoes and all of that. My husband drives her in and I pick her up. I have a harder time with the ending part, and that's been the biggest struggle for us.
What's the toughest part of being a WAHM?
Quitting for the day. It's all right there, and there's always more to do than you could possibly get done. It's hard to walk away, but it's also hard to know the people who love you are sitting there waiting for you to walk away.
What are the biggest benefits that you perceive from being a WAHM?
Flexibility is the biggest benefit. I'm able to be home when my daughter rolls off the school bus. I don't have to have a panic attack when there's a traffic jam on I-70 and I'm going to get fined for being late to daycare pick-up.
Are there any cliches or myths about WAHMs that you'd like to debunk (or prove)?
I spend most of my day looking like holy hell, so I can't debunk that one. I try to squeeze in a half-hour of exercise most days, so I don't get ready for the day until after I've done Hip-Hop Abs or whatever, and I never know when I'm going to get that break. Some days I'm showering at 5 p.m. as I'm getting ready to pick up my daughter because I don't want summer camp to think I really don't have a job and I just send her there to get rid of her.
I guess the biggest one I'd debunk is that it's easy to get distracted with housework. I'm the opposite -- I get distracted from my home life by work. I'm a very compartmentalized person, and when I'm working, I'm working -- the idea that I'd want to stop and fold laundry is laughable to me.
What do you perceive as the most misunderstood aspect of working from home?
That I'm not really working. I had to work that out with my neighbor, whose daughter would come over after school and the girls would be ripping the house apart while I was trying to do a conference call. I finally had to e-mail her and explain that I have deadlines that go until 6 p.m. and I can't have both girls here when I'm still working. I had to explain to the kids it would be the same as them walking into my friend's classroom (she's a teacher) and being that disruptive. I finally realized I had to do something different with after school hours or I was going to go crazy. I was starting to get really down because when I'd get distracted, then I'd just have to work longer to get things done, and probably three times a week at least I'm back on the computer after she goes to bed until about 9:30 or 10, and then everyone was unhappy with me that I was still working. So next school year I'm paying the neighbor to watch her for that last hour of the day so she can be nearby and I can see her when she comes home but I still am able to get my work done by dinner time. It won't be done, but I need to quit and have dinner and bathtime and bedtime with my family. And then after that I need to hang out with my husband. So I've got to get it under better control.
Many WAHMs comment about missing the quiet office, even the commute to work - what aspects of working outside the home do you miss most?
My office is quiet, because my daughter is in childcare. I love being home alone. I love cranking up my music and making lunch in my own kitchen and hanging out with my cat. The writing I do here is so much better than when I was in an office surrounded by noise and other people. I'm an incredibly extroverted person -- I get my energy from other people. The problem for me is that when I'm around other people physically, I want to be social and just hang out, and that's not conducive to getting a lot done. I'm better when I'm at home and can pick and choose when I open up chat or pick up the phone to get my hit of energy from other people. I miss my friends from my last job, but I would miss them regardless. The act of going into an office? I miss nothing about that.
How has working from home impacted your relationship with your daughter? Your spouse?
The ending of the day is something I've had to negotiate with my husband. He's been incredibly understanding, but I get where he's coming from. He wants to hang out in the evening and recharge, and if I'm all tapping away it's like I'm there but not there. There have been nights where he's reminded me the work will still be there in the morning and I've realized he's right, I need a break. Some people can work tirelessly all the time, but I really can't, and I am being forced to confront that about myself. What I do is fairly creative, and the more mentally exhausted I get, the worse the headlines, the worse the posts, the worse just everything. My light bulb doesn't go off when I'm mentally exhausted. He's had to remind me of that because I do tend to put my head down and charge when I'm stressed.
As far as my daughter goes -- she thinks it's great. She likes seeing what I do for a living. I think she understands better now what I do for a living.
Visit my archives from more interviews in my "A Few Good WAHMs" series.