Back in 2007, after two decades working full time for corporate America, I chose to put my name in the hat for a voluntary severance package. It was a sweet deal, too good to pass up. I'd been dreaming of the day when I could stay home with my three kids and be in control of my daily schedule. I was finally able to take that leap of faith. But after a year off, which involved a whole house remodel, I realized I was eager to work again. This time, however, as my own boss.
In 2008 I ventured off with a friend who was also interested in returning to work. It was a difficult time to find a job as an employee. It was the beginning of the recession and many companies were laying people off. So the two of us decided to form our own business in order to stay current, keep our skills sharp and be in charge of our own destiny. Fast forward three years and our business is doing great. And beyond the financial aspects there are so many personal rewards that will make working for someone else unfathomable. To make this family circus act work, there are many things my family did to keep our household running smoothly.
Schedule - Yours, Mine, and Ours
Running my own business does provide more flexibility than working for someone else, at least for my line of work as a photographer and freelance writer. I can set appointments based on my kids' school hours and do the majority of my editing and writing from home.
My children's schedules become an integral part of what I work around. We keep an electronic family calendar indicating school holidays, family events, doctor appointments and my husband's travel schedule. My husband and I use Outlook calendar, but our children use a free, online calendar that comes with their email system. They can all accept appointments and invites I send them and vice versa. It's essential that everyone pays attention to their calendar to know who's picking up whom and who's doing what each week.
My husband includes me in his travel calendar. I have all of his flight information to stay current on his business travel.
Believe it or not, vacations are planned at least one year in advance. They are planned during non-peak times for my business and coordinated when school is not in session.
Everyone Chips in to Prepare Meals
Although I'm home most of the time, I'm often writing away at my keyboard or editing photos to meet a deadline. The most hectic family time is dinner. This is where I've implemented a rule that everyone has to help make dinner otherwise they get to clean up all of the dishes left in the sink. You'll be surprised how that threat alone has created too many cooks in the kitchen.
Every member of my family can now prepare and cook at least five dinners. It's a great lesson that they will take with them after they leave the family nest. This has drastically cut down on what I used to do for mealtime preparation and I thoroughly encourage every working parent to teach your children how to cook. It saves me so much time and equips them with some basic skills in the kitchen at the same time.
One daughter keeps a running grocery list that makes my trip to the store more efficient. I grocery shop just 1 time a week which helps reduce side trips to the store and saves time.
My daughters also make their own lunch for school (I am averse to having them to purchase the school lunch, which in our district are not that healthy). They make healthy lunches with ingredients they prefer. Oftentimes they even make an extra sandwich for me when they know I'm on the go.
After calculating how much it would cost to buy a cafe latte or make our own, we bought a nice espresso machine. Over the course of a year it paid for itself and saves time too. My husband loves his coffee and I don't have to run to the store to get a fix.
Transportation: Bikes and Automobiles
Over the years I have built a strong support system to help me in a crunch. We don't have school buses where we live so the kids are carpooled to school each day. I've built a great network of families who help each other out. We have regular days each week to drive the kids to and from school. This allows each of us a certain number of "free" days where we do not act as chauffer. It's such a relief to have just a few days off from this chore.
When the weather is nice, we've taught our children how to bike to school. It's not task taken lightly since it involves a lesson is traffic safety. But this year my daughter has gained a great deal of independence biking with a group of neighborhood kids. They are in charge of their schedule and showed how responsible they are by watching out for each other and being on time.
Communication is the Key
Even with the group calendars, joint cooking and transportation methods, it's still critical to catch up with one another during dinner time. Even when family members are away from home traveling or at college we've been known to prop up a laptop on the dinner table and they join us remotely. Thank goodness for free tools like Skype that enables us to still have face time as a family even though we're miles apart.
We have a ritual at home that we call "High-Low." At least once a week we catch up on everyone's high points and low points which also provides a glimpse into what that weeks' activities will be like. What's essential is for the family to know how busy I am because that affects everything. What's that saying? "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? It's true!
If it's my Business, it's Everyone's Business
Having my own small business takes passion, energy, time and attention. By choice I've involved my family because I figure the more they know about what I do the more they can help out. An interesting side note to this is my daughters have recently shown an interest and a talent for photography. Of their own accord they have started pursuing this with a strong interest. We'll see where it leads but for now it's great for me to see them exhibit a curiosity for what I do for a living.
Having my children truly understand what I do and what I love for a living would not have happened had I continued working for Corporate America. There I mostly worked with spreadsheets, data and did a ton of analysis. That was not nearly as creative or as fun as what I do today. This is a big reason why I wouldn't trade what I do to go back to that life again. It's not only fulfilling for me personally, but I relish the ability to get my whole family involved.
What used to be a circus act of getting through from one day to the next is now just a way of life for our family. I wouldn't have it any other way.
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