Photo copyright Molly Kelash

These guys never had the option of working from home.

When people find out I work for myself from home, the first thing they say is, “Ooh, you’re so lucky!”

Then the inevitable envy of imagined slovenliness hits.

“Dude, I bet you get to lounge around in your pajamas whenever you want!”

I assure them that the novelty of sitting in the same night-clothes for a couple days in a row wears off after the first week.

But they persist.

“Still, you’re your own boss – you make your own schedule…you don’t work for the man, man!”

I concur. That is a benefit. I also don’t have the burden of a regular paycheck nor the boredom that comes with the same-old predictable amount coming in every month.

“Well, yeah.  Still, I bet your house is always immaculate and you’re able to cook great meals for your family!”

Nope and nope.  It’s taken me years, but I have perfected the art of separating “working at home” and “housework” in my mind and in my practice. I can now happily let the house fall around my ears as I clack away on my computer. If I have work, I don’t do a single load of laundry, a single dish.  May sound counter-intuitive, but I have to do this to stay sane.  As for dinners, I’m kind of ashamed to admit that my husband makes them most nights. If we want to eat well, that is.

“Hunh. Well, at least you’re free of office politics, gossip – all that stuff!”

Sure. But I can also get very lonely with just lil’ ol’ me most of the day, especially in winter. For several years in a row, every deep, dark January I would start looking and applying for “real” jobs.

“But I bet you get to spend great amounts of quality time with your kids!”

Yep – they’re home before three every day, which means I pretty much have to pack up my work, listen to them grunt their “Fine”s when I ask them how their days were, and prepare to drive them or pick them up from their afternoon activities.

“Well, it doesn’t sound all that great the way you’ve laid it out there.  I guess having a ‘real’ job is probably more up my alley.”

But as the person wanders off, feeling lucky they never took my path, I feel like calling them back, because I only told them the bad stuff – not the reasons I could never do what they’re doing.

I didn’t tell them that the freedom of being my own boss is worth all the regular paychecks in the world.  That when I’d get into those interviews for “real” jobs, I would subconsciously sabotage them – even for my dream job as head of communications for a museum.  Because as lonely as I was at home, my throat started to close in contemplation of being trapped in an office 10 hours a day, with limited vacation time and no after school chats with my daughters.

What I didn’t tell them is that eventually, I figured out how to combat loneliness without having to dust off my resume every winter — through the regular social interaction AND exercise that comes in one perfect activity: tennis.

I didn’t tell them that while spending more time with my daughters may not have seemed like “quality” time at every moment, the quotidian familiarity – the sheer accumulation of hours together – has allowed me to forge wonderful, easy relationships with them that I’m not sure I would have had the energy for as a full-time, stressed-out “company man.” I know my limits.

All that said, I know that being able to make my work secondary to my family is a luxury not everyone can afford.  And I know that for others, their careers are of higher importance than I place on mine, so it would be anathema for them to have their jobs take a back seat.

I think I put out the “negatives” of my situation first so that people don’t think working from home is some kind of cakewalk or easy way out.  It’s not.  It’s been a tough, trial-by-fire sort of struggle that has taken me years to figure out – how to keep work from bleeding into my family life; the housework conundrum; the loneliness factor; the herky-jerky, chaotic workflow and income.

It’s unscheduled, messy and definitely not 9 to 5.

It’s really not for everyone.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.