Mastering the Work-From-Home Juggling Act

Triangle parents share 6 tips for balancing work and life


Published:

Ceramicist Michelle Vanderwalker finds that she’s more productive working from home than she would be in a traditional job setting.

PHOTO COURTES YOF CHRIS FOWLER

A deep sense of irony struck me while writing this article. I was simultaneously conducting a phone interview, paying bills and praying the dryer wouldn’t wake up my daughter from her nap. 

On productive days, when I meet an assignment deadline and get the laundry folded, it feels like I have this work-from-home life balance down pat. But when both my inbox and sink are piled high, and there’s little more than a door to separate the two, that balance really feels off kilter.

Working from home is on the rise. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, 23% of workers spent some time working from home during an average workday in 2017. And with an increase in families that have both parents working (63% of families now consist of working married parents with kids under age 18, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), working from home helps parents do their jobs without paying for child care, and gives them an opportunity to go into business for themselves. 

According to a Feb. 15, 2017, New York Times article titled, “Out of the Office: More People are Working Remotely, Survey Finds,” many industries are embracing work-at-home policies — especially the finance, insurance and real estate industries. The percentage of workers in those fields who reported working remotely at least sometimes rose from 39% in 2012 to 47% in 2016, according to the article.

Parents who work from home face a unique challenge, however: managing work-life balance. Three Triangle parents offer tips for how to navigate those challenges, set boundaries and reap the rewards.

 

1. Bust the Work-from-Home Myth

One assumption many people make about working from home is that it’s hard to get any real work done (Google “work-from-home memes” for starters). But Nick Williams of Durham, who traded in his retail job to become a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad, hasn’t found that to be the case.

Photo courtesy of Nick Williams

Nick Williams of Durham is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. 

“I thought I’d be less efficient, but the opposite is true. If I want to spend 30 minutes on a personal project, it helps me get my obligations done in a more efficient way,” he says.

Michelle Vanderwalker, a ceramicist who lives and works from home in Durham, also finds that she’s more productive than she would be in a traditional job setting. 

“I’m doing something that I love to do, and when I’m in the flow, I’m likely to spend much more time doing something than I would if I were going to a job for a specific amount of time,” she says. 

 

2. Create a Workspace and Set Boundaries

Having a designated workspace is key to work-from-home success. It’s helpful if there’s a door, but if not, you can still set boundaries and make it clear to your family that when you’re in your workspace, you’re not to be disturbed. Try hanging a sign on your door that tells family members when you’re not to be interrupted.

Cary Heise, who started a company located in Raleigh called Designed for Joy that facilitates transitional work experiences for women coming from vulnerable situations, does much of her job from her home office in Apex. She’s protective of her workspace, particularly since she holds client meetings there.

“It’s not a playroom. It’s not supposed to be where people gather to watch TV. It is my office,” Heise says. “I have to respect that boundary, too, because sometimes I can move away from that.”

Photo courtesy of 627 Photography

Cary Heise hangs out with her daughter, Ashlin, in her Apex home office. 

Another key to setting parameters is managing expectations. For Heise, communication is paramount, so she shares her weekly schedule with her family. That way they know when she will be hosting or attending an event, or when she needs to block out time to prepare for a trip.

Be sure to keep your own expectations realistic, too. As with parenting, working from home requires you to roll with the punches. Williams has learned to accept that if his daughter stays home sick, he must drop everything to take care of her and carve out time outside of his usual work schedule to meet work deadlines.

 

3. Cash in on the Benefits

A flexible schedule is a big perk of working from home. Since Williams isn’t worried about clocking in and out for a shift, he can make time for events he used to miss out on — like hitting the gym or scheduling lunch with a friend. 

If your spouse also works from home, take advantage of the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with each other. Heise and her husband often enjoy lunch dates while the kids are at school. 

Vanderwalker stays on top of her workload while home schooling her two kids by carving out time to work while they’re asleep. And because there’s no morning hustle to get out the door, she has more flexibility to help them with schoolwork, or take family walks during the afternoon.

Some work-from-home parents may be able to transform work activities into enrichment or educational experiences for the kids. Vanderwalker and her husband, Sean Umstead, own Kingfisher, a Durham craft cocktail bar that focuses on fruit- and vegetable-infused drinks. They often take their kids fruit-picking at local farms. Even if the children don’t last the entire day to help pit cherries in the kitchen, they do gain an appreciation for hard work. 

Heise says working from home has helped foster her kids’ independence; they make their own lunches and take responsibility for small housekeeping tasks.

 

4. Call for Backup

Just because you work solo doesn’t mean you can’t call for reinforcements. In fact, asking for help is essential. If Vanderwalker needs extra time to fill an order of custom plates, she can drop off her kids at their grandparents’ house, or call a friend to ferry them to after-school activities. 

Heise realized she couldn’t do it all as a work-from-home mom and has since hired a monthly cleaning service. She also isn’t shy about asking other parents to bake treats or help out with other tasks for school events.

 

5. Put a Premium on Your Sanity

Even with the most ideal work-from-home setup, doing your job can feel like a daily grind. Shake up your routine every so often by working from a coffee shop, library or coworking space to keep your workflow fresh and to help inspire new ideas. 

Since you don't have as much interaction with co-workers when you work from home, connecting with other adults is still important. Vanderwalker hosts a weekly potluck with friends and family, while Heise plans playdates with friends. 

“[We] to go to the beach and we paddleboard all day,” she says. “I don’t want another meeting or lunch date. I want to have a real adventure and have time with friends.”

 

6. Don’t Neglect Self-Care

Be intentional and consistent about taking care of yourself by building time for it into your workday. Schedule a morning exercise session, or a 15-minute break to walk or read for fun. Which reminds me, it’s time for my lunch break. That load of towels can wait, right?

 

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Food Network, Saveur and Refinery29; and in Raleigh Magazine, The News & Observer and INDY Week. Learn more about her at glassofrose.blogspot.com, @glassofrose on Twitter.

 

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Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Chip, chip, hooray! The first Zambrero in the Southeast is opening on January 24 with zingy, zesty activities! Bodacious Burritos and Bowls: $5 burritos and bowls all day Delicious Drawing: A...

Cost: Free

Where:
1 Glenwood Ave
#105
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: (919) 863-2561
Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Take a hike after dark and enjoy the sights and sounds of a quiet night along the American Tobacco Trail. We will walk to the Beaver Creek bridge and back (about one mile total). Free for ages 4...

Cost: Free

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Join the Museum and the Raleigh Astronomy Club to help you see the big picture — of the Universe! From comet crafts to solar observing, lectures to rocket launches, space enthusiasts of all ages...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in February!   This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds...

Cost: Free

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Join us for the Kids Exchange Spring/Summer Consignment Sale in July! This FREE ADMISSION event is the largest kids consignment sale in the nation and is held at the NC State Fairgrounds at...

Cost: 0 – $10

Where:
Jim Graham Building
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

RALEIGH (Jan. 16, 2020) – The North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools will host its first school fair during National School Choice Week on Saturday, Jan. 25. The fair will take...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: NC Association of Public Charter Schools
Telephone: 336-669-9996
Contact Name: Rhonda Dillingham
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Family Wildlife Series: Tricky Tracks Saturday, January 25 10-11 a.m. Come dressed for the weather so you can roam the park learning the fine art of “tracking”.   Make a cast of an animal...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Join the statewide kickoff to Black History Month at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society since 2015, the 19th...

Cost: 0

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 East Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Just in time to keep up with those home improvement resolutions for 2020, the Downtown Raleigh Home Show returns to downtown’s Raleigh Convention Center January 24-26, 2020  with a jam-packed...

Cost: Tickets are $12 for adults and free for children under 12. Advance $9 tickets

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Marketplace Events
Telephone: 904-608-3823
Contact Name: Liz Morgan

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Winter days find many animals curled up in their dens. They sleep warmly, awakening in spring ready to enjoy the renewed Earth. Discover how animals deal with cold weather and which ones hibernate...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for all family members,& childre

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Rumpelstiltskin-A Tale of Gold Book by Ellie FaggionMusic and Lyrics written by Brian Shrager and Ellie FaggionProduced by special arrangement with the author.Directed by Beth Wilson...

Cost: varies

Where:
Spiritual Twist Productions
1250 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
View map »


Sponsor: Spiritual Twist Productions
Telephone: 919-977-1976
Contact Name: Kathy MacDonald
Website »

More information

Come support your NC State Gymnastics team as they open the 2020 home season against the Towson Tigers on January 25th at 4 PM. Tickets start at just $3!

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Coliseum
2411 Dunn Ave
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »

More information

Triangle Restaurant Week (January 20-26, 2020) is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants....

Cost: $15-$35

Where:
Participating Restaurants
, NC


Sponsor: Triangle Blvd
Telephone: 919-673-5784
Website »

More information

Join us in Arendelle for Frozen-inspired STEAM activities for the whole family! Included in the ticket cost is dinner and dessert for the whole family, make your own sock Olaf and Frozen bouncy...

Cost: $35 per family

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
View map »


Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Website »

More information

AML Wrestling presents our 5th Anniversary Celebration! WHEN: Saturday, January 25th, 2020WHERE: Winston-Salem Fairgrounds in theHome & Garden Building 408 27th Street NW/Gate #9 Winston-Salem, NC...

Cost: $5

Where:
Winston-Salem Fairgrounds
408 27th Street NW/Gate #9
Winston-Salem, NC  27105
View map »


Sponsor: AML Wrestling
Telephone: 336-831-0646
Contact Name: Tracy Myers
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

David Burney, lead singer for the acclaimed Johnny Cash tribute band Johnny Folsom 4, brings his one-man show to The ArtsCenter for three shows, January 24-26, 2020.  In “Hello, I’m...

Cost: $15 to $20

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
300-G East Main Street.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown
Website »

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.