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Working from home in the transitional phase

Megan Nielsen family photo session with Holly Murphy in Bunker Bay

I still get an absolute tonne of questions about how I balance my work and family commitments, but it’s been over two years since I shared on this topic. I think I’m in a pretty different season of life, so I thought it was time I did a bit of an update!

The last time I wrote about how i work from home with kids, Birdie was two years old and Bunny and Buddy were 8 and 6. I have always worked during my kids nap times, and my usual routine was to work every day for around 3 hours during naptime and then some extra time at night or the weekend as needed.

But obviously naps don’t last forever. Early last year I knew that my days of working during naps would be coming to an end soon. Both Bunny and Buddy stopped napping around 3 years old, so I knew that I didn’t have much longer with Birdie napping. The last time I was faced with working from home with no naps, I tried to make up for it by working a full time load at night, and ended up working myself ragged to the point of developing an ulcer. Umm no, I don’t want to be in that place again. So i needed a plan to make sure I could keep my business running effectively and still have enough time to soak up the last year of having Birdie home with me full time.

Just as I knew that the days of naps would come to an end soon, I also knew that the days of Birdie home all day with me were coming to an end soon and I was really really sad about it. Birdie was due to start Kindergarten 3 days a week in 2018 (this year) so I just needed to figure out how to make it through the gap between naps ending and Kindy starting. Sure it sounds easy to say it like that – but I’m not going to lie to you, this is a hard gap. It isn’t easy to navigate, and having been through it three times I’ve made my share of mistakes. But I feel like having been in this situation before with Bunny and Buddy helped me prepare for it better. I knew it was coming. And this time I knew that trying to work from home with a toddler who didn’t nap would be a transitional phase.

PLANNING

The first thing I did was to reassess what was important to me and my expectations of what I would get done in 2017. No matter what anyone tells you, you just can’t have it all. You have to make choices about what you will do with your time. Choices have consequences, and you just have to deal with them. For me I decided that the last year with Birdie home was more important to me. I was desperate not to miss out on those last few precious months of just the two of us, and I knew they were fleeting, so i prioritized time with her and reduced my workload to fit that choice.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. I love my business, I have goals and dreams, and pressing pause was difficult. But I know I have years of time for a stronger pace once everyone is in full time school.

It’s worth noting that I could have made a different choice, and there is nothing wrong with different choices. I could have chosen a childcare option which would have left me with more work time – i could still do that. But I just don’t want to :) There are a lot of people who balance work that way, and that’s a perfectly valid choice, it’s just not what I wanted to do.

SO I had decided to plan my work around reduced time. I reassessed the number of patterns I would work on in 2017 and reduced them down to the ones I couldn’t live without releasing ;) Every other pattern which was in development was put on a much slower, longer timeline to be released in 2018 or later. Choosing to do this took the pressure off. Instead of pushing hard for deadlines as I usually do, I worked slower, more carefully and more thoughtfully. And because I knew that naps would be ending, as I watched the amount she slept reduce over the year I found the stress easier to manage. Of course it was still stressful! Taking it slow in your business is always going to be stressful, but I managed and accepted it because I knew it was coming.

By the time she completely gave up her afternoon nap, which was around September 2017, I was fully prepared to slow pattern development completely down and work at a “low boil” until she started Kindergarten in 2018. The last pattern I released in October 2017 was released as a PDF only partly to fit with this life choice. Then there was a rather large gap until my next print releases in May this year.

AN EVEN BETTER TEAM

The second thing i did was to get more help. I already had an administrative assistant so I looked at what other areas I could potentially expand my team in. I ended up hiring Krystal as my wonderful sample maker and Holly came back to work with me on blog writing after taking some time off to have her gorgeous little girl.

Expanding my team has been wonderful! Krystal is an amazing sample maker and helps so much with the early development work of a pattern. The same goes for Holly – we’ve always worked really well together, and having her focused on making our sewalongs the best they could be has been a fantastic step for the business.

I’m a real believer in letting everyone shine in their own area, and having extra support and a strong team made all the difference in keeping everything running smoothly last year.

ROUTINE

And thirdly, I adjusted our routine to fill our needs. The main trick I’ve had for getting work done in naps has revolved around getting my kids on a good routine. I knew that with naps ending I would need a new routine to suit us both. I wanted to spend some really good quality time with Birdie, she would still need a daily rest, though it wouldn’t be a nap, and I would still need to get some work done even if it wasn’t as much as usual.

And what did we do to make the most of our last full time year? I came up with a list of the things I wanted to do with Birdie before she started school and I asked her what she wanted to do with mummy and we did all of it. We had a blast! Every morning after we walked the big kids to school we did one of our activites, then we came home for lunch and a play then had a rest. She did ballet lessons, gymnastics, we went to the library every Friday, we went to a cafe once a week and had a treat together. We’ve always spent a lot of time together, but I’m so grateful for that very intentional time we spent.

Our afternoon routine consisted of rest time after lunch. She would have a little rest in her room playing by herself or looking at books or having a lie down etc for about an hour each afternoon. Sometimes she found it hard to calm down, so instead I’d let her watch a short movie. I tried to be flexible. Sometimes I got really stressed out. But mostly I tried to remember it was a short time. I used that afternoon time to do a little bit of work, whatever was the most pressing. Then I would work another hour in the evenings and a few hours on the weekend.

As much as my long term goal is not to work at night and the weekends, knowing it was for a short period of time made it easier to swallow. And knowing where i’ve been health wise taught me not to overdo it. Those lessons are burned deep, so i was careful not to push it and to make time for resting as well.

Working from home in the transitional time / Megan Nielsen Design Diary

But please my friends, don’t be mistaken and think that 2017 was an easy year and that I have everything figured out all the time. It was NOT an easy year. It was a very hard year. It was hard emotionally, and it was hard practically. I often described myself to Chris as feeling like I was treading water, and sometimes I felt very frustrated. Sometimes I would forget that I had chosen to slow down and smell the roses, and I would feel like a failure or a victim. I am human after all ;)

But now that this transition phase is over, I am feeling so grateful for this decision to slow down and appreciate our time together. We had our time, and I feel like I have graduated to an easier season for my business and an easier way of working. By the time we got to the end of January 2018, Birdie was itching to start school and I felt content with how we had spent our time and managed the gap.

If I could do it again, I’d do it exactly the same. But with more trips to cafes for babycinos ;)

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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Lindsay
Lindsay
3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Becca
3 years ago

Thank you so much for this. Lately I’ve been feeling that it’s become unpopular for mothers to admit that they enjoy time with their kids, at least here in America. It’s so refreshing to hear you talking about the sacrifices in such a positive way, and a good reminder for me that it really doesn’t last forever.

Tammy
3 years ago

A refreshing take on the speediness of the preschool years! Before you can blink, she’ll be a teenager, and you’ll look back fondly at the time you’ve shared with all of your children.

PsychicSewerKathleen
3 years ago

I always love your stories Megan but this one brought tears to my eyes! So poignant to realize you only have one more year to spend with Birdie, just the 2 of you before she skips off to school…making a very conscious decision for it to be as special as possible for both of you! That was a decision I’m confident neither of you will regret :) Your business has continued to flourish very nicely! It might not be at full tilt but I would say you are highly positioned as one of the most respected Indie designers in the market and that will only continue to grow :) I’m sure I’m only one of thousands around the world who look forward to seeing what you’ve got brewing on the design table!

Sarah
Sarah
3 years ago

Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s so refreshing and reassuring to hear about the frustrations and difficulties as well as the good bits.

Renee
3 years ago

This was so lovely and genuine. Thank you for sharing. I’m on my second maternity leave and have gone through a number of transitions with my career on the last 3 years. It is all temporary and I have had some really good times with my kids but it is hard too.

Kaine Akponor
3 years ago

Hi Megan, beautiful post and I can truly relate with 3 toddlers myself… I think women generally put alot of pressure of themselves. You are doing just great.