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Home-Work: Mothers who Earn a Living at Home (Part Two- Mishpacha Issue 80)
by Esther Heller

We continue our exploration, meeting two more mothers who juggle the responsibilities of family and parnassa by working at home and also hear what experts advise.

Tova, Babysitter in Her Home.

I met with Tova on her first day of summer vacation from the year round babysitting service she runs in her home. We sat at her dining room table while her four youngest children played quietly on the floor with a colorful set of toy dishes.

Tova initially worked at a job caring for elderly people in their homes during the hours of nine through one o'clock. Then they moved to a community where the cost of living was lower and she thought they could get by on her husband's kollel stipend. When that no longer was feasible, she applied for a job to work with the elderly again. On the day of her interview her daughter told her she had a stomachache. It was obvious to Tova that her daughter wasn't sick, she just wanted to stay home. "Why should I send a four year old to school if she doesn't want to go?" Tova wondered. "If I worked, I would have to send her." She canceled the interview.

Tova recalls being at home with her two year old before she started working. "We would go to the park in the morning, but there weren't any other children there. They were all at nursery school." She tried to find a playgroup. The mothers she approached suggested that they pay her to watch the children three days a week.

She took her toddler and baby and went to sit for children in their homes. It became harder however to take such young children with her. Seven years ago, she noticed that there were now enough young children in her own neighborhood and she began baby-sitting in her own home.

Her hours are nine through one fifteen. She then picks her daughter up at the bus stop. The age range of the children she sits for are one and four months through three and a half. This means that the children have started walking and can communicate their needs.

She gets her own children ready and at their respective school buses by 7:45, and then has an hour to doven, make beds, and do a load of laundry. Her oldest child is a daughter sixteen and her twelve and thirteen year old girls also help her a lot.

Tova sees a lot of advantages to working at home. Her youngest child gets to spend the morning with Mommy and have plenty of social stimulation. If a child is getting over an illness, he or she can lie down in another room and mother doesn't have to miss work. "Sometimes a child just needs a day off from school." (Tova explains that she is talking about once or twice a year per child, and not making it a common practice that would undermine the importance of education.) "If I worked outside of the home, my children wouldn't be able to have that if they needed it."

At one point Tova started baby-sitting in the afternoons. "The parnassa was good, but it was too hard on the family so I stopped."

She works four days a week, with Friday and one other weekday off. (In Israel, the Jewish calendar is observed and Sunday is a regular workday.) "On the day off, my two year old is bored," Tova comments.

She follows the same schedule as her daughters' Bais Yaakov school. She charges low babysitting fees and in return feels free to change her schedule or cancel if needed. Parents pay her all through the month. "I keep it casual," Tova comments. "My parnassa is minhashmayim. One month I might make a lot of money, but then the washing machine breaks down." Her work brings, "seder to my day. If I didn't have a schedule I wouldn't get anything done."

Daily babysitting in your living room does add wear and tear to the house. She has to run the heating a lot more and there are more fingerprints on the wall. "If I were free in the mornings I would go out and run errands," Tova says.

She doesn't have a rigid demarcation of the toys for her own children and the toys for the children she sits for. Most of the toys are used by all, although special toys that her children received from their grandparents are kept on a high shelf. Toy ownership issues have never been a problem with her children. If a toy is precious to them, it goes up on the high shelf. Tova's younger son loves puzzles and he benefits by having nines puzzles to play with rather than the two or three he would otherwise have.

A hard part of the arrangement is the mess in her house when the children go home. They are too young to do much helpful cleaning up and it takes her about half an hour to get the house back into order. Often her own children help clean up the toys, but she doesn't feel that's so fair for them to each day clean up toys they didn't even play with.

The last half hour of work is the hardest. She has to get all the kids packed up and ready and often some mothers pick their children up late which could result in having to take three children with her to the bus stop to pick up her own child. Or, the mothers linger to talk to her for a few minutes while Tova's own children are "bursting through the door with excitement, wanting to tell me about their day. If they have to wait and tell you later, it's just not the same."

Tova tries to be ready and available for the come- in-the-door-how-was-your-day? moments for each child. (They all come home at different times.) "But in reality," she says, "I'm trying to get lunch ready. I'm there physically for them, but not yet there mentally."

She also finds that she has less patience for her own children in the afternoons. Her older daughters are very helpful after they return home from school. They are happy to baby-sit for an hour or two while Tova goes out and runs some errands. "I do the shopping and errands myself because I need to get out of the house after being home all day."

"Every year the advantages and disadvantages change because the children are at different ages," she says. "If I worked out of the house now, I would have to put my youngest child in daycare."

Next year will be the first year that Tova will not have a young child still at home. Her youngest will turn three and begin cheder. "I'm committed to continuing the babysitting next year," she says. "I had to decide by Pesach, whether to continue to work at home or to look for a job." Just as she was trying to decide, all her children got sick. "If I worked outside the home, what would I do with sick children? I guess Hashem is showing me that I should continue."

Phyllis -English Teacher at Home

When her first two children were still quite young, Phyllis taught in a school. She comments, "Some people are good at managing a career outside the home. I always wanted to be like them, but I was never able to succeed in creating boundaries. I found it very stressful. Dropping off a baby that didn't feel well at the baby sitter tore me to pieces." After three years of teaching, Phyllis switched to substituting for P'tach, which relieved the pressure she felt. "I never went back again to a teaching framework where I had to take sick kids to the babysitter."

After their family made aliyah, she spent five years at home with her children. "Keeping my head above water," is how she describes it. When her youngest of five turned three and started nursery school, she began teaching English privately in her home. "It happened slowly," she explains. "I didn't even have it in mind. Hashem handed me a gift, and I worked to develop it. I was excited to teach at home."

"I was always teaching. I taught the kids in the neighborhood how to bake fancy cakes."

Phyllis now teaches English in groups as well as working with special needs children one to one. She also tutors in reading Hebrew. Six years ago, she started with three children, now she works with twenty-three. They come from "pure word of mouth."

Phyllis started out tutoring in the living room, which didn't work out very well. "My children couldn't bring friends home and my students would get distracted." She considered renting a small storage room, but there wasn't a bathroom. Three years ago, they converted their parking space into a private classroom with a separate entrance from the rest of the house. The room has comfortable chairs, a big desk, an air conditioner and woven pastel tapestries on the walls. The glass on the windows is designed to let in the light but keep kids riding their bicycles from peering in. The new room has enabled her to increase the number of students she sees.

In the mornings Phyllis gets her errands done and prepares dinner. She starts teaching at three thirty in the afternoon. "My husband is at home at that time and is available for the children. This is what makes it possible for me to do this work." She works Sundays through Wednesday. On Thursday she doesn't accept students, she starts making Shabbes.

"My children come home at four o'clock. I always leave them a note and a snack. Something like: -Hi! Can't wait to see you! - They need that kesher."

"Sometimes my youngest would open the door and peek in. I would smile and then he'd close the door."

"My children had to learn not to disturb me when I'm teaching. I explained to them that I'm being paid and its ganaiva.

Phyllis works from three thirty to six thirty. "When I work later, I'm pushing it. Seven o'clock is very hard. My kids want to see me." If she doesn't stop working by six thirty it becomes a late night for everyone. Through trial and error, she has worked out her schedule. In the evening the family eats dinner together and discusses their day. Phyllis reads to her nine year old every night.

"Boundaries have to be there," Phyllis explains. "I love my work and need the parnassah, but nothing should be all consuming otherwise it consumes you."

Phyllis has learned to turn away students when she knows she can't take on anymore. This year she turned away five, giving them references for another tutor.

Phyllis made up for being away from her children all afternoon by making sure she was home each night. She sent her husband to simchas, didn't go to shiurim. A friend once said to her: "I never see you! Do you still live here?"

"You can't take without giving back, " Phyllis explains. "Today my children are self confident, independent and secure, but it took years of sacrifice on my part."

"My older children are proud of me. They see that I've made a difference in other peoples' lives. When they were younger, it was much harder. They were too young to understand. All they knew was that Ima wasn't available. I had to persevere and give them extra attention."

"If Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives you a gift then it was meant to be used," she says. "You have to learn that a bad day is a bad day; it doesn't mean it's a bad idea."

Naomi Saada, Business Consultant

Naomi works for the Jerusalem Business Development Center (known by the Hebrew acronym MATI). It's a non-profit organization that works with the government to provide assistance in opening and expanding businesses. They offer courses, workshops and private mentoring in managing a business, including separate classes for haredi men and women in English that are subsidized by the government.

Naomi offered the following advice for women considering opening a business or offering a service at home. "A business from home is like any other business. It should be properly planned, well priced and advertised. If you don't do these three things, your business will either stay small and underdeveloped or it will use up all your time and not be worth the income it provides."

Startup costs such as equipment and advertising, should be calculated and monthly expenses should be estimated. Working from home is the less expensive, safer way to start a business with less risk. A business from home, however, will need more advertising than a store that's located in a commercial district where customers walk in off the street. Or else it will yield smaller growth. Naomi contends that providing a service out of one's home is usually easier than selling products where location is an important factor.

"If your children are answering the phone, you should teach them how to answer," she says. "And not to say, 'my Mommy is sleeping right now.' Do you have an entrance way or will your clients or customers have to walk through your house? Is there a sign so that people can find you?

"Don't be afraid of looking serious. Make business cards and professional looking receipts. Consult with professionals for advice on taxes and bookkeeping. There's no weakness in getting advice."

Naomi contends that 80% of the success depends on the individual entrepreneur. 80% of the businesses that were shut down were because they were badly managed.

At MATI, a would be entrepreneur is given a long list of questions regarding projected income, fixed costs, variable costs. "The list scares some people off," Naomi admits. "If that's the case it's better that they know now and don't even get started."

"What does running a business mean?" Naomi asks rhetorically. "An owner of a shoe store as well as the salesman he hired, both do the same work all day long. They both sell shoes to customers. At the end of the day is the difference: the salesman goes home, and knows he will be receiving his salary. The owner remains and must make decisions. Should he buy more shoes, offer a sale? Pay for more advertising? He knows that these decisions will affect the success or failure of his store."

Naomi believes that working at home is harder on the mother and the children than going out to a job. The more organized you are however, the easier it is. And it does allow for flexibility. She suggests getting older children to help out more and to make them feel part of the business. "Don't be afraid to tell them that they can't come in, that Mommy is working now." She suggests using a babysitter for young children during work times.

Naomi agrees with the mothers interviewed that a separate room and entrance is a big help. "It allows you to clear your mind," she says, "to change your focus." As for the difficulty in limiting clients, she recommends set hours. "People find it easier to keep to hours than to having to make an appointment."

"Work is not a hobby," Naomi says. "There is always something to improve. Don't underestimate the success a business from home can have. "

After hearing these inspiring stories, and professional advice, I think about my own experiences as a freelance writer and creative writing teacher working out of my home. Unlike most of the women I interviewed, I work with very few boundaries or limitations. I don't have defined work hours and I don't have adequate office space set up to do the work I need to do. My children wander in and out of my room and I just go back and forth between my tasks of mother, homemaker and writer. I see that I can learn from the trial and error of the women I've been interviewing. The night before I return home, I discuss my discoveries with my husband over the telephone and we brainstorm ideas on how to rearrange the room to make it into a real office for me. The next day, when I return home, my husband has already put a fresh coat of paint on the room and rearranged all the furniture to provide me with ample space. "You do so much for us, I just wanted to show you my appreciation," he says.

Thinking of Starting Your Own Business? The experts at MATI recommend that you answer the following questions.

1. Can you be your own boss? Do you have the required self-discipline? Can you get yourself moving or you need a lot of handholding?

2. How do you handle uncertainty? Are you inclined to look for new challenges and try new, unfamiliar ways? How do you behave in unclear situations? Does uncertainty paralyze you?

3. Are you capable of making independent decisions? Are you comfortable with the situation of being solely responsible for your decisions? Or do you prefer to follow decisions taken by others?

4. Are you capable of pursuing your goal even when things get tough? Can you continue to invest time and energy in your business without being discouraged by growing difficulties?

Consider these questions based on your previous experiences. How did you feel in similar circumstances? What did you learn about yourself in this context? Start a business only if you are convinced that you have a good chance to succeed and if you think you would enjoy doing it.

The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Business

Some advantages and disadvantages of starting your own business: It depends on how you look at it. Time: Your time belongs to you. Or your business enslaves you day and night.

Challenge: A constant search for new ways of doing things. Or, constant coping with uncertainty.

Decisions: Even if you ask for advice, the decision is always yours. Or, even in times of trouble, you carry the weight of decisions alone. (Courtesy of MATI)

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