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Mom's New Ballgame: Career at Home

By Shelley Donald CoolidgeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 13, 1998


Lesley Spencer discovered that a day at home can be just as demanding as a day at the office.

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For the past two years, the mother of two toddlers has been running a national organization for work-at-home moms from her renovated attic in Austin, Texas.

While being at home means lunches and afternoons in the park with her children - something her former job as a golf tour coordinator didn't allow - it doesn't mean a slower schedule.

"It's definitely harder than I thought," concedes Ms. Spencer, who clocks 30-plus hours a week around her children's naps, sitters, and play groups.

Indeed, the number of moms combining work and career under one roof is rising rapidly. In just two years, membership in Spencer's organization - Home-Based Working Moms - has climbed from zero to nearly 500 women. An estimated 7 million to 8 million mothers with young children work at home, and a new Labor Department study finds that the number of wage and salary workers working at home nearly doubled from 1991 to 1997.

With quality child care at a premium, working women increasingly want ways to spend more time with their children without sacrificing a paycheck or sidelining their careers.

Many opt to telecommute or work at home as independent contractors. Others start their own businesses or practices.

"Increased flexibility - about where and when you work - is a growing issue for women and men," says Marcia Brumit Kropf, a work and family researcher at Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit group. "Women with young children want to eliminate a long commute or feel more accessible to their kids, and working at home gives them the freedom to do this."

Indeed, many moms attest that working from home makes it easier to weave career, child care, and household duties throughout the day rather than trying to develop a rhythm outside of the 9-to-5 workday.

"When you're a work-at-home mom, you have to see it as one integrated job," says Lisa Roberts, author of "How to Raise a Family and a Career Under One Roof" (Bookhaven Press, 1997).

The Fairfield, Conn., mother of four - ages 2 to 11 - has been working out of her home since she had her first child.

She now runs a desktop-publishing and communications consulting firm and will soon launch the National Association of Work-at-Home Professionals. Three years ago, she decided to try corporate life again, as membership director at a trade association, but left after several months.

"We went through three nannies in three months," says Ms. Roberts, whose children were 7, 4, and 1.

"I missed my children," she says, "and I didn't feel in control like I did when I worked from home.

"It made me realize how much easier it is to balance work and family when you're doing it from one location," Roberts says.

And children get to see their parents at work - and see them happy about working.

"When they see their Dad come home, he's tired," Roberts says. "They don't get to see him at the height of his day."

Echoes Margaret Wermer of Needham, Mass: "Unless you're going to use full-time day care, one person needs to have a flexible job in a family today."

Seven years ago, she realized she spent most of her salary on child care and left her job as an attorney to tend her two children (then ages 1 and 5).