BERWICK, Maine — The Wrapsody office is a 550-square-foot refurbished carriage house painted the color of sunshine. There’s a big, antique sliding door and a large window overlooking a fenced-in yard. Inventory is stored in one corner, another has space for the kids, and another is home to desks and computers.
The space is perfect for Kristi Hayes-Devlin, owner of the baby-wearing retail shop and website, and her employee Colleen Rivera. It’s made even better by the fact that it’s steps from Hayes-Devlin’s home and five children ages 14, 12, 10, 4 and 2 years old.
“The kids can come in and out, I wanted it to be a bright and enjoyable space, somewhere I could feel like I was sitting in the middle of sunshine,” she said.
As more women like Hayes-Devlin question whether they can “have it all” — a career and a fulfilling family life — many, both nationally and in Maine, are looking into working from home or running their own businesses.
An inconspicuous increase
The Maine Department of Labor doesn’t keep statistics about how many Mainers work from home. However, those familiar with work-at-home parents — authors and family rights advocates — say they have anecdotally seen an increase.
“It’s definitely a trend, not just with mothers, but fathers, too,” said Michele Borba, the author of several books about parenting and family life. “Work shifts have changed dramatically, family time is jeopardized, so [working from home] gives many parents more time with their families.”
According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis, the number of mothers who do not work outside the home is on the rise. In 2012, 29 percent did not work outside of the home, an increase from the 23 percent in 1999. Some are unable to find work, many choose to stay home, and still others are employed by a company or have a job that allows them flexibility such as nannying other children, writing or direct sales.
Since the birth of her two children, ages 3 and 11 months, Brewer mother Kendra Osborne found a few ways to bring in extra income and stay with her kids without having a formal business or employment setup. For a few hours a day, she nannies two other children, and occasionally photographs births and family portraits.
“It was the best fit for my family because it gave me the opportunity to bring in an income and be with my kids full time,” she said.
Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research organization focused on work and family life, said a number of employers have also increased opportunities for telecommuters.
“Working from home provides a number of advantages both for employers and employees if both know how to take advantage of them,” he said.
For the employer, it can keep real estate costs down and allows companies to hire the best person for the job, regardless of where he or she may live. As for parents, it often means more time with their families and less time wasted commuting.
“It allows [parents] to structure their child care arrangements more effectively … and it allows them to think about getting to family events much more easily,” Matos said. “The more extraneous time you can cut out of a commute, it allows you more flexibility and time to get everything done.”
With the rising cost of child care, finding a work-from-home job can also cut costs for families, especially when there’s more than one child needing care, Borba said. Osborne said it’s one of many reasons she found an alternative to the office.
“I don’t have to worry about day care or babysitters, which can be a big expense, especially if I were only working part time,” she said.
For Hayes-Devlin, working from home is necessary. Soon after the birth of her third child, she found herself a single parent needing to bring in income. With $40 and a serger, she started creating wraps and branded herself as the Gypsy Momma. Since then, her family and her business, now called Wrapsody, have grown, after a new marriage and the addition of two children.
“The last nine years have been about making my business my living while also being the momma that I want to be,” Hayes-Devlin said. “I feel really strongly about being with my kids when they’re young.”
But it hasn’t always been easy, and it definitely wasn’t always balanced, something Borba said many parents working from home know all too well.
“Something always goes, it’s never as easy as you think, it’s a juggling act, but that’s parenting,” she said, adding it could mean less housework being done in exchange for spending time with the children, or less time with a spouse.
For a while Hayes-Devlin said she struggled with finding time for everything — being with her children, answering emails, managing the company’s website, finances, marketing. It all was too much.
“I was giving half of my attention to everything and starting to feel fragile,” she said, explaining that she felt guilty for not wanting to give her full attention to her business. “Learning how to separate home and business has been really important.”
About six years ago, Hayes-Devlin hired Rivera and, more recently, an in-home nanny the two women share. She also restructured her day, setting strict work hours for herself.
In the morning the family is slow to rise, spending time snuggling, reading stories and eating breakfast together. At 9 a.m., the work day begins, and at 3 p.m., the computers shut down and Hayes-Devlin spends the afternoon crafting, playing and running errands with her children. At night, if she has additional work to do, her husband will take over dinner and dishes so she can continue working.
“Having an involved partner is really helpful,” she said. “It’s hard because there’s always something else to do … when you’re employed, you do your list of things and you go home. As a business owner, there’s always something to grow the business, but that doesn’t mean it has to be done.”
When she’s not working, the family will go to concerts, work at a nearby farm and just enjoy each other’s company.
Looking forward, Hayes-Devlin knows she’s facing changes. The older three children are all in public school, but she’s thinking about homeschooling the younger two, at least for a few years.
It would mean restructuring the business and her days, but it’s something she and her husband are considering.
“There are big questions we need to answer coming up,” she said.
She knows many moms who want to run their own businesses or work from home and said for the right person with the right job, it’s the perfect setup, albeit not easy.
“If you’re committed to being home with your kids and you need or want to have a professional life, it’s great.” But, she said, moms and dads should know it’s not all sunshine and roses.
“It’s an imperfect chaos all the time. Don’t go into it thinking it’ll be perfect. It’s more like a beautiful, swirling wind and rain storm, like one of the warm ones.”
It’s also important to remind yourself that you should and deserve to make money.
“A lot of moms start businesses because they’re passionate about something and they feel like they shouldn’t make money,” Hayes-Devlin said. “Tell yourself that you’re taking time away from your family to do something. Think of an hourly wage, include that in your cost and don’t feel guilty.”
As for those parents who work from home, but not running their own business, Matos said communication is key.
“These type of arrangements really work best when the employer and employee can talk openly about how time will be used best, what tasks need to be completed and what the expectations are,” he said.