Work–life balancing act

Is the term “work-life balance” the ultimate oxymoron of our times? 

Many of us struggle with the challenge of remaining fully engaged in the all-important work of raising one (or more) decent human beings, while also being a fully dedicated and productive worker. 

And for those who work from home (which is, face it, all of us at one time or another — we’re looking at you, BBC dad), these two important missions are happening at the same time. 

Here are some real-life stories from local families immersed in the work-from-home trenches. They paint an of-the-minute portrait of how work-life balance shifts, teeters and (sometimes) ends up in perfect alignment. 

Nora McInerny, a Golden Valley mother of two. Photo by Brandon Werth Photography

Imperfect parenting

Nora McInerny, 34, is a Golden Valley freelance writer and author of the memoir It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) and the host of the American Public Media podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking.

A few years ago, in the span of a few weeks, she faced the loss of her second child (by miscarriage), lost her father to cancer and then lost her husband, Aaron Purmort, who died from a brain tumor. 

Today, McInerny is the mother of two boys, ages 4 and 7 months, and is a soon-to-be-stepmom to an 11-year-old and a 15-year-old.

As someone who’s often doing creative work in the company of a baby, she’s learned: “Babies aren’t quiet, especially when you’re trying to record a podcast around them. I’ve realized people probably don’t want to hear a podcast of my baby crying, farting or even babbling.” 

So McInerny’s created her own math formula for estimating how much time it will take to get a project done while working from home with kids, which she describes this way: “Multiply the number of children you have in the house by the number of hours it would take you to get the work done alone and then add 10,000 interruptions of 30 seconds or longer.” 

McInerny keeps herself going by keeping expectations low: “I’m the proud torch bearer for half-ass parenting, which is the quaint and reasonable notion that we don’t have to be perfect or ever attempt a Pinterest project.”

Her advice to other work-from-homers? 

“Don’t lose sight of the long game,” McInerny said. “Your career goals still matter, even when a tiny human depends on you. It’s not easy. But, in the end, your children will remember a mother who was capable and hard-working.”

Matt and Nicole Celichowski of St. Paul with their kids — Kate, Oscar, Roland and Everett. Photo by Sweet Light Studio

Four times the fun

For many of us, the idea of simply moving through the day as a working mother of four sounds incredibly daunting. 

Indeed, managing that — including keeping a career as a print and screen-based user experience designer — might seem downright impossible. 

But for Nicole Celichowski, 42, of St. Paul, it’s all in a day’s (and night’s) work. 

By day, she’s the mother of four kids, ages 11, 9, 7 and 2. By night — after a quick power nap while her husband, Matt, handles the dinner-bath-bed go round — she’s a nationally known designer whose clients include Disney, Corbis and Intuit. 

“It helps that I have a lot of West Coast clients,” she admitted, acknowledging that once, while powering through a major project, she told a client at 2 a.m., “If I don’t go to bed now, I won’t be able to drive anyone anywhere tomorrow.” 

While her work is creative, engaging and interesting, it’s also not the main source of her family’s income. 

The Celichowskis have made some conscious choices that allow her to freelance — or not. 

“We opted for a smaller mortgage (in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood) to lighten financial pressure, so we could have someone at home with a little less stress,” she said. “Even as the family has grown, we’ve kept the small house, and I’ve managed to keep my career alive.”

She recommends early training for kids on how to behave around a working parent. 

“The kids know not to come upstairs when Mom is working,” she said. “Fortunately, on the rare occasion I’ve had someone sneak up behind me on a Skype call, it’s not on national/international news. And I can turn off the screen share if I’m in a meeting.”

Her advice to other parents: Be careful of those pictures in your head. 

“When I first imagined doing this, I pictured a baby in an exersaucer, playing happily, while I created brilliant work. It doesn’t play out like that, or at least it didn’t for me, but it’s still a great adventure, just about all the time,” she said. 

Juggling act

Anna Serpette, 34, is a self-employed bookkeeper in the Twin Cities. 

After her son, Aidan, was born two years ago, she tried to work from home and care for him at the same time. 

“Once he got active, it just wasn’t possible,” she said. “I had thought it would get easier when he got older, but I was deluding myself.” 

These days, she relies on a patchwork schedule that blends where she works and who cares for her son. 

“Every day is different, but I do try to stick to being in the same place each day of the week,” she said. 

Sometimes she’ll go to a client’s office to work (while her sister comes to her house to care for him). Sometimes she heads to her husband’s office to do the books for his landscaping business (while her mom watches Aidan at her house). 

“Fridays are my dedicated day off, and we do some kind of activity together,” she said. 

If Serpette receives an urgent message from a client, she lets the person know she’ll get back to them on Monday. 

“I try to just be with Aidan,” she said.  

Her advice to other work-from-home parents? 

“Don’t tell yourself: ‘They’ll nap for eight hours a day and I can do all my work then!’ As soon as you say that, they won’t be good sleepers. You need to be flexible in terms of expectations for yourself and your child. It might not be perfect, but you have to figure it out as you go,” Serpette said. 

Meghan McInerny with her son, Theo

Babies at work? 

As the clock was running out on her maternity leave, Meghan McInerny (Nora McInerny’s sister) knew she had a problem. 

The chief operating officer of the Minneapolis-based marketing and technology agency Clockwork just wasn’t quite ready to, as she put it, “jump into the deep end of work” after 12 weeks’ leave. 

Then she read an article about the Parenting in the Workplace Institute and its Babies@Work program, which provides resources for workplace programs that allow parents to bring their children to work and care for them while doing their jobs. 

McInerny approached her company’s owners, who greenlighted her as the “pilot.” When her leave was up, she brought her son, Theo, to the office, first for three days a week, then two, then one. 

After about two months in the program, he transitioned to full-time daycare and McInerny was more than ready to dive fully back into work. 

“The presence of a baby had a lovely effect on people around the office and sent a strong message that this was a supportive environment for people who were parents or thinking about becoming parents,” she said. 

At Clockwork, manager approval is required to participate in Babies@Work, and two colleagues must be willing to provide backup care when a parent is in a meeting. 

Those with babies are placed in offices with doors, and co-workers can anonymously request to be seated far away from the baby. The program ends when the baby reaches 6 months or begins crawling. 

Another common-sense rule: “If the baby is having a bad day and would be disruptive, we ask the parent to work from home,” McInerny said. 

Emily and Zach Rodvold of Minneapolis with their son, Waylon. Photo by Pixel Dust Photography / Amber Rishavy

Power couple

Meet Emily Rodvold, 35, a freelance graphic designer. 

Her husband, Zach, 37, is the “serial entrepreneur” behind Rising Tide Renovations (focused on buying, renovating and selling homes in South Minneapolis and Richfield) and AssistTheResistance.com, which sells T-shirts, yard signs and cards with slogans and images (that Emily designs). 

Their son, Waylon, entered the picture a year ago. 

What’s the productivity secret for this work-from-home duo? 

“It’s the post-bedtime crunch that gets us through,” Emily Rodvold said. “Once he’s asleep, we have dinner, pull out the computers and work on projects together.” 

What’s important for this Powderhorn Park couple is holding close to the philosophy that drove them to be solopreneur parents in the first place. 

“It’s fun to take him out of daycare early on a sunny day and play outside. If you don’t enjoy those perks, you might as well get a regular job,” Emily Rodvold said. 

Emily Rodvold admits to holding onto some longer-term aspirations, too: “In my home office, I built a separate, lower desk, and I imagine that someday in the future I’ll be working and he’ll be at his desk with crayons and paper … and not drawing on the wall.” 

Apple Valley Mother Alaura Weaver with her sons

A co-working mom collective 

After freelance copywriter Alaura Weaver moved from Ohio to the Twin Cities, she found herself struggling to get work done while caring for her two sons, ages 3 and 5. She looked for a co-working space that offered on-site child care, and when she couldn’t find one, the Apple Valley mom founded Twin Cities’ Work Play Grow: A Co-Working Collective for Moms. 

“It’s a way for parents to come together, switch off child-care duties and get work accomplished,” Weaver said. “We match up groups of at least three parents, who rotate co-working sessions at each other’s houses. One person takes a shift of child care while the other parents work.” 

The concept has been gaining traction, and Weaver reports she now has about 30 moms signed up via a Facebook group (facebook.com/groups/workplaygrow). 

“There’s no charge,” she said. “I just felt this was a resource we needed in our community, so I’m hoping to fill the gap.” 

Even with regular co-working sessions, last-minute work still pops up. When Weaver is slamming on deadlines, her go-to solution is a late-night session at the Perkins in Apple Valley. 

“I have dinner ready when my husband gets home, and he handles evening duties,” she said. “I order a bottomless carafe of coffee and get some serious work done.”


Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local and national publications. She lives in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.