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A single mom does things her way

Joanna Brinjak Furlong has been writing professionally since 2002. Originally from Arizona, Joanna now resides in Los Angeles. She works in marketing for a travel company by day, and writes and consults on the side. Joanna enjoys intervi...

Living life with intention

The story of a single mom who went from working outside the home to telecommuting to become a better parent to her two daughters.
Shelly with daughter

Shelly is a single mother of two girls, ages 12 and 15, and she works in business development for a large tech company in Chicago. She took her current job seven years ago, knowing then that she was on the path to becoming a single mom. Her divorce from her first marriage was on the horizon, and she knew that she had to make a career move that would allow her to completely change her lifestyle so she could truly be a provider and mother for her two young girls. That translated to working remotely, having complete mobility and a 180-degree change in the way she approached fulfilling her goals, in and out of the workplace.

Not what she had planned

Shelly began motherhood with the full intention of being a stay-at-home mom. But when her kids were very young, she was forced to make a dramatic shift in her expectations when she and her former husband had to meet urgent family financial obligations. As the years passed and her marriage dissolved, Shelly’s job evolved into a true career as she had no choice but to provide for her two children — solo. Shelly is not alone: The Wall Street Journal reports the number of families headed by single moms "has increased more than 30% since 1990, to more than 10 million." What that means is that families headed by married couples make up less than two-thirds of today’s families overall.

"As a single mom, you just have to do. You have no choice," Shelly says. "In my previous job, I could have taken a path upwards in my career, but then I’d be sacrificing time with my kids. After my divorce, I knew I needed to move to a job that was more flexible."

Working from home gave way to flexibility

Working from home has provided Shelly with the flexibility she needs to do it all. In the morning, she is able to take her kids to the bus stop or get them to where they need to be for the day. She’s able to either work from home, visit clients or work in a coffee shop. In the afternoon she is home for her kids, and at night she often revisits her work from her laptop or iPad. Working from home has afforded her the flexibility to take care of herself — visit the doctor perhaps, take the dog to the vet if needed or attend a school event — all without having to feel guilty.

"I don’t make apologies," Shelly declares. "I work for a company that values mobility."

Shelly reflects back on her former days in a typical corporate office — spending eight to 10 hours in a sterile cubicle environment — and she knows she can never again return to that lifestyle. She recalls feeling guilty if she had to miss work for personal care, and she never wanted to take vacation days. It just wasn’t healthy. Now she is able to work where she wants and at her most productive times of the day — and she is joining the estimated 30 million Americans who currently work from home, a number expected to increase 63 percent in the next five years. However, despite all of these perks, her first year on the job working remotely was tough.

"I felt like I had to explain myself all the time," she says. "Like I had something to prove. But no one questioned me; you just get your stuff done. I don’t have just a 40-hour workweek by any stretch of the imagination."

Tech tools keep her organized

Shelly has embraced today’s tech tools and various applications to manage her personal and work life. Beyond her computer, she has an iPad and iPhone, and she calls into meetings using WebEx. For her daughters, she leverages an app called Cozi for the ultimate family calendaring — she has her daughters schedule time with her or note important events. She also frequently uses Facetime to chat with family members face-to-face and to maintain close relationships. And one of her career networking secrets? Facebook.

"Facebook always gives me something to talk about with a client or customer," she says. "And I don’t post things on there that I don’t want clients to see."

Lesson for her kids

Shelly's daughters

Above all, throughout this experience Shelly has learned to live life with intention, and she is always concerned by what her kids see and experience through her.

"I don’t want my kids to see a workaholic parent," she says. "But I also need to teach my kids that you need to protect yourself and get an education."

And she wonders what her children will think of her career and lifestyle when they reach the point in their own lives when they decide what they want to do and how they want to live. After all, "there’s a uniqueness to this lifestyle that is hard to explain to someone who has never done it."

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