Last week was my first day back at work, and for all the nerve-steeling and tearduct-sandbagging I’d done in preparation for this next big step in my mothering life, I’m suprised and relieved to report that it wasn’t that bad at all. Awkward (but not impossible!) pumping process aside, it was actually downright great to be back among the grownups. Great to shower and do my hair and brush my teeth and drive into town with a hot mug of tea, knowing I’d be able to finish it while it was still warm. Glorious! Even though going back to work would mean stepping back into a position of myriad serious responsibilities, I was thrilled to know that at least none of those responsibilities would leak on me. When I got home from the office that first evening, it was with an invigorated spirit and a clean shirt; I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. It wasn’t until my second day of work that things started to get complicated…Through some miracle, I’m fulfilling my new part-time schedule by working only one day in the office and the rest of the hours at home. Thus, my second day on the job didn’t begin with a shower and a mug of tea warm straight through to the finish but instead with a bleary-eyed stumble in slippers up into my attic workspace while my baby and his daddy slept in the bedroom below. It felt good to be so close in case either of them needed me, but, to be honest, after my first taste of eight baby-free hours earlier that week, I was kind of hoping they wouldn’t need me. At least not until my lunch break.
Although father and son make a superb team and we’re all lucky to have Dad instead of daycare, as the hours progressed there were a handful of occasions on which cries of “Mommy!” echoed through the halls. A few times it was because the baby was hungry and refusing the bottle, but several other times it was because Simon needed a hand with something: Could I watch the baby while he took the garbage out? Could I assist with a particularly horrendous diaper change? Could I take the kid outside for five minutes so his screams wouldn’t interrupt an important business call?
My initial reaction to these requests was to give a hardline answer: No. Absolutely not. I’m working up here. I can’t help you because I’m being paid to spend these hours working on work. I rolled my eyes and huffed and puffed, and then I wondered why I was working from home at all if this was what I’d have to deal with. Why didn’t I just go to my office and be free of these distractions?
Why, indeed. Obviously, when I’m working from home, I actually need to be working, not watching the baby while Simon showers, or throwing in loads of laundry on the company dime. But, on the other hand, why am I working from home at all if not for the flexibility that allows me to be present at home, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally? I certainly can’t run downstairs every time I hear the boys having fun without me, but if Simon calls up that the baby is crawling for the first time, what am I going to do? Ignore him? Pretend I’m ten miles across town instead of ten feet above? Of course not.
Working from home is a privilege, and one not to be abused or taken for granted, but in order to make the most of it I think I need to learn how to let my home life to seep into my home office once in a while. It’s going to be a difficult process–especially since I didn’t see it coming–but I trust that eventually the boundaries will fall into place and all three of us will learn the difference between an interruption and an opportunity. Otherwise, I might as well just put on a clean shirt and head into town, since that’s the only way to ensure I won’t be bothered by silly things like my baby’s smiles and my spouse’s hugs and having a whole range of meal options instead of the sad frozen entree du jour.
There are a lot of you out there who work from home while your kids are on the premises, so I’m curious: How do you do it? Do you try to completely separate yourself from the home while you’re working at home? Or do you take advantage of the convenience and flexibility in this arrangement and find that elusive healthy balance between work life and home life?