I've been a Must-Have Parent every day that I've been a parent. And I've been a not-working-in-a-workplace parent for all of those days too.
(We really need a better way to say that, by the way.)
My oldest just turned 12, so for 12 years now I've been either a full-time, stay-at-home-mom; a part-time work-from-home mom; or a full-time work-from-home mom. And I've been nothing but grateful for the flexibility my various employers have allowed me to have.
But now I'm starting to wonder if it's really a blessing.
Rarely does a day go by when I don't stop to think about how lucky I am. Rarely is there a school program I miss. I even get to volunteer at the school from time to time. Rarely do I stress over how to get my kids to doctor and dentist appointments. Rarely do I worry about scheduling vacation days so that I can go somewhere with my husband when he gets last-minute days off.
I work from home. That means I can work from anywhere. But it also means that I work from everywhere. All the time.
Rarely do I schedule vacation days, because rarely do I actually have a vacation day. Rarely do I stress over those dentist and doctor visits because I know that I can just work late into the night to make up the missed hours.
Right now, I'm writing this while my kids are in a karate class. I'm not watching to see how their kicks and punches have improved. I'm not sure if any of them knows even a fraction of what they'll need to know for their next testing.
Last weekend, we decided to drive to Orlando to celebrate my son's birthday. On a normal weekend, I would have spent at least half of Saturday and part of Sunday making up work that didn't get done during the week. But being trapped in a car, a hotel room, and in a theme park with the (really loud!) people I love most in the world is not conducive to writing. I didn't get my work done. I missed my deadline (which is why I'm writing this during karate class). And I had a blast.
I had -- wait for it -- a weekend.
That's why I'm wondering if maybe working from home isn't as great as I've always assumed. Maybe all this flexibility is costing me the ability to leave work. Maybe the price I've been paying, without even realizing it, for all this flexibility is down time. And down time, as I re-learned this weekend, is a pretty great thing.
I've never been a work-from-work mom so I don't have that experience. When I worked in a regular workplace, I didn't have kids. My stresses and responsibilities were very different. And I totally get that it depends on the job. I have enough office-toiler friends to know that many of them bring work home in the evenings and on weekends too.
But, assuming I could wrap up my work each day and not bring it home with me, maybe keeping office hours wouldn't be so bad?
Or maybe I'm just doing work-from-home wrong?
My work-from-home day typically includes lots of at-home stuff sprinkled throughout. I send some work emails and then switch out a load of laundry. I do some writing or editing and then run the vacuum. I make a few work calls and then hit the grocery store.
Maybe the key to working from home and still leaving work at the end of the day is to not do housework during working hours? But then how would I handle those doctor's appointments and school programs? And if I'm sitting at home and seeing dog hair on the carpet and dishes in the sink, will I even be able to focus on work? And isn't being able to do these things during the day kind of the point of working from home?
I'm hardly the first person to exit the cubicle only to find new problems on the other side. There are tons of blog posts and articles with tips for managing competing home and work dilemmas.
Spoiler alert: All the advice offered is pretty much common sense. I know that I should define boundaries better, create a serene workspace, limit distraction etc. but, back in the real world, the real world keeps intruding on my best-laid plans.
I'm guessing at least a few of you out there also work from home. What works for you? Or, if you used to work from home but chose to go back to brick-and-mortar, what pushed you to make that change? And what have you noticed as a result?