Last weekend, while at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with my main employers, we spent a lot of time comparing notes on our children. “When people find out I work from home, they can’t believe I still have my two kids in full-time daycare,” said one of my bosses, the female half of a husband-wife team. “But what do they think I’m doing? I’ve got work to get done, and you can’t do that with a three-year-old and a one-year-old around.”
I’ve had the same experience. Working from home is wonderful in many regards, and it does give you added flexibility when things come up like doctor’s appointments and snow days. But it’s not like you can just blissfully take care of your children while you’re working on an important proposal or participating in a conference call. Young children, in particular, need supervision and engagement, and their accidents and crises always tend to hit just when a critical client is on the phone.
That’s why, when my four-year-old didn’t have pre-school on Friday, I arranged for her to go to her sitter’s. I decided we’d make it a more leisurely morning, but when breakfast was over and cartoons had been watched, we were definitely headed for daycare. And then she said, “I don’t want to go to ___’s today. I want to stay home with you.”
“But Mommy has work,” I told her. “It’s going to be really boring here, and ___ has lots of toys at her house, plus kids you like to play with. Wouldn’t you have more fun going over there?”
“No,” she said. “I can just play by myself while you work.” She looked so earnest, like she really got it. Plus, she’s been so helpful and accommodating in general lately, that I figured we could give it a try.
“OK,” I said. “But you can’t get your feelings hurt if I can’t play with you, and if you bother me too much, I’m going to take you over to ____’s.”
She agreed, and the experiment was on. And you know what? It went pretty well! She spent about an hour coloring by herself at the kitchen table. Then she put on her tutu and watched her ballet DVDs (thank God “Sleeping Beauty” is 4 acts lllooooooonnnng). I only had to threaten her with going to the sitter’s a couple of times. She trashed the house because I couldn’t really police her playtime and force her to put things away before she started on another project, but I figured it was a small price to pay. For most of the day, we were a nice little team.
Now, would I do this all the time? Hells no! The best way for me to concentrate on work is to have the house all to myself. And I wouldn’t have even considered it a couple of months ago. She’s just now reaching the age where she can grasp the idea that other people might have things going on that don’t revolve around her.
In a few months I’ll have a newborn, and my boss was asking how I thought my days might go at that point. The answer? After taking some time off (how much is yet to be determined, since my schedule is flexible and I’m not expected in an office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., so I have a feeling I’ll be able to handle quite a few things without much of a hitch), the baby will go to a sitter about three days a week for the whole day. The rest of the time, I’m thinking she can stay with me, even if I am working. I remember from my first one that there was about a 7-month stretch when the baby mostly slept and laid on the floor, playing with mobiles and simple toys. I actually got a lot done during that period. Until the new one starts crawling around and throwing tantrums, I’m thinking she can be my little work-from-home helper, too — except for those days when I need the house to myself. I’ve got work to get done, after all!