Before you have kids, working late is really no big deal. Maybe you text your spouse (if you have one) to let them know. You order a pizza with your coworkers and crank to meet your deadline. Go home, go to bed, day over.
Like with everything else in life, having kids complicates the whole working late thing.
Since I started my job at a tech startup, I’ve had more than a few work days that turned into late work nights. Last summer felt like one big blur of “grind,” as startup types call it.
Thank GOD I never have to stay late just because the boss-man does, as Cindy Krischer Goodman writes about in this Work-Life Balancing Act article. (Been there, done that, though. Ugh.) Rather, I’m usually just trying to catch up after a bunch of meetings or finish a piece of work that simply needs to get done.
Trouble is, my kids (in particular, my 8-year-old daughter) haaaate when I work late. Every morning, Cassie demands to know WHEN I will home that day—and begs me to come home early “so we can cuddle.” (Which I look forward to, as well!)
When I do come home late—against her wishes, of course—big, dramatic tears stream down her face as she scolds me for my tardiness. “I missed you SO MUCH, Mommy. Why do you ALWAYS have to work late and go to meetings and NEVER SPEND ANY TIME with us?!” Oh, the drama that girl can produce. I hope soap operas are still around when she grows up and looks for a job.
I should mention that my son, age 4, is less fazed by my time away, although I hear he’s been known to utter “Where’s Mom?” or “I miss Mom” from time to time. James always tackles me at the door with a big, boisterous hug and shouts, “MOM! I missed you SO MUCH!” Which feels amazing rather than drama- or guilt-inducing.
Sometimes, no matter how efficient and productive you are at your job, those occasional late work days are inevitable. I feel fortunate to have the Hubs—whose job is more flexible—be willing and able to fill in those evening gaps if I can’t make it home for dinner. (For those who don’t have that option, Working Mother offers practical tips on how to prep for unexpected late nights.) A simple text to Jay and I can rest easy knowing our kids are in good hands (their dad’s) until I can make it home.
I also try to help my children understand that as much as I love spending time with them, sometimes your job has to come first. That’s part of being a professional and earning a good living to support your family. All wonderful teachable moments and totally well-intentioned on my part.
But still. The tears and pleading—they come.
What can I do or say to help matters (if anything)? How can I frame the concept of “working late” in a way my young kids can get, so no one feels tortured by the experience?
Any advice or words of wisdom are most welcome.