Why are you always working?
Like the Professor busted in on by his kids while commenting live on the BCC, I work from home. As Professor Kelly — and the world — is now very much aware, working from home is not all smooth sailing, particularly if you have a few small humans occupying the same space.
Unlike the Professor, I’ve not been interrupted by my young children at such an inconvenient (or hilarious) moment. I have, however, had my fair share of juggling moments, and have been known to hurriedly dash from room to room, trying to find a quiet spot to take a call. I’ve had a week-old baby laying across the desk, feeding, while I — unshowered, exhausted, and running on a few hours sleep — try to answer emails and sustain my child at the same time. I’ve strapped my baby to my body and headed out into the world, stopping for lunch, a coffee and to catch up on work between appointments.
For the most part I love the flexibility that comes from working from home. I love that I don’t lose hours each week to commuting (I strongly dislike both driving and public transport; I’m not an auditory learner, so audiobooks are wasted on me, and for some reason travel of all sorts makes me anxious. So not commuting is a big plus). I love that 40 hours work takes me away from my family and the rest of my life, for pretty much 40 hours. I love that I can put in big hours on rainy days, and skip out for an hour to the beach with my kids when it’s a gorgeous Gold Coast morning. I love that I don’t have to pack myself lunch each day, and that I save money with our home espresso machine. I love that if my husband needs a hand with our girls, who are 18 months and 3.5 years old, because it’s “one of those days”, I can give him that help right away. I love that I can do important meetings sans-pants.
There are things I don’t love, like the willpower it takes to not “just check on emails” or to keep discussing work with my husband (a symptom of the fact we both work on the business). The noise of a child just outside my office door having a meltdown about something (cup colour, presence of crusts, absence of peanut butter, presence of sister, absence of sister, and so on….) also has it challenges. But overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives and I feel genuinely blessed to have the flexibility in my work life that I do.
But then my eldest daughter came in one morning, rubbing her eyes as she found me already at my desk (another thing I love — the early start and the mid-arvo finish. Makes me feel like my day is so much longer!). She climbed up on my lap and snuggled in quietly. As she was still so (uncharacteristically) quiet and calm, I ruffled her hair, hugged her close and then continued on with a few emails.
After a while, she started to chatter, so I stopped working and chatted with her. Then I explained that today was a Daddy day, that I was working today, and so she better go out to the kitchen and help Dad make some brekky.
“Why do you always work, Mummy?”.
Kids have a way of really cutting to the chase, don’t they?
With that question, I realised that because I work from home, and the girls are only at kindy for about half that time, they regularly see me working and are frequently told “no don’t go in there, Mummy’s working” (Dad also works from home, but mostly only on the days the girls are at kindy. He also has a lower ‘ambient noise’ aka ‘screaming kid in background’ tolerance, and so tends to work any extra hours from a cafe). While never as dramatic as the door grab at the end of Professor Kelly’s now infamous segment, we do have our fair share of “quickly, get the kids out of the office” moments.
I’m sure people who work outside their homes also experience these moments, and that their kids wonder the same thing, perhaps packaged as “why do you have to go to work again?”. But my little one has obviously been seeing an awful lot of “work” time, and in her mind, work is the thing I do that stops me spending time with her.
And so I found myself trying to explain to a 3.5 year old what work is, why we work, how work somehow translates into stuff like food in the fridge and books on the shelf, and swimming lessons and the freedom to do fun stuff. She got it, sort of…. as much as a three year old can. She skipped off to help Dad get the day underway and I promised to head to the beach with her as soon as my work day was done.
I’m lucky in that I could honestly say to her that I enjoy my work, and also I have a degree of freedom around my time; if I get some great solid work done, I can take more time in the day to spend with her, as it’s my own business and I’m not totally tied to a timesheet. I don’t want her to think that work is something we do that we hate, however I also don’t want her thinking I prefer my work to my family. What a tightrope to walk in a discussion with a small child!
I’m more conscious than ever of the importance of boundaries around work and life, particularly when they overlap so significantly by occurring in the same space. I have a new awareness of the way my kids interpret everything around them, and how they piece together what they see and hear, combining it with their growing understanding of a complex world.