Note: None of the below is to be taken as any indication that I donâ€™t absolutely adore my kids. I love them dearly, but it would be nice to be able to talk openly about the challenges of being a parent working at home without the fear that youâ€™re going to be accused of not caring about your children.
Both my kids went back to school yesterday, after being home all summer, and having the house quiet after three months of screaming and squabbling and joyous screeching and constant interruptions was just…glorious.
And this touches on something that a lot of writers (who also, of course, work at home) have to deal with: this perception that if you work at home, youâ€™re able to be some kind of super-parent to your kid(s) and manage work well at the same time, all within the bounds of a normal working day. You canâ€™t.
Well, okay. I wonâ€™t speak for you. But I canâ€™t. Something has to give.
That â€œsomethingâ€ varies from person to person, Iâ€™m sure. With me, it’s downtime for myself that goes first. Well, that and housework. I hate housework anyway (and am far from being a neat freak), so it just goes by the wayside when Iâ€™m busy. There are tons of messes kids make that absolutely have to be cleaned up right away. Broken glass jar of jam? Bodily fluids of any kind, anywhere? Stuff spilled on the dog or a bed or a sibling? I have to take care of those immediately. One hundred little tiny cars spread out all over the living room, or all the books pulled off a shelf? Those will stay there till I finish my current project and take a â€œday offâ€ to clean the house. (Yes, I can make the three-year-old clean them up himself, and he ultimately will: but that takes more time in supervision [and encouragement or discipline] than cleaning them up myself.)
People envy me for working at home; I envy people who get to go to work and just work. I averaged about sixty hours a week all summer, with both kids home. Without kids, sixty hours a week when youâ€™re working at home is completely doable–you donâ€™t have any travel time cutting into your workday, donâ€™t take lengthy lunch breaks, and so on. With kids, sixty hours a week meant that I pretty much sat at my desk trying to work (and having to get up every few minutes to do something for the kids, and then reread whatever paragraph Iâ€™d marked my stop at when I came back, so I donâ€™t miss something) from the minute I got up in the morning (usually around 4 a.m. so I have at least a few hours of quiet) until the minute I went to bed, seven days a week. It really was not pleasant.
Yet when I meet people and tell them what I do, their first reaction is often something like, â€œHow wonderful you get to stay home with your children!â€
Right. Yeah, I get a lot of quality time in (this is sarcasm)–and then I suffer a lot of guilt over it. Iâ€™m not sure when people think youâ€™re supposed to work, or how they suppose that happens. There seems to be this notion that your day can just be broken down into segments: work for three hours, play games with the kids, take a lunch, work for an hour, read to the kids, work…
Small children arenâ€™t that convenient. Theyâ€™re great big bottomless pits of want and need.
I know I do more for my kids when Iâ€™m working than the vast majority of daycares would. But am I sitting around reading books to them for long stretches, or playing cards or Candy Land? No. When Iâ€™m working, my kids watch a lot of TV (which before I became a parent I swore theyâ€™d never do) because Iâ€™m least likely to be interrupted when theyâ€™re doing that than anything else. My daughter takes care of her little brother quite a bit (and I tell her all the time how much I appreciate it). I encourage them to do everything for themselves that they can–and Iâ€™m willing to endure the mess that results from them learning to do that, which is substantial.
Every parent who works at home must manage it in their own way. I donâ€™t know what other people do, honestly. Thereâ€™s so much guilt wrapped around parenting that itâ€™s not something you can even talk about without fear that youâ€™re going to be accused of not loving your kids enough–whatever that â€œenoughâ€ is. Everyone has an opinion on parenting.
People say, â€œOh, you donâ€™t have to work that much!â€ Well, no. In my current circumstances, I donâ€™t “have” to work at all, frankly. I do this job because I get enormous satisfaction from it, and I know Iâ€™m good at it, and I know that many of my authors and editors really appreciate what I do. I know because they request me for their books, and those requests make up the vast majority of my work–to the extent that to take any substantial break from work, I inevitably have to turn down those requests, which I hate to do. I get far more satisfaction out of this job than I would from being a full-time mom, whatever â€œfull-time momâ€ means. (I think I already am a full-time mom, just with a full-time job, as well.) And again, that does not mean that I donâ€™t love my kids.
I need the mental stimulation that I get from my work. My kids, of course, need mental stimulation, too, and so I spend loads of what I make through working my brain on a fancy private school for them that works their brains very well, with teachers who (it seems) get satisfaction from their jobs.
And in the process I get five hours per school day to work in peace.
Does that make me a bad parent? Well, I certainly hope not, though I think itâ€™s in the nature of good parents to worry. I have great kids who are typical kids–with all the noisiness and rambunctiousness and neediness intrinsic to childhood. My sincerest hope is that theyâ€™ll turn out to be great adults who recognize their own value in all the aspects of their lives.