Confessions of a Work-at-Home Mom: Not-So-Great Expectations
One of the great things about being a work-at-home mom is that at preschool meet-and-greet events, it’s easy to identify with different types of moms. One’s eyes don’t glaze over when the stay-at-home moms talk about the treachery they face at the carpool line when they’re picking up their older kids, and it’s easy to feel equally as able to hang loose amongst a group of moms sounding off about bosses and deadlines and strategies for stopping runs in panty hose.
But there’s a flipside to this whole act of go-between, and it reared its ugly head last week when I received an angry phone call from a fellow work-at-home mom.
Sometimes the tables are turned and moms like my colleague and I aren’t given credit as either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. Sometimes we get stuck in this weird limbo place where a co-worker thinks it’s OK to ask us something like, “Oh, could you make sure your daughter isn’t in the room when our boss rings in for a conference call? Because, to be frank, we want you to seem like a professional.”
“It wasn’t so much what she said about making sure my daughter wasn’t in the room that bothered me,” my friend said. “It was her assumption that because I work at home and that my daughter might need to ask me a question during a conference call that I’m disqualified from being considered a professional.”
While my pal’s war story was disappointing, there is some good news: I think more folks are coming around to the idea that this work-at-home thing is actually pretty great, and that work-at-home professionals are worthy of the same stripes as their office-bound counterparts are.
And, thankfully, lots of folks who were skeptical of this new model are checking in for an attitude adjustment, too. Several companies here in Tulsa and Oklahoma are coming to the understanding that a parent might just be a better worker if s/he could work from home for a few days each week. The fewer frustrations and fires to put out at home, these employers are finding, the more productive, creative and, perhaps most important, committed the employee – all of which could mean more black on the annual report at the end of the year than you could find in the closet of Morticia Addams.
Plus, I think more and more of us are seeing that rigid, circa-1950s attitudes about what constitutes real, honest work here in America are not so healthy for our families. There’s nothing saying that a caregiver who wants to be home when the kids get off the bus doesn’t do work after the kids start on their math problems that’s of the same quality as the work he does in the morning while he’s in the office and the kids are busy in class.
And why is it so easy to forget about the many, many professionals out there who have done their best work from home? Emily Dickinson, Ayelet Waldman, Anne Lamott and Stephen King come to mind. Of course, they’re all writers (and now it’s no secret what sort of career I most admire), but three out of the four professionals I just mentioned shared or continue to share their workspace with their children.
And if you’ve ever tried to write a coherent sentence over the squeals of glee in the playroom next door, then you know what a huge accomplishment writing an entire book, not to mention multiple best-selling ones and even one or two that gets canonized as a classic, must be.
Perhaps the most famous of today’s work-at-home parents are bloggers like Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com and Ree Drummond of ThePioneerWoman.com. While Heather pioneered this world in which blogging is accessible to practically anyone with thumbs and an Internet connection, Ree is the author of a best-selling cookbook and the inspiration for an upcoming major motion picture.
My bet is that no one has asked either of these women to shush their children on conference calls any time recently, and no one could argue that though they have to cram their work hours into the spaces left between meeting the needs of their children that they’re not highly productive and efficient – get ready – media professionals.
So now, thanks in part to folks like these who have blazed new trails in what we’re allowed to call “real work,” we have wonderful things like flex-time and telecommuting and job sharing, and it’s all wonderful, lovely stuff. While it takes some strategy, some serious time management skills and sometimes a little sacrifice, I don’t think that anyone would argue that more time together as families, even if there’s an open briefcase and a glowing laptop on the playroom floor, is going to threaten our capitalist society or corporate American culture.
I also think that, with technology advancing at the relentless pace it obviously enjoys, we can only expect for more of these new definitions of what work is allowed to be to come our way, and that goes for moms and dads as well as those who will never see a bill from a university for 14 campus parking tickets darken the door of their mailbox.
In the meantime, though, I’m gonna channel Rodney Dangerfield and ask for one thing to happen between stay-at-home parents, work-from-office parents, work-from-home parents and, well, humans in general: A little respect. It’s what we owe to all of our colleagues as professionals, and we owe it just as much to our friends and family and neighbors as one of the six billion people on this planet.
In fact, it’s usually a pretty good policy (both in business and otherwise) to treat someone respectfully, even if we don’t think that person deserves it at the time. Sometimes that means we have to think before we speak. Which, and as I know from experience, can be pretty tough sometimes, but I’m still holding onto the belief that most of us can do it most of the time.
The bonus in taking the time to run your mind over your words before they jump from between your lips is, you probably won’t find amongst your worries that your unthinking comment ended up as an anecdote on a mommyblog. And I’m pretty sure that your boss – should your identity be revealed on that mommyblog, that is – would classify this sort of development as much less professional than the sounds of a toddler on the other end of a conference call.
Look. This world is full of people. Lots of them make babies at some point in their lives. The sooner we’re allowed to do that free of the antiquated expectations that limit our creativity and the bounds of what we’re able to accomplish in the world of work, the closer all of us, regardless of our status as parents or not, will be to striking a balance between working to live and living to work.