It is counterintuitive that chaos would bring order, but that is exactly what working from home has done for me. I know, I know. Kids are crazy—little vortexes of energy that suck all the concentration out of the room. But it wasn’t until a business trip took me out of town that I realized I need my children’s presence to force me to be productive.
It was the first time I had traveled alone in eight years and I approached it as such—a solo honeymoon for the work-from-home mom. It would be two whole nights away to network and be the professional adult human I once was before motherhood. But in the abundance of time, not just hours, but days to myself, I couldn’t do it. Without my kids at my heels, I could not work as well as I usually did. Somehow, time passed and I managed to get lessdone than on a day at home filled with trips to Target and the park and early mornings and late bedtimes. I needed their yammering and to know that I had to feed someone in twenty-three minutes. I need their storm and volume to get me going. And without it, I was most definitely the most unmotivated, the most at loose ends, I had ever been.
I never imagined I would stop working. I am a doer. I need incentives and projects and Post-It notes and a reason to visit Office Depot to purchase more Post-It notes. But when I found out I was pregnant with twins just after my first son turned one, I did the math. To continue working at my current job while also paying for daycare for three would actually cost me money. My paycheck would be in the negatives. So, I let go. I let go of the working-version of me and disappeared into the whirlwind of life at home with infant twins and an older son with special needs. In the beginning, when all three were still in diapers, it took all of me—every square inch of brain and physical space to keep us clothed and fed and relatively happy. And then a few years passed and we were all a little more mobile, a little more independent, and I started to think of my career again.
I began to work from home, just a little at first—five percent work and 95 percent parenting. I feared, in the beginning, that it simply wouldn’t be possible. The attention span of two-year-olds and a four-year-old is non-negotiable. But I worked in the early dark of morning, while everyone slept and then again at nap. I worked in the waiting area of the gym at a table in the sun while the kids spent an hour learning how to tumble in a space other than my living room. I grew used to these spurts of 10 or 30 minutes at a time. My mind trained itself to this rhythm and its intensity.
The kids are in preschool now two days a week, which should be every bit as freeing as it sounds. But when I have these chunks of time that I have not called my own in years, I lose the thread that kept me focused. With hours of uninterrupted work ahead, I flit from thing to thing like flipping channels. I decide to do laundry. I wander outside, stand on the deck, look at my toes and then up at the sky. I pull a few weeds. I pull up very fancy recipes on my phone that I will never make. Suddenly, an hour has passed and time is winding down faster toward school pickup and dinner and the more familiar commotion of my day. Only then can I begin to get things done. I need their dictatorial selves to put me on a deadline
This is the thing that every parent who works from home knows: working with your children in your periphery either sharpens your focus or obliterates it. This is the challenge, the constant tug-of-war between being “on duty” and “off duty”. But after years of at-home working, I am as surprised as anybody to find that my kids force me to be a better manager of my time. Because, as they like to remind me, when I’m on their clock I have no time to waste.