If you work from your home or would like to work from home and have a family (your partner counts as family if you don’t have kids!), stop skimming, sit up, and pay attention. This may be the most important thing you have read in a while.
A friend of mine recently quit her stay at home consulting job due to her work-life balance getting out of whack. I’ll let her out herself in due time, but let’s just say she’s no small fry and she’s very good at what she does.
The problem was that her work became the only thing that she was doing – but she’s a wife and mother, too. Her words:
“I spent so much time and effort trying to be physically present at home that I forgot about being mentally and psychologically present.”
If you work from home, ask yourself whether you’re fully present or just physically present. If you’re planning on working from home, ask yourself whether you’ll be able to separate work from life.
Working outside of the home creates very natural barriers between your work and your life. You physically work at a different place at fairly regular times, and your heart and mind follows suit. There’s the work you do, and then there’s where you want to be – home.
When you work from home, those barriers break down. There’s the work you do at the place you want to be – so what’s the need to take off work? You’re there, aren’t you?
No, you’re not. Home is where the heart and mind rests – not where your ass does.
The living room couch becomes subtly tainted when it becomes the de facto office. You’re not chilling with your spouse if you’re sitting next to her while you’re working – you’re working, and she’s doing something else. There’s a silence there you can’t hear because you’re too busy working to your background music with headphones on.
Children quickly learn the difference between you at work and you at home. But when you work from home, they get confused – and the confusion is magnified when you work from home more than you do anything else. This confusion manifests itself in temper tantrums, showing out, and distancing since they can’t come up with more “adult” ways of getting you to spend time with them.
The most pernicious problem for your family is that you don’t just transform your homespace into workspace – you transform everyone’s space. Remember when you hated going to work? Imagine their frustration when (your) work invades their home and they have nowhere else to go. Imagine their frustration when they can’t talk to you in their natural setting because you’re working during what’s naturally understood to be family time.
I’ll save the tips for how to create “work” boundaries at home for later. It is possible to work from home without the dire effects, but they sneak up on you before you realize it. You don’t want to get into the situation in which your relationships are irreparably broken or where you have to hide in your own home away from your work to save those relationships.
Your family doesn’t want your body to be home – they want your heart and mind to be there. Given the choice between you being gone for 8-10 hours but home for 4 and you working from home but never being there, I’d bet most would choose the former over the latter. Don’t make them make this choice mentally or otherwise.
It’s summertime! Take off from work and take your spouse out for an unannounced summer stroll. If you have kids, take them outside and catch fireflies.
You’ll remember it as the day you took off work. They’ll remember it as the day you came home.
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Timely post for me, Charlie since I realised while I was on holiday that this is exactly what I’ve been doing for some time. Physically here, but mentally and emotionally distracted. I’m always writing and working, even if I’m not. If you get what I mean.
I know my son deserves better and I’ll regret it if I don’t make some changes. Only thing is I am a bit stuck on how to bring about this change in a meaningful way. One step at a time? I always tell myself this even when I have no idea where my foot is going to land.
Charlie, you are spot-on with this one. I sometimes regret the longish days I’m spending away from home (but appreciating living solidly in the black), and while I appreciate the flexibility to work at home now and then, I really like going home and getting absorbed in kids and routines. In fact I find it actively irritating to try to carve work space out of family space.
And to really ramble here, I wonder if “science” is someday going to do a much better job of defining the invisible connections and rhythms that link people, and what it’ll say about parent-kid dynamics, and — to venture into highly controversial waters — whether there are differences between what moms and dads contribute. Somehow it seems that the mom is often the family time keeper and pace setter.
I am currently struggling with the limits of what I as a working parent can accomplish. Maybe I just need to be working on a really good “to do in the next stage of life” list. Would welcome productive flourishing insights.
Kellys last blog post..Rites of Passage
@ Kelly (SHE-POWER): I do get what you mean about working and writing, even when you’re not. That’s probably the thing that frustrates Angela the most about the way I work – whether or not I’m actively working, my mind is percolating the ideas I’m thinking about. She knows when the wheels are turning on that and not on family stuff, so I’m still not “there.” I totally understand you.
In the near future I’ll write about ways to set barriers between work at home when you work at home, but I suspect the reversal will happen as gradually as the original change did. In other words, you won’t see it while it’s happening, but it’ll be happening nonetheless.
@ Kelly: Glad to see you’re back! I think science has come a long way to recognizing those connections – and I think it would have come much further if we, as humans, didn’t try to distance us so much from our physical natures.
What I mean is that moods, productivity, and interactions are all chemical based, and as there become regularities in our chemicals, there become regularities in the other things, as well. Simple things like waking up at the same time, eating meals on schedule, working for set times, interacting at set times, etc. stabilize those chemicals. The mental-physical interplay is amazingly complex, on the one had, but amazingly simple at the same time.
I think most of the differences between what mothers and fathers contribute is socially based. For instance, our society socializes men differently than it does women when it comes to physical interactions. Women (and, by default, mothers) are more physically affectionate, and we know that hormones that stimulate bonding behaviors are passed through touching. So mothers play more of the hub of the home because they’ve shared the chemicals with everyone in the family more than fathers (statistically speaking) have. It doesn’t help that men don’t produce as much of these hormones as women do, either.
We’ll talk offline about the limits of being a working parent. The short answer is that you can’t be a full-time parent and a full-time worker, too. Some compromises have to be made.
You know how the universe shouts out things to you, and only sometimes you listen? Well, I completely randomly stumbled upon your blog and this post, and it is the most timely thing I have read in a long time.
I’ve worked from home for 7 years now, but only recently with the job I’ve had for the past year, have I really struggled with that balance and turning things off. Tonight, I have been contemplating resigning from my job. I think I just found the hit in the head I’ve been waiting for.
Kristens last blog post..Just Don’t Think About It
Andre Kibbe says
“The most pernicious problem for your family is that you don’t just transform your homespace into workspace – you transform everyone’s space.”
Dead accurate. It’s vital to create a workstation that’s physically separate from the rest of the household, if the available space allows for it at all. It doesn’t have to be partitioned, but it should be visually distinct enough so that when you’re sitting there, it’s obvious to others (not to mention yourself) that you’re working.
I’m a big believer in scheduling personal activities as methodically as professional ones. If you’re not spending enough time with loved ones, quantify your idea of “enough,” block that time in your calendar, and honor it the same way you would your work.
Andre Kibbes last blog post..Six Reasons to Use Text Messages Instead of Voice Calls
Derek Ralston says
Interesting topic, I didn’t realize so many work-at-home individuals have this problem. I think the best solution would be to create a daily ritual where you “disconnect” from work-related activities at a certain time. At the same time, this means you can’t always be available to your family during working hours. So the goal would be to set boundaries between work/productive hours and family/recovery hours.
Derek Ralstons last blog post..When Predicting Happiness, Your Imagination is Wrong
@ Derek: Aye, therein lies the rub. The issues of boundaries are both internal or external – i.e. you have to live up to them, and those around do, as well. This is hardest with children, methinks.
Thanks for commenting!
Stephanie Phillips says
Charlie, it is so timely that I came across this post. I read alot of your posts on Facebook and it connected me to this one. I too have been working from home for several years. I originally loved that I negotiated this into my contract so that I could be home more with my children. Unfortunately, I missed a lot of milestones with them when they were younger because I was always “physically absent” due to work. I have seen some of these same things happen to me as gradually as you mentioned. I’m physically present, but my mind is always on work and usually my body follows. I became very ill a while back due to the “work all the time” mentality and have seen the error in my ways. I am now in process of making those barriers in my life to promptly shut down my computer at 5 like every normal person…LOL. It is a hard transition to teach yourself to shut down your mind and body to work at a certain time, to not answer the emails that come to your blackberry at 10p.m. especially during tax season, and learning to make that family time. Of course my children are loving the change and I only wish I had seen your post earlier. What a wonderful thing to remind us workaholics of.
Great points. When I became self employed I worked from home for a few months, and i quickly lose track of time, and ended up working all day.
Now, I work in a co-working space, which forces me to get out of the house everyday. I highly recommend it to anyone who can afford it, and is self employed.