Get the Baby off the Ceiling, Please: When Working from Home isn’t Working

As a parent, I learned quickly that, in order to be productive, I had to be out of the house. I have two young children — a 6-year-old who has some relatively minor developmental challenges and a 2-year-old who has done more to reinforce the “terrible twos” stereotype than anyone I’ve ever met. Both of them need and deserve an extraordinary amount of attention.

For years, now, I’ve telecommuted— one of the things I’ve enjoyed about working at Breaking Even is the ability to work anywhere that has wifi.  Almost anywhere, that is.

My house, be it ever so humble, is a no-fly zone when it comes to being productive. This was reinforced recently when I announced my intention to set up my Surface in the basement to do some editing. “Or, you could go to the library –- they have good wifi there,” my wife told me. What went unsaid, and what I should have picked up, on was the message, “You stupid man. You know what happens when you try to work from home.”

But down the basement I went, folding chair in one arm, Surface in the other. Things seemed to go well for an hour, and then an earthquake struck. Or, at least I thought it was an earthquake. You see, I had set up shop directly beneath the living room. We don’t have carpeting, it’s all hardwood. So there’s nothing to dampen the sound of the toddler stomping her feet as she continually ran between the TV and the couch (I’m convinced running and stomping are the only two modes of locomotion available to toddlers).

A half hour later, there was a series of ungodly screams. That itself is not unusual in my house, where ungodly screams have become part of the daily ambient noise (songbirds sing to greet the day, the tea kettle whistles, children laugh and then the ungodly screams). Nevertheless, my concentration was broken and I had a deadline to make for Nicole.

So I trudged upstairs, walked past the toddler who had managed to duct-tape herself to the ceiling fan, past the smoldering crater where the 6-year-old had burned down the sofa. I kissed goodbye to my wife who had assumed a fetal position on the floor (her eyes reflected the untold horrors our offspring had wrought upon our house) and headed to the library, where I was vastly more productive.

Maybe I’m exaggerating here, but the point is working from home as a parent can be more difficult in practice than in theory, even with another adult at home. Little kids yearn for your attention, naturally. They may not understand why mom or dad has to work, even with repeated, patient explanations, or the concept of deadlines, conference calls or why the preferred parent can’t unstick them from the ceiling fan.

Kassie has written a series of articles on mom blogging, and one, in particular, emphasizes the need for good time management and the need to compartmentalize when working out of the home. I’m a long way from mastering those skills, and I recognize that, in order to be productive, I need to be as far from my family as possible.

For those who can work from home while raising small children –- my hat’s off to you. For those who spend their days watching the kids while their partners are at the office (or the library) — my hat’s off to you as well.

Also, honey, if you’re reading this, the couch cushions may have flared up again. The fire extinguisher is under the sink.

John Swinconeck