Monday, July 2, 2012

Travails of a work-from-home mom


The art of conducting an involved conversation with a toddler from behind a closed door. Work related phone calls to the tune of background screeching and whining. Super quick bathroom breaks, before your toddler who’s convinced that mommy has vanished into dark oblivion, breaks the door down. Even quicker showers that leave you feeling that emerging from a whirlwind might be more relaxing. Protecting your laptop as you try and work, from pint sized elements who think tapping away at laptop keys is an exciting form of recreation. Coffee breaks with the Teletubbies.

Sounds familiar? If it doesn’t, welcome to the world of a ‘Work from Home Mom’.

When I first became a mother, along with the joys of endless nappy changes and sleepless nights, I was also introduced to the complex terminology used to classify different types of mothers. There were SAHMs or stay-at- home moms and WOHMs or working-out-of-the- home moms. And somewhere in between were the WFHMs, or the work-from- home moms, whose category I soon joined.

Initially, I was smugly satisfied about the whole work-from-home concept. After several years of killer commutes, long hours peering at a computer screen in fluorescent light and suffering the tasteless dishwater most office vending machines serve up in the name of coffee, working from home felt a little like having your cake and eating it too. With an extra cherry and frosted icing thrown in for good measure. I would get to spend time with my daughter without giving up on work I loved doing. Plus, with office being a hop and a skip away (quite literally), there would be no commuting woes; I could work in my pajamas if I so wanted from the comforts of my home and have easy access to freshly brewed coffee.

Working from home would be a breeze, I thought.

I was in for a rude shock.

While working from home has its unparalleled benefits especially when you’re a mother, it is certainly no cakewalk.For one, there is the small matter of getting afore mentioned pint sized elements to behave while you try and get some work done. Given that the PSE’s are prone to unreasonable tantrums and sudden urges to go potty, especially when you’re in the middle of an important call, the whole work from home jig can become quite challenging. Of course you can hire help to look after your kids, but that often throws up a whole new set of challenges in uncharted territory. Finding good help, for one. And then training said help to care for your kids while you work.

I remember emerging from a seven second shower (the norm, when you’re any kind of mom, unless you’re really lucky) once, eager to get some work done, only to nearly step on my daughter and her nanny who were both camping on the bathmat outside.
“We were waiting for you to come out and tell us what to do” said the nanny matter-of-factly when I demanded to know why my daughter was getting intimate with the bathmat instead of doing something constructive with her time.  “After all you are at home only, no?”

Being ‘at home only, no’ can be far more difficult than getting away to an office where you can neatly compartmentalize your home and work life. Not so much at home, where even if you are lucky to have a somewhat secluded space to do your work in, people always manage to find you. I made the mistake of having a dining table office in the first couple of weeks when I started working from home. Apart from having to share work space with the breakfast dishes, this also put me in the precarious position of being within easy reach of my open plan kitchen from where my rather chatty cook would feel free to strike up a conversation about the latest skirmish in the neighbor’s house or her son’s school report, whenever the fancy struck her.
Besides, when you are at home, you have increased visibility of the things that you could have happily ignored had you been away at an office. Like the dust bunnies lurking in the corners or the pile of growing laundry. Even if, like me, you are adept at ignoring these little housekeeping niggles, it can be tough to ignore the attitude of assorted people who will drop in announced just because ‘you are at home’ or call you whenever the fancy strikes them to give you elaborate updates on their dog’s gastric condition, completely ignoring the fact that you may be trying to get some work done.

Or people who give you the ‘yeah, right’ look when you tell them you work from home. As in “yeah, right, and I’m Santa’s little helper.”
“Its okay didi, I know” my cook whispered to me conspiratorially last week, when I reminded her for the umpteenth time to get on with her work and let me get on with mine, instead of giving me the latest scoop on building gossip.
“You know what?” I asked, slightly confused.
“I know what you really do. The lady on the 9th floor in whose house I work said that there is no such thing as ‘work from home’. She said you must be just doing some time pass on the internet.”

Yes, so being a work-from-home mom is not for the faint-hearted. And I’m not even getting started on the bad days when schools are shut, or the children fall ill or the help mysteriously disappear to their gaons for vague, unexplained reasons. So the next time, someone you know tells you she’s a work-from-home mom, give her an encouraging pat on the back. Even better, take her out for coffee or offer to watch her kids while she takes a luxurious ten minute shower. Trust me, she deserves it.

Originally written for 'The Punekar'
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