Make it Work Monday: You're Never Enough
In my first article for Time Out Beijing Family, I address the realities of working from home. Many readers commented this is the one that hit hardest:
So how to remedy this feeling?
LET’S JUST ADMIT THAT THIS FEELING WILL NOT GO AWAY. Even with a job in an office, my husband and I have conversations often about his work hours and trips. We want to be sure that he isn’t away too much, for the whole family’s well being. Is it easier or harder when you are in the room, and they can see you but you can’t play? I look at it this way: I might feel worse sometimes because I can see the sadness in their eyes after I say “Sorry, I have to work.” But I can monitor how they feel and make adjustments. That’s how I came up with the next tip:
ALWAYS SAY YES UNTIL YOU HAVE TO SAY NO. I tried this last week, and it has worked great! We’ll see if it continues long term, but if not, then I will have to adjust. My desk is in a corner of the living room where I can’t see the TV. My oldest was asking me to engage with his video game, and I kept saying I couldn’t. Then I saw such a great look of disappointment on his face that I knew I had to come up with a new way to accomplish my work. I realized he wasn’t asking me to play the game, he just wants me to watch him do a “cool move” or read the subtitles. So I moved to the table where I could work and still see the screen. This was nice because my 3-year-old then wanted to be close to me, and instead of scrunching together on my chair, or making a mess on the floor beside me, he could sit next to me and do his puzzles. We’ve worked together on puzzles enough that he can do them by himself except for one or two tricky pieces. I’m able to engage and say Yes to them more often than I say No. That makes a huge difference.
LET YOUR CHILDREN HEAR YOU PRIORITIZE FAMILY TIME. This advice is directly lifted from how I helped my oldest adjust to a new baby. I made sure that he heard me tell the baby “I hear that you need something, but I must finish making this sandwich for your brother first.” Sure, the baby won’t know exactly what you’re saying, but they will hear you acknowledge them, and the older sibling will not feel like you are always putting them off to take care of the baby’s needs. That takes the sting off how many times you will need to focus on the younger, more helpless child when the other wants your attention too. Do the same with your work. Let your kids hear you tell your boss that you need another hour for their homework before you can finish that task, even if you are pretending to be on the phone*. I often say something along the lines of: “If you can give me one minute to text my boss and tell her I am going to finish our game before I go back to work, then I can play right now” and your kids will feel better when you do need to open your laptop again. They’ll feel valued, and that you do prioritize them sometimes, too.
INVOLVE THEM SO THEY UNDERSTAND. It’s that ancient proverb attributed to Confucius. I take time out of my non-working hours to explain what I do to make it more real for them. I work mostly online and with people my kids haven’t met, so it’s even more important that I take time to show them. This includes making a blog for my oldest when he asked and pointing to books in stores to explain that if I have the time to do my work, then one day he will see my book in a store too, and in the library, and won’t that be great! It’s worth it just to see the smile spread over his face, but it also pays off to show a physical culmination of all that work time you need.
OVERESTIMATE HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE TO FINISH A TASK. You don’t always have the option to move a deadline once it’s set, so understand for yourself that something you think you can finish by Thursday will take until Monday. This also harkens back to scheduling your time so that you can work ahead when possible. I had a lot of work that depended on getting information from others, so I put in extra hours one month to get ahead of the deliverables that didn’t depend on my co-workers. In that way, my weekly work was all set and I could pivot to another task when my colleagues were ready. This is never 100% going to work. You just need to understand what you can control and your expectations for yourself are harder than others probably have for you.
WHEN WORK TIME IS DONE, IMMEDIATELY PLAY WITH THEM. Once I close my laptop, the cuddles start. That way, they see the clear distinction of work and playtime and feel like I want to be with them as much as I want to work. Sometimes I have to pee so badly when I’m done, but I always have a quick tickle of connection before the bathroom.
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT WHY YOU WANT TO WORK AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU. Years before I became a Mom, Author Brett Paesel wrote an essay on how she closes the door at certain times to write, and how she manages the guilt by focusing on the role model she is becoming to her kids. I immediately shared it with all of my working mother friends, including some teachers at the school where I worked. Tears ensued. I think about it often. Her point is that children will remember that she was dedicated to her career and made time to work hard on it every day. That is a habit she wants to instill in her children, and they will absorb that idea in the long term more than they will resent her not being available to them for four hours twice a week in the short term. I make my and my husband’s career goals known to our kids, and how it applies to them and how it doesn’t. We talk often about why this work needs time, and how it relates to money to do fun things as well as my own personal gratification for a job well done and a difficult task accomplished. We share our successes with them, and they feel a part of that success.
Long term gratification is more difficult to comprehend, but consistent reminders (not reprimands) that many good things require investment into hard work is an excellent lesson to pass on to your kids.
Read more about how to make it work as a work-at-home-parent here.