Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kids and Babysitters: Work-At-Home Mommy Fail, or the One Best Thing?

Today I did something that I’ve managed to avoid doing for the past few years: I asked a friend to watch my kids for the day so I could work. Here’s my question to all of you out there. Is this a work-at-home mom fail, or a better solution for everyone?
On One Hand…
When I started working from home, it was because I wanted a way to slip a little more flexibility into my schedule and spend time with my kids. And yes, to keep the little monsters out of daycare. Until that point we’d had some great sitters, but we’d also had some pretty awful ones. So the idea of being able to work at home while the kids ran around the house was a good one. And for the last five years, we’ve made it work.
Oh sure, there have been plenty of weekends when I’ve had a full plate and I’ve “asked” my husband to keep an eye on them for the day so I could sneak out and write an article in peace. But he’s their dad. That’s what he’s there for. And since we both work from home, I consider that fair trade for all the days I’ve sat in the children’s museum or in a booth at Chuck E. Cheese (or, on one memorable occasion, under a tree at the wading pool) with my laptop on my lap trying to write so he’d have a quiet house in the middle of the afternoon.
Because really, when you’ve got three kids, when does quiet really happen anyway?
Looking back, there may have even been a couple of times the kids were sent to grandma’s or my sister-in-law’s to play for the afternoon so I could have a couple of hours of peace to wrap up a project. But for the most part, I’ve managed to run herd on the herd while still getting it done. Until today.
Today, my to-do list was so overwhelmingly long, with the promise of having to prep for days off in the not-too-distant future lurking overhead, that I cracked. I needed eight uninterrupted hours, so I asked a friend if she’d keep an eye on them while I got some things done. No, it’s not quite the same as hiring a babysitter. And I’m taking her kids tomorrow as fair trade. But a small part of me can’t help but point out that by sending them to a “sitter”, I’ve caved on one of the most important caveats of being a work-at-home mom: Staying home so the kids can too.
On the Other Hand…
There’s always an on the other hand, isn’t there? On the other hand, being a work-at-home parent isn’t the same as being a stay-at-home parent, and anyone who tries to convince you that it is either doesn’t work full time and can squeeze their work hours around their kids’ nap and bedtimes or is still fairly new to the game.
The simple truth is, when I’m working, no matter where I’m working, my full attention isn’t on my kids. Sure, I keep an ear out for blood. If we’re out and about I make sure to pop my head up every once in a while to make sure they’re doing all right. But the real focus of my attention is on the screen in front of me, and I sometimes feel like they’re missing out because of that.
When I’m working, even if I’m sitting right there, I’m not really engaging with my kids. I’m not reading with them, even if they’re curled up on the couch reading right next to me. I’m not coloring with them, even if they’re sitting at the table with their coloring books and crayons only a foot away from the USB connector on my headset. I’m not playing ball with them, even though I’m sitting in the grass keeping a half an eye on the proceedings while I type up this week’s blogs.
While that’s okay some of the time, I don’t want that to become the norm. Which is why I try so hard to keep them out and about and actively engaged in something while I’m trying to put a dent in the day’s to-do list, why I try to make sure I do as much work as possible when the kids are in bed, why I’m totally cool with it if they want to have company over to play during the day so they’re not solely entertaining themselves…
…and yes, why I think it’s a good thing for parents who work from home to get a sitter every once in a while so that someone’s out there giving their kids their undivided attention when they can’t.
Parents, what do you think? Would you hire a sitter for your kids if you were working from home?


Jeremy said...

I wouldn't feel any guilt about the arrangement you described here.

My wife is a "stay at home" mom, and I am a "work from home" dad. We still need some sanity time each month.

I would say we average two days per month with a similar arrangement with family, and I think it works out nicely for everyone.

The Animated Woman. said...

I would not feel guilt about hiring a sitter to care for my kids while I work from home.