A few years ago, my children, then ages 8 and 7, informed me that I should quit work.
They wanted me to pick them up from school like many other mothers did (or so they said), so we could all walk home together as one big happy family. After-school care was getting old, the kids said, and they just wanted to hang out with mom and have playdates.
Finally, I could be the one to pick up the kids at school and host playdates, swing by the grocery, even throw a load of laundry.
I wanted that, too, at least partly. As a writer, I dreamed of sitting at a light-filled window, researching and typing away. It’s the age-old plight of many working parents: How to make sure your kids get the time they need with you, while you spend (increasingly necessary) time away from them in order to work and pay for things the family needs — like food.
Then, as fate would have it, my five-year contract came to an end, but I still had independent projects lurking and could tackle them from the comforts of my dining room table. Finally, we could forgo the uber-expensive nanny and extensive childcare! Finally, I could be the one to pick up the kids at school and host playdates, swing by the grocery, even throw a load of laundry. I could even start dinner and maybe even sneak in a lunch with moms in the neighborhood. Perfect.
Without the time-sucking commute to work, I would even have time to do the photo albums.
I didn’t anticipate the therapeutic, lulling effect of home. Nor the 25-year fatigue from working intense jobs. The house was eerily silent, yet the laundry and piled dishes beckoned, and I wanted to take a really long nap.
Once the kids were home, they had no interest in actually being with Mom. The lure of neighborhood playmates, their Legos, the various adventures a backyard could offer were all way more attractive than recounting the day with me or playing a good ol’ family game of badminton, which I swear I will never attempt again.
I also needed to hear what my children were really saying.
I learned something. Whether a stay-at-home mom or a work-in office professional — or a combination thereof — we have to be honest with ourselves about who we really are, given reality, of course. Sure, there are times we need to work. But increasingly, with the ever-expanding array of technology, we parents can set the stage and determine the where and when.
I now know I’m the kind of worker who needs people, a gal who likes being part of a professional, goal-oriented team. Give me an office, please.
At the same time, I needed to hear what my children were really saying. After more than a year of this experiment, I learned what they really needed was, simply, to play right after school and wait a while to do homework, something that didn’t happen in aftercare or with the nanny.
More importantly, they wanted — they needed — to know I was there. Establishing the play-then-homework routine must have convinced them I was a rock in their lives, which left them free to decide that aftercare wasn’t so bad after all.
And me? I’m now happily ensconced in an office, though I do work from home a few days and can discreetly watch the kiddos during recess from my home office, which, very conveniently, looks right over their school grounds.