Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Typing, One-Handed, and Hoping the Baby Doesn't Cry

By Joy Pullmann

I am self-conscious about working at home with my children clustered around, largely for the element of unpredictability: At any moment, a child may scream. If I'm on the phone, as I often am, the person on the other end instantly knows either I'm not in a traditional office or that something is weird. Baby noises now don't bother me as I work, because they're always there now, but they make me feel unprofessional. It would be like going to work with spitup on my shoulder.

I wish I could say to people, "This is how I put food on the table for my babies while refusing to outsource their care." I'm sure many would respect that, but many others wouldn't. Not knowing which attitude is the other person's, I'm nervous whenever I take or make a phone call.

It helps when I know the other person is in a similar situation. Today, I interviewed a fellow whose work I respect. As I called, my two-month-old sat on my left arm, where he perches about 80 percent of the time. He was sleeping, but his naps are still irregular so I had no idea when he would wake and want to nurse. Of course, I hoped it was after the phone call. I assumed that my correspondent was in an office. He is, after all, a man, so less likely to be at home. But the sound quality on the phone was bad, so I asked if he had a landline number we could use, and to get it he had to get up from his office...and walk through the part of the house where his kids were making typical kid noise.

"Uh, I'm at my home office today," he said. I need to steal that line.

I know a lot of knowledge workers work from home and on the go. It's a great life. Hectic, but very well suited to my family's needs and my personal preferences. But it's still not the norm. I feel a little like a professional homeschooler: There's this awkward silence that always comes when you admit you are or were homeschooled, as the person conjures mental images of me working with greasy hair in my pajamas at 11 a.m. (which, for the record, I have only done a few times and hate).

I honestly think working at home is far cooler than working in an office. No commute time, which not only means more work time it means less consumption of resources; the aforementioned ability to provide for my family financially while not sending my little babies off to strangers, which also means I can nurse, which means better brain development and nutrition for my kids; the ability to largely control my schedule, and more. It would get lonely, except there's five people living in this house, and I email and chat with others constantly, so I actually sometimes feel over-socialized. But the thing about cool is that other people have to also think it's cool. And that's not what I'm sure of yet. I still think the glamour factor is all on the side of career women working sleekly away in an office, or "collaborating" constantly with her colleagues, whatever that means. Also, children are not very cool, so the fact I'm doing this for them and with them also means no glamour.

My bosses just decided that we all need to videoconference in during our usual weekly conference calls, instead of merely hosting an audio call. I'm sure they think that's cool and that it "will be so nice to see your face," but it's not so much my face I'm worried about showing. It's that, with a very young baby, I currently spend half my time bouncing and nursing in unpredictable patterns. Baby eats when baby says. Ain't nobody who needs to see that, workplace or otherwise.

Image by Shane Robinson.


  1. Joy, I think your plan is cool. I taught piano lessons from home with children all around, including a nursing baby. She would fall asleep nursing, and I'd lay her on a blanket on the floor by the piano. Today she's a music major. I also home-schooled my kids' piano lessons so I didn't have to haul them all out to a piano teacher and pay her for something I could do myself. Hats off to you!

    1. Thanks! I hope that talking openly about this helps change more attitudes to be like ours.

  2. Joy, I'm going to be teaching history online in the fall, and I'm already practicing my "home office" time. During class, I won't have a baby on me, but I'll certainly have her close by (hello, nap time!). I really hope we can contribute to the discussion of women in the workplace!

    However, I fully acknowledge that not all women have this option, nor are they cut out for it. My Dad lets a few of his lady workers do their job from home, and he says he notices a difference in their productivity levels.

    1. There's no question I could get more done without kids. But I also work evenings and weekends, and consider myself high-output. I like how my workplace structures our contracts: It clearly specifies what I am required to do in exchange for my pay. If I'm fast or slow, still the same pay as long as it all gets done by deadline.

      I realize this wouldn't work for every job.

  3. Interesting post! I guess I am on the opposite end of the spectrum right now - I'm a single woman who lives along, and while I have the option to work from home (and actually move closer to family and never have to report to the office), I choose to work in the office because I cannot imagine sitting in my home office all day - alone - and then finishing up work for the day and sitting on my couch all night - alone. I need my people time! So for now, I think that going into the office is cooler than working at home. Now, if some lad wanted to sweep me off my feet and start a family with me? I'd high-tail it out of that office and work from home in a heartbeat if it meant being able to devote more time to my family. So maybe my views will change in the future if/when I get married and have kiddos!

  4. ^ That should say "alone" not "along"... eek! It's Friday, that's my excuse!


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