The Unspoken Sadness of Working from Home

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at jdeprospero@gmail.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

When I was about 9-years-old, I saw an incredibly moving David Copperfield skit that revolved around a sideways-hat-wearing child glumly pounding a baseball into his mitt while his father dutifully pecks away at his typewriter, too busy with work to play with his son. It was devastating to watch. Being honest, the first minute of the skit made me cry as a child in the 1980s, and it still makes me cry as a full-grown man. And it’s for the same reason in both cases—there are few things sadder than a parent ignoring their child. The only difference is that now I can understand the father’s point of view…sort of.

This isn’t to say there aren’t parents out there who wrongfully ignore their children for other ventures, but with the ease of mobile access in the year 2014, we’re often faced with a difficult question:

Can I work remotely from home without feeling like an awful, neglectful parent?

Of course, I’m talking about when your children are in the house with you and tugging your arm away from your laptop and toward their painting easel. In my current situation, on days like this past Wednesday in the Northeast (when school was closed), my wife’s parents watch my sons. So, under one roof, we have my in-laws, two sons, and then both my wife and I trying to work remotely. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s always a zoo (taking a conference call from a frigid garage has had to happen) and I end up feeling exactly like the workaholic dude in the Copperfield skit. The only difference being that I really, really want to interact with my kids, while the actor in the magic show simply seems to have no interest in it.

I’m willing to admit that, while given the option by my manager earlier this week to work from home due to heavy snow in my area, I passed on the option. It doesn’t feel in any way good to do that, but it would feel even worse to have my giddy 2-year-old jumping on my lap, only to soon be removed because I have an email to answer. My younger son is simply too little to comprehend that I need to do my job to support him, so he instead ends up being dragged away kicking and screaming, as his pathetic cries fade into the distance behind a closed door.  It sucks tremendously and opting to scrape the ice off my windshield and drive 25 miles to work inevitably wins. It feels like I’m running away. But it’s a necessary escape.

What’s frustrating is that the fossils of what used to be the joys of working from home still surround me— pajama-wearing, conference calls on the can, infrequent (or really frequent) catching up on DVR. Working from home sans kids is a cozy haven of goodness and relaxation, if not an unrelenting temptation to do anything but work. But once you’re a parent, it’s not as simple as “there’s a foot of snow on the ground, boot up the laptop and forward your voicemail.” It’s much more complicated than that.

While I deeply respect stay-at-home moms and dads, the one hurdle they never have to clear is getting their children to understand that, even though their careers may point their parents in a different direction for eight or so hours a day, it’s a necessary evil to earn the very money that they, themselves, live off. The good news is that, while my 4-year-old son isn’t completely thrilled with my wife and I working, he at least is starting to understand why we do it.

“Daddy, you have to go to work today, right?” he’ll start. “Is it so you can buy toys for us?” he’ll then ask with a modest grin. He’s still disappointed, but he “gets it,” as much as any 4-year-old can.

So, we’ve done our best to somehow associate us working with our kids benefiting from it (toys, for instance). And I like to think it’s paying off. Still, though, unless it’s hailing thumbtacks and hot irons outside, I’ll be taking my laptop into the office and forgoing the inevitable guilt trip from hell.

How about you?

Please join the conversation by adding a comment below or tweeting me @JoeDeProspero with the hashtag #WFHblues.

Thinking about quitting your job to stay at home full time? Click here for a handy worksheet to see if you can make it on one income.

Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America

* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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