Missing banter and coffee breaks with colleagues? I am

Mothers working from home have to grapple with pressures of childcare and intrusion

The pandemic has confirmed what I always suspected – I don’t like working from home. Well certainly not full-time anyway.

I do it because I have to. I’m grateful for the significant and necessary flexibility that it has afforded me as a mother of many. And I’m grateful not to have to battle with the rush-hour traffic of old. But when I read stories and studies of people hoping that this becomes the new norm, there’s a part of me that wants to scream “Trust me, the novelty will wear off.”

There’s a degree of isolation that comes with working from home, for me at least anyway. A missing of the banter and chats with colleagues, coffee breaks and the ability to compartmentalise your life into separate boxes of work and home. At home I never feel I’m off work. Boundaries easily and quickly become blurred when you work from home particularly if you add children into the mix. Keeping set hours is a challenge when the temptation to fit in kids’ dentist appointments and tackle the mounting loads of laundry and dirty dishes that are permanently in your line of vision is a constant. Those same things still need to be done when you work outside the home, but at least out of sight out of mind comes into play for a period.

There’s a smug feeling that lots of us get when we’re proven right about something. It’s a similar feeling to the “see what it’s really like” sentiment experienced by the parents who shoulder most of the responsibility for keeping the home fires burning, when their partner gets a taste of life in their shoes. And a lot of partners are getting an insight into their other halves’ lives now.


Atmospheric screams

Himself has never worked from home, save the very odd day over the last few weeks. He has rarely experienced the unique joy of work-calls made to the perfectly pitched background atmospheric screams of two small children in full-scale row mode. Nor has he lived with the fear that an oblivious child, at one with nature, might become an inadvertent background streaker in a Skype broadcast.

In the olden, pre-pandemic, days, I didn’t always live with those fears either. With the children at school and the youngest at Montessori, I found myself in the enviable position of being able to take a work phone call without my bum-wiping/row-resolving/snack-making services being required for a three-hour window.

Now like most work-from-home parents, with the childcare solutions of school, Montessori and creches gone, I am the replacement. And I can assure you, if mine were the standards that my children were subjected to in pre-Covid-19 times, I’d have been seriously unimpressed.

The needs-must solutions still apply, because the pressure hasn't eased, but I'm well-aware that my children are spending far too much time watching screens and playing computer games as Netflix, the Nintendo Switch and the PS4 retain their role as chief babysitters. Instead of making my peace with it, I'm growing more resentful by the day.

Cardboard box

I never anticipated parenting during a pandemic. The guilt is huge. There have been days I’ve had to call secondary schoolers out of their online summer exams to watch their younger siblings because of an unmovable work commitment. There are periods where the children are practically ignored, not in the interest of developing the ability to play independently, which I’d encourage anyway, but because mum has to work and none of the usual tools are available to me. I am at home, but I’m not always available to them and it’s confusing for the younger ones in particular.

So I’ve become creative in my efforts. A laptop inside a cardboard box works wonders in keeping the glare off the screen, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the glorious sunshine with my minions. After almost two decades of parenting, I’ve a developed a useful ability to tune out to noise and zone out to the incessant callings of mum, mum, mum. I’ve perfected the auto-nod and to all intents and purposes I’m like a living scarecrow reminding the children that I’m watching. A couple of recent dodgy home hair-dyes mean I even resemble one.

It’s not forever and I know, when some normality returns, the pressure will ease. But I don’t know that I’ll change my opinion on working from home every day. The restrictions have reminded us how much we need other people. It’s who and what we’ve missed the most. The little interactions we took for granted. The daily chats we never thought twice about.

Just some of the things I missed in pre-pandemic times too.