About a year ago I made a life changing decision. After debating, crying, stomping and a few glasses of wine, I decided it was time to dig into a different path and work from home. I remember telling my ‘stay-at-home-mom’ friends how envious I was of them. How much I wished I could trade places with them. How lucky they were. I lied. Karma is a cruel and unusual taskmaster and I am paying, in spades. I enjoyed going to work. I liked leaving my house and going to my place of work, whether it be an ambulance or a desk, and relished in the camaraderie of my colleagues. I had good relationships and I was good at my job. I worked hard and thereby gave myself permission to play hard, whether that meant an evening out with friends or a great new pair of shoes. I felt valued and contributory in my home and life. After a hysterectomy, followed by crippling depression, that was no longer the case.
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I decided to stay at home and finish a book I’d started writing several years ago. My husband, as always, was more than supportive. I made the leap. So now I work full time at home. I cook, I clean, I do laundry, I organize children, I do dishes, I help with homework, I mediate between children, I struggle with finances, I listen to stories, I groom dogs, I clip nails, I clean toilets, I grocery shop, I mend clothes…. and somewhere in there, I squeeze in some time to compose an article for the Tribune every week. My book still sits in partial completion, untouched.
Essentially, I am a housewife. As derogatory a term as that is to me (truly I despise the word), I have to concede that I am indeed married to a structure. In researching for my article I found some humorous sites that gave advice on how to be a good housewife. I say humorous in a ‘puke up your guts and strangle yourself with your entrails’ kind of way. I was more than mildly enraged, and clearly a very poor housewife! I think if I greeted my husband at the end of a work day with his slippers at the door, directed him to his favorite meal while I hung up his coat, shushed the children so as not to inflict undue strain on him, and then offered to massage his shoulders while I quietly and respectfully listened to stories about his day, well… he’d probably tiptoe back out the front door, fearing for his safety.
After reading the list of things expected of a ‘housewife’ I was more than a little disillusioned. Nowhere did it speak of being invited to compete on Dancing With the Stars. Not once did it mention spa days filled with wine and caviar. And, though I read thoroughly, I could not find a single reference to starting your day in Stilettos at a high-end restaurant for brunch. Clearly, the ‘real’ housewives never read Wikipedia’s version.
When I think back, perhaps the appropriate statement might have been “I wish I could be happy at home.” That would be more accurate. For those of you who work at home and are happy there, I envy you. And that is the truth. I scanned through several sites talking of the benefits of working at home. I see through them like a Realtor trying to sell a condemned property with words like character and personality.
‘Flexible work schedule’ really means prepare to have no concept of time. All the days will run together and you will only know mealtime by the complaints of your family. You will be at everyone’s beck and call at all hours, as everyone knows you have no life. This will be further confirmed when people call for things and your own guilt at being available forces you to comply.
‘Casual wardrobe’ equates to having nothing beyond the durability and comfort of a bathrobe and sweats in your closet. If, by some miracle, someone does remember your name and invites you out some evening, given that you have no reason to shop for nice clothing, or the fact that you have now gained weight by lack of time or perceived value to take the time to workout, you will have nothing to wear.
‘Quiet, comfortable work environment’. Where do I begin? The same could be said of a solitary confinement cell in a prison but I wouldn’t rush to pluck up that prime piece of real estate. And while I do have to admit that my hammock chair is the most comfortable office space I’ve had, it can’t compete with the havoc isolation wreaks in my head.
‘Save on vehicle expenses’. Now that I don’t need a reliable vehicle for work I can make do with a fifteen-year-old vehicle that squeals and complains every time I leave the driveway. The trail of oil I leave behind is of no real consequence, as I never have to go far.
‘Less distractions’. Be prepared to endure high school again or problem solve your spouse’s job as it is now through these avenues that you will live vicariously. Having long since lost the allure of solitude and your own imagination, you will become entranced with the drama and chaos of teens. With the preconceived notion that you have nothing current or relevant to offer the art of conversation will be lost and no one will have any interest in your day.
Excuse me a moment, I think I’m going to triple my Zoloft.
Obviously it’s not for everyone. The criteria in making my decision was sound. It was my follow through and strategy that lacked. Once the depression subsided, I became quite comfortable at home. Too comfortable. How can I expect anyone to respect what I do if I don’t? When I worked outside the home I had a very solid routine. I got up with an alarm; I showered, had breakfast, dressed nice and drove to work. Opened emails, caught up on colleagues evenings and set about my workday. Every site I read on successful work-at-home endeavors suggest starting your day the same way. There is no consequence if I’m not sitting at my computer by 9am. Maybe there should be. And perhaps I should show up at my desk in work attire. Minus the heels, they’re brutal on stairs. I’m sure I can find fancy slippers. While sharing stories during dinner maybe I should demand a little attention and discuss my latest storyline or comments from my Editor. I adore her but I could make her sound nasty, I’ve got a great imagination! I don’t know how to make up for lost relationships. I can’t fabricate colleagues or office banter. The dogs don’t understand and just look at me hoping for treats or a walk. They will, however, lie across my feet and keep them warm. I’ve never had a colleague do that…which, seems fair.
I tell my children that they teach people how to treat them. If they don’t respect themselves and value their input as human beings, who else will? There’s that moment, when you’re in the middle of some really solid words of wisdom, and from out of nowhere, you’re suddenly hit by gale force winds and your own sound advice is plastered against your face like a wet newspaper. I teach people how to treat me. If I don’t value what I do, neither will anyone else. As anyone who’s ever struggled with depression can attest to, I really am my own bully. I made the choice to work at home, but I never gave myself permission. Semantics I suppose, but valid nonetheless. There are a lot of steps towards successfully working at home. I may have started with baby steps, but I’m slowly figuring it out. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @rsqdog
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