Today I made my six-year-old cry.
Working from home has been fairly straightforwards for me so far. My day largely revolves around email, meetings, and writing stuff (mostly email and meeting invites), which means that given a strong internet connection, I could work from the moon if needed. Give me a pizza and a laptop and I’m good to go anywhere. My wife is lucky enough to be in this class of work as well; as a programmer, the only thing she needs that I don’t is an endless supply of coffee. We have largely been unaffected by the need to work from home.
Our children have been hit harder, of course. With summer camps cancelled and concerned parents everywhere, playdates are pretty much a thing of the past. We’re blessed with cousins living within walking distance, which means the kids are able to interact with kids who aren’t their siblings, but even with that its been a very different type of summer.
However, until now I didn’t realize there was a different type of stress on my children, particularly the younger ones. For their entire childhood, when I’m there, I’m there. My being in the house means that they can play, joke, and talk with me. This is such a fundamental expectation on their part I didn’t even realize it was an expectation until it was suddenly broken. For the past four months (!), I’ve been in the house—they can walk over to me, talk at me, ask me questions—but I’m not there for them. I’m not playing with them, reading to them, taking bike rides and going on trips. I’m here but not here.
My son walked in earlier and asked if I can play. I told him—again—that even though I’m home, I’m at work. For some reason, this time, I asked him if that’s tough for him. He responded, “Yes! You don’t have time to play with me!” and walked out of the room with tears in his eyes.
From my perspective, working from home is pretty much the same as working from work, except more options for lunch. From my kids perspective, I’m suddenly home all the time! Every day! Yay! Except I’m not really there. I’m ignoring them. I’ll send them out of the room, asks them to be quiet, and maybe say hi during lunch before going back upstairs and ignoring them some more. I’ve been ignored before and its really no fun. Being ignored for months on end is outright traumatic.
I’m writing this instead of listening during a meeting as this is a very bothersome observation. I’m sure there are ways to fix this, but right now I’m just letting it sink in that I’ve been oblivious to something that’s been possibly very unpleasant to my own children. That’s a heck of a uncomfortable feeling.
Tough times, indeed.