Last year I took time off work to spend time with my daughter Darcy for the first week of school holidays. Normally I work full time. I was excited to spend time with her and also have time to do all the things that get squished in around work. You know; the washing, cleaning, and tasks that stay on my to-do list for six months. I was looking forward to not having the pressure of double drop-off before work.
It was an interesting week for many reasons, but this is what I learnt.
1. Not having to do double drop off is as good as I thought it would be
Ahh to meander and smell the roses!
Normally my mornings are a relentless pushing of the proverbial uphill, trying to get myself and children out the door on time for school and work.
The delight in eating breakfast in pjs, taking time to dress and let the kids dress themselves!
To not feel the flood of anxiety as your child decides they need to find a long-lost toy or do a drawn-out poo minutes before you need to leave.
To feel the sun on your face instead of the wind whistling by as you race to the car. To let your child stand and stare at a pile of stones just because they want to.
To not have to hurry hurry hurry!
2. Housework is an invisible form of labour
I normally feel an inordinate amount of satisfaction when I get domestic tasks done. Something about having a to-do list and seeing everything getting ticked off.
But I came to see that housework is an invisible form of labour, and being invisible, not appreciated.
You don’t see how much washing was done, because it’s been put away.
You don’t see how much mess has been cleaned up, because the house is tidy.
You don’t see how much effort went in to dinner, because it’s there on your plate.
An exhausting day at work is easier to acknowledge and appreciate than an exhausting day at home. After all, you’re remunerated for your efforts at work, where as at home you’re lucky to get a hurried ‘thanks’ before the dinner (hopefully) disappears down someone’s gob.
3. My children thrive when I’m at home
Nothing can replace you in your child’s life.
Right now, my children love spending time with me (and their dad). They are more content at home, less fractious about getting things done, they have a bigger bounce in their step.
I planned adventures throughout the week, outings and craft activities. They were the focus of my attention and it felt great - for them and me.
4. It’s impossible to think through solutions
How on earth does any parent work from home with children under foot?
Little humans equal a constant stream of interruptions. You could be making a sandwich and you’ll be called upon to adjudicate a dispute over piece of Lego, or to find the craft set they got for Christmas.
Throw anything substantial like a family crisis or a work problem into the mix and you’re just asking for trouble.
When I was at home with my kids I found it difficult to complete a thought, let alone a task that required more than one step.
5. High expectations exist in the domestic realm as well as work
Before my week off, I thought I felt stressed because of the pressure I felt at work. The pressure to get to work on time, to meet deadlines, to fulfil my obligations to my colleagues. It turns out these expectations can be transferred to the domestic realm as well.
By the time I came back to work after the week away I was exhausted.
I had done all the washing, all the tidying (don’t even start me on the kids’ room) and all the cooking. I had gone on outings and done craft. Yes, craft people!
No one had asked me to do all these things. My husband hadn’t expected me to do all these things.
I had transferred the high expectations I put on myself at work to the home. And it was equally stressful.
6. Being spontaneous can have its own rewards
Being free of deadlines meant we were able to go on adventures without worrying about when we needed to be home.
This came in handy when I decided on a whim that we were going to Luna Park, which apart from being lots of fun, turned out to be stupidly expensive.
Standing at the ticket booth with the total sum swimming in front of my smarting eyes, I thought I could walk away, or I could suck it up and make the most of a purse-draining situation.
We spent three hours at the park, without a single tanty (from them, or me). I even went on the dodgem cars twice (and I strongly dislike dodgem cars). Heading back home in the ferry, the sun shining on the water and a slight headache humming around my temples, I felt that the unplanned adventure had been well worth the cost.
7. The grass is greener on the other side
I love my job and have always known that I would combine work with having a family. But there have been times, when I’m doing the mad dash in the morning, that I’ve yearned for a slower pace and for more time with my children.
I understand now that there are pros and cons to both experiences. If I stayed at home I would have time, time for spontaneity and to be together. But that time would also be crammed with other things. Washing, cooking, cleaning (and god-forbid - crafting!)
After my week at home I can see that the secret to it all is lower expectations, and to focus on what matters most.
I need to stop trying to get everything done. I need to remember to focus on what’s most important – catching moments of joy with my children. Appreciating them and our time together.
And those things can happen whether I’m at home or at work.
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