The same technology that’s made working from home easier than ever has fundamentally changed what “home” means to me.
THIS STORY IS part of a series on parenting—from surveilling our teens to helping our kids navigate fake news and misinformation.
It’s 10:50 am when my Apple Watch dings. I lurch unsteadily to my feet. I spent the early part of the morning in a whirlwind, dressing, feeding, and packing my 2- and 4-year-olds off to day care and preschool. Then I returned home, plopped down at my desk, and started my workday. Since 8 am, I’ve barely moved.
My smartwatch sends a reminder to stand up once an hour, but I’ve been ignoring it. Now, at its urging, I finally stop to stretch. Thoughts that I’d pushed to the back of my brain start to rebound forward: “Have I showered today? When did I last eat? I need to go to the bathroom.”
As I get up and walk through the kitchen, I pass the table still cluttered with my children’s crusty breakfast dishes. Pause. Cleaning up the mess will take just a few minutes. Aw, heck. I’ll wash their sticky water bottles too. As I’m drying my hands, my watch dings again. Someone has a question for me on Slack! I hurry back to my computer. A half-hour later, I start to feel uncomfortable again. What’s that about? Oh, right, I still haven’t gone to the bathroom. Wait, have I eaten yet?
I’m grateful that my employer views my having a family and living 700 miles from the office as an asset, not a liability. I have a bevy of hardware and software that makes working remotely flexible—and not so lonely. Slack and Google Docs let me approve my editor’s changes while I wait in a pediatrician’s exam room for our doctor to look at a weird rash (on the kid, not me). I can joke around in team meetings over video collaboration while wearing my ancient Big Lebowski cardigan.
Also, I’m a gear reviewer,which means I get to test gadgets that ease motherhood’s many stresses: robot vacuums, electric-assist strollers, and kid-friendly tablets. My family enjoyed testing a new pizza oven, though I had to send it back in a box that had been entirely scribbled over in crayon. My children have also begun asking when they get to send the latest toy back and get a new one.
Sometimes, everything goes according to plan. The commute to my kids’ day care is an easy half-mile through a quiet residential neighborhood; we can all do it on a cargo bike. If I forgot to bring my son’s nap blanky to school, it’s a 10-minute error correction and not a half-day disaster. If I get stuck while writing, I can take my dog for a brain-refreshing walk through a forest of 80-foot pines.
So yes, I love my job; I love this setup. Mostly. The big hitch is that the tools that allow me to keep up during the day are the same ones that melt the line between work and home. I sit on the couch after everyone else has gone to sleep and schedule my emails to send at 8 am—an attempt to hide my weird hours from my coworkers. (Until now. Hi guys!) And because I’m always in my office, sometimes I can’t rest until I’ve examined all 12 color options for this one particular ebike. Oh no. It’s 1 am …
As plenty of people know, being a work-from-home parent also complicates things. Not only do you have to do your job, you also end up being the primary caregiver, the chief household officer, the dog walker, and the front-door receptionist. My brain’s CPU gets overloaded, and when I try to clear my cache, someone tugs at my pants and asks me to glue their Fossil Friend back together.
If I regret anything, it’s that while my family views our house as a welcoming haven, I can view it as a source of stress. It’s where I’m trapped all day, every day. It’s my workplace, my lunchroom, my pit of never-ending chores.
In the evenings, my loved ones come home and start to wind down. They pick at the last of their home-cooked dinner, then take a hot bath and change into their jammies. Their little bodies sink into the sofa as they watch 10 minutes of Stinky & Dirty before bed.
Then they fall asleep easily, but with my CPU still whirring away, I have to reboot. I lace up my shoes and go for a run in the dark. I love my family, I love my job, and I love my house—but sometimes I just can’t wait to break free. And I don’t need my watch to remind me to do so.