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Homeworking offers many benefits for parents, but it can be isolating – as can parenting.
Homeworking offers a solution to many things parent-wise if you have a job that can be done remotely. It allows you to be around for urgent calls from nursery or school rather than battle through traffic and transport issues to get home. It means you cut out endless commuting time. It allows you to flex more easily around pick-ups and drop-offs. It means you can attend school stuff without taking half a day out. It just generally makes the whole complicated logistics thing easier and that is an enormous boon. For many who can’t work from home, even for some part of the week, homeworking can offer at least an end to some of the enormous stresses they face.
Yet there are some disadvantages and it is not for everyone. Some people find it hard, for instance, to motivate themselves in the absence of others. I would argue that, for parents, the motivation is the many advantages listed above, but the biggest disadvantage is probably isolation and loneliness. Of course, when you work from home, depending on the work you do, you can ring people, communicate via Slack or Instant Messenger or any other of the technological means provided by your employer. But it’s not the same as seeing them face to face. The work bit is fine. It’s the social bit that is missing. The bit in offices where you chat about nothing, about the programmes you watched the night before, about the family, about your favourite food, your favourite bands, whatever it is. The bits where you get to know each other as a person outside of the latest strategy development. It’s the bit that builds resilience.
Conference calls and the like tend to be very much work-focused. You can chat about non-work stuff on Instant Messenger, of course, but I’m not sure it is the same. My brother lives in Argentina. When he left over 10 years ago he told me that, with Skype, it would be almost the same as being face to face. It isn’t. I know some employers who are using Skype to connect people so you feel like you are all working in the same place. Maybe that is an answer, as possibly are local hubs and co-working spaces.
Despite the often extra motivation for parents to work from home, the isolation thing can loom large, given parenting itself can be a very lonely experience, even if you are in a couple. So many families these days are tag parenting – one parent leaves and another parent takes over. The two rarely coincide long enough to have a decent conversation that is not interrupted by children. Even without tag parenting, decent conversation time can be thin on the ground. Everyone is just too tired. The conversations are all reserved for your head in the small hours when you have time to think, in the chinks of time when you are trying to get one child to sleep without falling asleep yourself or when you are driving endlessly around picking people up. I’ve had experiences that have made me reassess all sorts of things in my life and only been able to touch on them with immediate family. In some instances I’ve unloaded to people I have barely met because they were there, they had the time to listen, I needed to talk and it was too much effort to arrange to meet up with friends.
No-one tells you about this. It’s not the usual form of loneliness, of course, because you are surrounded by people, unlike when you work from home. You just rarely have time to speak to them about your thoughts because you are so caught up in doing the parent thing. Maybe that is a good thing. Too much focus on your own thoughts can be damaging too. It’s a question of getting the balance right. The solution is to build local networks, friendship groups, etc, where you are and ensure you have regular time with them. True friendship, however, can be hard to find and time shortage just makes it harder. Perhaps all those people who schedule it in have the right approach.