“Work is a break for me” and “Heading home now to the real job” are some of the comments I used to hear from work colleagues who were parents – this was before I had children myself, and really, I didn’t believe them. Surely they were just trying to make themselves sound busier, in a slightly patronising “You don’t know the half of it!” kind of way?
Six years later, I can see where they were coming from.
Discussions about whether it’s easier to be at work or at home regularly crop up in real life and online – many mothers who work outside the home freely admit that it’s easier to be in the office, while many others are envious of their friends who are at home full-time, and don’t have to deal with a day that’s book-ended by stressful, chaotic crèche runs, and punctuated by occasional feelings of doubt and guilt.
To scientifically* assess which is easier in my own life, I compared my four days in the office last week with my one day at home (*not very scientific at all).
Some highlights from my four days in the office last week:
A surprise cappuccino on my desk on Monday morning, lunch with my sister on Tuesday and lunch with my husband on Wednesday (in effect, a date!).
Many, many cups of tea, all of which were hot, all of which were consumed in peace at my desk, and none of which were interrupted by requests for bananas, colouring paper or a trip to the playground.
Two particularly satisfying meetings, from which I emerged feeling like something positive and productive had been achieved (which happens less frequently than I’d like).
And some challenges from my Friday at home:
Getting up and out on time for the school drop-off after four hours sleep (not due to being out clubbing, but you knew that)
A two-hour round trip to the GP and pharmacy; waiting, an out-of-stock medicine, more waiting, a fed-up two-year old trying desperately to wriggle out of my arms to go back to playing with the automatic door, and a clock ticking ominously towards school collection time.
Spending an hour and a half waiting to be seen by an eye-doctor in the afternoon; a fed-up two-year old trying desperately to wriggle out of my arms to go back to playing with the water cooler, and two big sisters trying to be supportive but starting to visibly droop long before we were finally called.
Then again I could put it another way:
Some challenges from my four days in the office last week:
Leaving the house at 7am, when it’s cold and dark outside and the kids are not fully awake.
Feeling guilty arriving home on Monday evening to hear that Sam had been out of sorts and upset all day.
Hours and hours of meetings, including one that ran over on Tuesday evening, prompting a stressful commute home and a failed attempt to be on time for the childminder.
A particularly frustrating and confrontational meeting on Wednesday that culminated in cross words and a half-hearted agreement to disagree, leaving a black cloud hanging over me for the rest of the evening.
And some highlights from my Friday at home:
Breakfast with my smallies instead of rushing out before they’re awake, complete with an extra hug from Emmie, whispering “Mum I love Fridays because you don’t have to go to work”
Bringing Clara to school – my one day to do this. Notwithstanding the fear of being late (which far outweighs any concerns about being late for work), I get to reassure myself once a week that she’s happy and relaxed walking through the classroom door.
Going for coffee and scones with Emmie and Sam, with the added bonus of bumping into a friend and sharing a table. And Sam only biting open six sachets of sugar.
Collecting Clara from school – seeing the huge smile light up her face on realising that it’s me picking her up.
Discussing music with the kids on the way home from the eye appointment – important topics like agreeing that Katy Perry is more famous than One Direction. Then mass confusion ensuing when the kids asked “Who are the most famous band in Ireland mum?” and I answered “U2”. They heard “You two!“, so replied, “No mum, don’t joke, we’re not famous – who is it really?” And so it went on – I laughed for twenty minutes when I worked out what had happened (but that may have been down to four hours sleep and three hours at medical appointments)
For me, my comparison confirms what I already suspected; working outside the home at times makes my life more difficult and at times is exactly what I need. And being at home with my kids is at times very stressful and at times (most of the time) absolutely wonderful.
And I’d guess that that’s how it is for many mothers – neither one way nor the other is “harder”; it’s all hard at times, and it’s all wonderful at times.
To fine-tune that generalisation a little; I would suggest that working outside the home can make the overall juggle very challenging at a macro level, but that at any given moment during the day (and depending on the job), it’s probably easier.
I mean, sitting at my desk at work is easier than cleaning dried-in porridge off a high-chair, but then again, work doesn’t do hugs.