Words: Fergus Bisset
As a freelance writer I have the luxury of being able to work from home. I’ve been doing it for six years now and have benefited from: an extremely short commute, a relaxed working environment and the chance to reacquaint myself with Countdown. When my wife Jessie had a baby, Flora, in December 2006 we thought we were in the ideal position. Jessie would become a full time mum, my working routine would remain roughly the same but I’d also be around the house to help out when required. That was the theory anyway. A few years on I can confirm that working from home with young children in the house isn’t completely straightforward.
On a positive note, I’ve been around for a good deal more of Flora’s first years, and Beatrice’s after she turned up in 2009, than the average working parent. Friends of mine who are new fathers and work in office jobs have limited contact with their children through the week. They see them briefly before heading off in the morning and, on a good day, make it back in time to put them to bed. I see Flora and Bea for breakfast, lunch and supper and at regular intervals inbetween. I was actually there the first time Flora rolled over and it was me who first spotted the edge of a tiny tooth poking out of Beatrice’s gum.
But Jessie often finds my being at home frustrating. Shut away upstairs trying to get an article finished to deadline, I’m there but I’m not helping. I’ll cheerily come into the kitchen to make a cup of tea oblivious to the fact she’s just had to change a monumental dirty nappy and is reaching the end of her tether. On the flip side, if I hear screaming I have to go and see what’s wrong. On average one of them screams every 15 minutes so my train of thought is disturbed on a fairly regular basis.
Another problem has arisen from my constant presence. I’ve failed to distinguish the difference between seeing the girls and actually helping Jessie. Other than in reaction to the screaming, I tend to appear downstairs once every few hours to play with the kids while Jessie has lunch or nips out to the shops. In my mind this is significant assistance so I’ve been taken aback on more than one occasion when she’s suggested I don’t do enough. My reaction is generally along the lines of: “For goodness sake, I’m trying to do my job, I’m here to help almost all the time and it’s still not enough?” I stick to my guns stubbornly but, as is generally the case in arguments between Jessie and me, I’m wrong.
What I’ve recognised is five minutes here and there just doesn’t give Jessie a break, she needs the odd extended period of time off. A full day or afternoon when she can go and meet friends for lunch or just have some time to herself. Despite the realisation, it’s been difficult to co-ordinate because when I’m at home through the week I’m effectively at work. I need to answer phone calls or make last minute alterations to a piece before it goes to press. As a solution I’ve decided that Tuesdays should be work-free and I try to spend them with the girls. It’s been effective, Jessie can have a day off and I get to see exactly what she has to put up with day in day out.
So working from home during my children’s early years hasn’t exactly been the bed of roses we anticipated. The principal difficulty has been in defining where parenting stops and working starts and vice versa. But after some wailing and gnashing of teeth from all of us we’ve just about worked it out and, looking back, it’s been a great few years. I’ve seen the girls reach milestones first hand and have been a far more significant part of her everyday life than most working parents. In that respect, it’s also been great for them… I think.