Since having kids, I’ve tried out pretty much every combination of work vs at-home-with-the-kids combination. Half the week in the office, half the time at home wasn’t really compatible with the job. My husband did a 4-day week, I did a 4-day week, we had 2 days of childcare – but we were ships in the night, and both our careers suffered. Not working at all outside the home – I was bored and miserable and broke and felt uncomfortable about getting ‘housekeeping’ money. Doing full-on projects alternating with periods of down time (aka manic ‘parenting’) – I was permanently knackered.
So now I’ve finally reached a stage of work/parenting nirvana. I work pretty much school hours, mostly from home. I get to pick up the kids every day, drop them off, take them swimming, do all the day-to-day mummy stuff that I hated missing out on when I was stuck in an office instead of having impromptu picnics in the park at 3pm.
Only it’s not quite like that. There’s less picnicking in the park than bad-tempered dashes around the supermarket. There’s a lot of email-checking whilst pushing a swing with the other hand. Yes, 2pm onwards is Kid Time, but only if 8pm onwards is Work Time again. And if I’m going to get anything done during school hours, that means being at my desk by 9.05am, and to hell with the pile of breakfast dishes. I guess that means I’m living the work-life merge – keeping a job going without compromising on family life, but at the sacrifice of any ‘me’ time. Or indeed, any time that isn’t strictly delineated as either Work or Family.
So whilst it’s no longer necessary to take a precious holiday day in order to wait in for the plumber, I’m unable to get across town to see my friend’s new pad for at least a couple more weeks, because I just can’t take an evening off if I’m ever going to get this project done. It means no down time. No mooching around the shops – I buy everything online – no time to get a haircut, no hope of getting my legs waxed. At least when I had a regular job, I could do that kind of thing during my lunch hour.
It’s good to know that I’m incredibly on-trend with this stuff – ‘work life merge’ is the hippest new way of living. The coolest workers from Silicon Valley to Sweden now clock up their 40 hour work week in bite-size chunks instead of a terribly old-fashioned 9-5. And yet I never thought I’d look enviously at commuters – an hour to yourself twice a day! I haven’t read a non-picture book in what feels like years. Office drinks, imagine! Office politics, even. I don’t get to talk to anyone during daylight hours, apart from the plumber and a selection of small children.
So is this the answer? I’m not sure. It feels like the best balance for us, right now. But I’m not entirely sure that the Merge isn’t just Doing It All, with a new lick of paint.
By Jenny Coyle. @missmitford