I don’t have to take my kids far to bring them to work. I have to convince them to walk across the hall that separates their bedroom from my office. Sometimes, I take them to work by accident. They frequently take themselves, interrupting my tap tap tapping, to tell me they’ve built an amazing block tower or that their brother pushed them down in the yard. I like the arrangement but on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day it’s a bit confounding.
The dual mission of the Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Foundation is to help children “think imaginatively about their family, work and community lives” and to connect “what children learn at school with the actual working world.” This is a noble mission and one that, for the 35 percent of people in professional fields who do some or all of their work from home, are forced to consider on a daily basis. We are legion and our numbers are swelling and the notion of separate work and home lives may be fading. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics with the U.S. Department of Labor, the ranks of stay-at-home workers have been steadily growing. Still, there’s some cultural lag time. Take Our Daughters and Sons Across the Hall Day has yet to arrive and people still struggle to understand my professional situation.
When I tell someone I work from home, their general response is usually, “Man, that must be nice,” followed by a string of questions that all have the same answer: “No.”
Working from home has its own set of concerns that are hard (or impossible) to discuss with children. My kids understand what a firefighter is and what a doctor is. They’ll meet engineers on professional days at school. But will they understand why I’m pulling my hair out while staring at a blank page? Probably not. And I’m not sure they need to just yet.
As for the whole understanding work-life balance side of things, it’s even more complicated. The boundaries of my work are extraordinarily porous. I step out my office door straight into family life. I relish the times I can sneak away from my computer for lunch at the table with my family. I like that my day is punctuated with hugs and little voices. But those things also make my professional life harder. I don’t just juggle bowling pins. There’s a chainsaw in the mix, an element that can cut me to the core.
And, no, I’m not ready to talk to my kids about that.
I live in a land of deadlines, and projects and emails. And the answer to “Poppa can you play with me?” often becomes, “As soon as I do this one thing.” I hear myself say that far too often. Am I helping them discover the “possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life”? Not really.
All of that aside, I am certainly helping them “think imaginatively about their family, work and community lives.” And that’s perhaps the best thing I can do for them on this day (and every other day). The reality is that the office of the future may not be an office at all — maybe something closer to a distributed network of obligation. Today, I can join meetings hundreds of miles from my home office via internet video. By the time my kids find their careers, they may be walking into virtual offices as avatars while their own kids go to virtual school nearby.
I like to believe I’m helping my kids imagine the future of work. And, ultimately, that future will require a stronger backbone than the one slumped over my desk. Building barriers is hard. Ironically, that’s not a lesson best learned in a cubicle.
Am I participating in Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day? Yes. No. I don’t know. I’m not sure it much matters. What I am doing is giving them a glance of the concerns and quandaries they are likely to face someday. Is it inspiring? Again, I don’t know. It’s work.