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Being a work at home mom was not really working for me. My solution? I became a work at shared office mom!
It is a concept that has been discussed ad nauseum. The work-at-home mother (WAHM) is that mythic creature who has got walking the parenting/working tightrope down pat.
We all have heard stories of the mothers who work from home, baby on one hip while getting mother-in-law’s soup ready and simultaneously attending to a work call – jammed betwixt shoulder and cheek. Or on the flip side there are the complaints that no one takes WAHMers seriously enough – from the neighbour who constantly keeps popping in for some gossip to the maid who assumes that ‘Madam Facebook par hain’.
But even without going into the minutiae of the various distractions that a WAHM faces, I’d like to talk about a very strong emotion that I have experienced as a WAHM over the last couple of years : Guilt. Yeah, I know – the G word again! Amongst all the permutations and combinations that women have figured out (SAHM, WAHM, WM etc.) the guilt factor remains a constant.
For me the transition from a so called SAHM to a WAHM was so gradual that I did not even realise when the previous guilt got taken over by this brand new one. As far as I was concerned, I was still managing my previous job description very well, while hustling into my ‘work’ avatar in whatever time I got away from the kids.
But here’s the thing – since my transition was so gradual everything started getting diffused. I did not know where my work started and where the home began. It became one cloudy jungle that left me depressed and depleted.
I would be hammering away at my computer in the few hours that my younger child would go to preschool, and a sudden message would remind me that I’d forgotten to dress him up in a certain colour. Enter Guilt (You stay at home all day, how difficult was it to take out that tee in the morning?).
Then I’d venture out for a cup of tea and the Cook would remind me that the all important kaanda is not in stock. Re-enter Guilt.
Child would then hand over a note from school saying that she’d forgotten xyz homework (I know that she is 9 years old and is responsible for her work – but hey aren’t you at home all day? How long does it take to check her diary?).
And on top of that – I would miss replying to a work email because I got distracted by a building whatsapp message and then basically fell asleep on the bed – because that’s where I work from. WAHM? Who am I kidding? Guilt.
Then a couple of months back, I decided that I needed a change. A physical change. I moved out of home – hold your horses – I changed from ‘Work At Home’ to ‘Work At Shared Office’.
For a precious few thousand rupees a month I could go and sit at a high speed WiFi zone with endless supply of chai, and enough co-workers that I did not know, to make me feel right at home.
I started plugging in my earphones and hammering away till a preset time. It was an experiment to see how much I could achieve in the six work hours that I had designated for myself everyday. And compare it to the supposedly six hours (actually twelve hours with hour long interruptions) as it used to happen at home.
One week into the experiment, I knew that I’d found my answers. Six hours at work meant six hours – ok, give or take a couple of minutes for loo breaks, chai breaks. And once I was done, I was pretty much done. I could close my laptop with some degree of finality, each day before heading home.
I still retain much of the flexibility that came with quite literally being a WAHM. I can still go for school pick ups, drops, middle of the day school mum meets etc. But I do not feel the guilt standing right over my head as it did when I used to work from home.
As simplistic as it sounds – a physical detachment from ‘home’ really worked out for me towards becoming a more effective WAHM. I come home and I have a home ‘to-do’ list waiting for me, which I can somehow magically tackle because the guilt of the open laptop on the bed is not waiting for me.
As of now, I have managed to assuage some parts of the guilt factor – I’m guessing till the next big conundrum comes along!