SAHM No More explores the the ups-and-downs of navigating a new world of parenting, transitioning from married stay-at-home motherhood to a full-time working, divorced motherhood. And there are a lot of adjustments being made—a lot of adjustments and not a lot of sleep.
One of the biggest complications of being a working parent is figuring out a child care solution that is fail-safe—or close to it. It’s absolutely panic-inducing when you have to figure out how to be in two places at the same time. Which is why I feel extremely lucky in my current job, because, while it is an office-based job, I have a lot of leeway to work at home. This has come in handy multiple times, in the last several months. I’ve been able to stay home and work while my kids were out with the stomach flu. And I didn’t have to worry about finding a sitter when their school was closed for a week due to Hurricane Sandy. And on holidays like Veteran’s Day, when my kids don’t have school but I still have work, I’ve been able to stay home and work remotely. And, really, there are countless times when my job’s flexibility has made parenting easier. The fact that working remotely is an option for me is a huge relief and has made my life immeasurably better.
So when I read that Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, has instituted a ban on working from home because “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” I couldn’t help but have a strong reaction. Mayer is busy trying to revitalize a stagnant company and I can understand —and, for the most part, agree with— her rationale that working side-by-side leads to a more dynamic and collaborative work force.
But I also can’t help but think about the parents who depend on having the ability to work from home on a regular basis, not just in case of emergency. Mayer is known for being a mother who took a very brief maternity leave before heading back to her high-powered job. And Mayer has the benefit of working somewhere that has a comprehensive day care program, so she doesn’t have to worry about the things that many working parents do. Mayer also, obviously, has the benefit of being the CEO of Yahoo, so I’m pretty sure she’s okay anyway.
But what about the rest of us? Thinking about it as objectively as I can, the benefits of working from home are not as great as I thought they’d be. Before I had my current job, the idea of being able to do all my work while sitting in my pajamas all day and eating ice cream out of the carton and listening to whatever music I wanted and still being able to pick my kids up from school would have seemed like heaven.
The reality is that unless I really need to stay home for an emergency, I would always rather be in the office. Telecommuting is not an adequate substitute for seeing my colleagues in person and exchanging ideas and commentary. There’s also something really psychologically important about separating my work life from my home life. I crave that distinction in order to better appreciate the ups-and-downs of both spheres of my life.
However, the lack of flexibility in Yahoo’s new policy seems dismissive of the fact that parenting is never cut-and-dry. Even if parents would prefer to go into the office every day, sometimes the best decision for their families would mean taking one day a week to work at home. And it isn’t as simple as staying home to “wait for the cable guy” which is what the Yahoo policy mentions as a possible reason that employees might not come in to the office. And this isn’t even as simple as more workplaces having child care centers. My kids are too old for daycare but still too young to really be by themselves. There are a million different scheduling issues that need to be figured out for working parents and it’s disappointing that a working mother and brilliant mind like Marissa Mayer doesn’t address the nuances of that in her new policy.
In an ideal professional world, we might all be at the office every day. In an ideal parenting world, we might all be home with our kids every day. But nothing is ideal and the parenting and professional worlds overlap in sometimes frustrating ways. So maybe the best ideal we can hope for is a little bit of understanding toward those people who need to work from home and are still doing the best they can.