Three hours every week. How would you spend them?
In 2011, I was convinced that my then-seven-year-old daughter was going to spend three hours every week alone and locked outside of our house, when she would be released early from school and no one was home. At least, that was the recurring nightmare in my mind that took root a few months before this childcare gap was about to become a reality.
In our school district, elementary school students are released every Tuesday at 12:30 pm. Both my husband and I work full-time, with fairly long commutes. During the first two years of school, my daughter attended an at-school, after-school program on those days, so early release didn't affect us. But in second grade, she began attending religious school two days a week, and I couldn't send her to aftercare unless I was willing to overpay for care I didn't need and willing to take a spot from another kid who really did need it.
Several months in advance, the anxiety of this weekly three-hour childcare gap began to haunt my dreams. If we found a weekly babysitter, I worried that illness or car issues would be incessant. Or I worried we would have a revolving door of sitters who would quickly move on to other opportunities. I saw the potential for this problem to gobble up more than just three hours of my week, and I realized there was only one solution that would calm my fears.
So I did what no one else I knew was doing: Holding my breath, I told my superiors that I needed to work from home every Tuesday for the foreseeable future (after all, my daughter had a little brother who would have the same issue in a few years).
And fortunately, amazingly, they agreed. They understood how disruptive this situation, this three-hour gap, could be for both me and my children. They'd let me work from home.
I was shocked. I work in finance, at a fairly work/life-friendly firm, but in the nine years I've been there, I've seen that evolve firsthand. in 2005, I asked if I could work from home on days when, for example, my daughter might have her annual pediatric well visit. I was told then that I should still be in the office as much as possible. Letting me work from home was a big change. So while I didn't anticipate things working out in my favor, it's been a huge benefit to have that flexibility. The benefits, though? They're not just for me.
I’m a better employee because I can work from home. My Tuesdays end up feeling as if I've been shot out of a cannon. As soon as the kids leave for school, I'm ready to work. My colleagues know how to reach me at home, and I actually feel a difference in my productivity. An added bonus: I've had less of a desire to look for a new job, because this arrangement has been so generous. It hasn't hurt my career progression, either. After some epic “leaning in,” I was promoted last fall.
I’m a better mom because I can work from home. While my daughter is fairly self-sufficient, settling in to her homework, reading a book, or practicing clarinet (just not when I'm on the phone!), we do get to spend some extra time together. We eat lunch and discuss our mornings. I've been known to distract her with silly songs and dances when we wait for carpool. One Tuesday fell on the anniversary of 9/11, and we shared a long conversation discussing the events of that tragic day. But I also love modeling how to work, and that she sees what I'm like when I'm not just being her mom.
I’m a better homeowner because I can work from home. Because let’s face it, homes don't run without some effort. I can schedule those regular maintenance appointments on days I'm home, like servicing our ancient oil tank and our quarterly exterminator visit. These things take up very little of my actual time, and I don't have the hassle of waiting through a designated window of time. And when I need a little break in my day? I'll start a load of laundry or do a few dishes.
Finally, I’m a better "me" because I can work from home. There are weeks when I make it to the gym. Or grab a cup of coffee with a friend, or drive a different segment of the carpool. I've dropped off meals to friends with sick spouses and covered childcare for a friend with jury duty. I schedule my own doctor's appointments then, knowing I'm more likely not to have to cancel or postpone them. I take more moments to just breathe.
I recognize how truly fortunate I've been to have such a good arrangement with understanding employers and systems that work well for us. The opportunity to work from home has meant I can do the right thing for my family, without having to hurt my career. Granting me this flexibility is a sign that my company trusts me to make the best decisions I can for both them and my family, down to an hourly basis. Because three hours a week isn't worth all that anxiety, for them or for me.
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