Working from home and doing childcare is a recipe for disaster | Opinion

Working from home and doing childcare is a recipe for disaster | Opinion

Research from Germany has catapulted me into a state of almost hallucinogenic reminiscence. It found that working from home, the modern stamp of the perfect work-life balance, is not that great for parents. Men do OK, increasing their childcare scarcely at all, but putting in between two and four hours of extra work. Women face a “double-burden” of doing three more hours of childcare a day, yet the same amount of work, which in practice amounts to losing the evening to sitting on a laptop, panicking that nobody in the office believes they’re doing anything at all. If having it all really means doing it all, living the dream boils down to never sleeping.

This takes me back to 2008, when I was doing a childcare swap with my sister, and writing a column about Boris Johnson and his London mayoral ambitions in the 40 minutes that two eight-month-olds would stay asleep. I said he was a moneyed creep, a liar, a bigot and a snob. You’re wondering how that took 40 minutes, but there were illustrative bits in between and they take time. The next day, I was thinking, what if I’m wrong? What if it is fine to be the mayor of this evolved and tolerant city, when the list of people you can’t tolerate is longer than any to-do list you’ve ever completed? What if politics has moved on and I didn’t notice, because I was watching In the Night Garden and pureeing beetroot?

In fact, I was right, and the deficiencies of this man’s character have had profound political consequences. Indeed, had it made any difference to his reputation, it would have been the most important work I did that decade, but of course it didn’t, because nobody listens to you when you have a baby, and everyone who isn’t complaining about your ad hominem attack is telling you to “go back to writing about babies”. Fast-forward a few years and there was nursery, but the sheer luxury of five untenanted hours in the daylight boiled my brain, so that often I would just wander the house, picking up Lego and moving it so that nobody could find it, thinking about all the marvellous projects I could undertake, if only I would sit down.

It is really a philosophical problem: when you transpose your industry into a domestic setting, all the tasks of everything bleed into each other, so that you can never do anything without this oppressive sense that you should be doing something else. It’s a stone-cold classic, Elizabeth David-quality recipe for stress, like living in a permanent state of thinking you’ve left your wallet on a departing ferry. By the time they go to school – and I’m on the cusp of secondary school, with no excuse even to fetch or drop them – your liberty is meaningless because your brain chemistry has changed.

You’re thinking, there must be some solution to this– an office door with a lock on it; proper childcare – but it’s not worth it, because they will eventually grow up and write memoirs about your locked office door. The answer is a proper job, with an office and an hour-long commute, staring out of a window without having to explain to anyone that staring out of the window is part of your job. The hardest part now of working from home is persuading my offspring that I work at all.

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