Remember that iconic BBC interview of professor Robert E. Kelly on Skype from his home office? He was trying to speak soberly about the political upheaval in South Korea when his toddler-aged daughter burst in, followed by his infant son in a rolling walker, followed by his mortified wife, trying desperately to collect their kids?
If you don’t, then go watch it immediately, because it was awesome.
For some, it evoked empathy; it illustrated the challenges of working from home in the presence of small, spirited children.
For me, it captured something overlooked about the telecommuting life — its unexpected joys.
I’ve worked from home, almost exclusively, since my oldest child was born.
I’ve nursed babies and changed diapers while on conference calls, written columns while bouncing a toddler on my knees and conducted interviews with kids screaming in the background.
Yes, it means lots of frustrations and some serious sacrifices: fewer hours, odd hours, limits on what I can expect to accomplish over the course of my day and the course of my career.
But it also means I never miss a milestone in my kids’ lives. I’ve heard every first word; seen every first step. I wipe all their tears and their noses; I also get all the smiles, giggles and surprisingly gratifying moments that I would never experience were I at my office, instead of my kitchen table.
I don’t take that for granted.
I know that only about 5 percent of the U.S. population is able to telecommute on a regular basis. I know that in many industries working from home is rarely, if ever, possible.
But I know, also, that many people, even if it were possible, would choose an office away from their kids rather than one at home.
As a society, we’re divorced from the idea that kids and parents should be home together all, or even most, of the time.
Some of that’s practical. Many families require two incomes for survival. Single-parent households make working outside the home a necessity. And many of the current public-policy prescriptions penalize households where one parent stays home.
Still, it’s clear there’s an insidious cultural aversion to being at home with our kids, and it’s entirely the result of our own fears and biases.
Stay-at-home moms are privileged. Working from home is lazy. Home-schoolers are weird.
But the biggest reason so many of us eschew working from home with kids, is what parents all over the country are now discovering, as our schools close and our nation hunkers down during the global coronavirus pandemic — it’s really, ridiculously hard.
Kids are demanding of our attention all the time.
Parenting — never mind home-schooling — is a full-time, never-ending job.
It’s also the job that matters most.
These are truly unprecedented times. And working from home with kids is difficult under ideal circumstances, let alone a worldwide pandemic.
But instead of taking your frustrations to social media, I’m here to remind you that you’re lucky; to tell you that your kids are awesome and that spending extra time with them — even pent up in your house while you’re trying to telework and they’re trying tele-learn — is the unexpected gift of this global crisis.
Because in some strange but fortuitous way, the universe is reminding us that this is what life is all about.
Our kids and our families.
Not our jobs.
The coronavirus experience is going to teach us a lot of things about our world and ourselves.
Maybe it will encourage more businesses to relax remote workplace rules or inspire more parents to stay home.
If nothing else, it should remind us that childhood is fleeting and that getting quarantined with our kids is actually a gift because there is nothing more important than being with the people we love.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.