How to feel bad about work and parenting? Do both from home

For The Baltimore Sun
"Working from home." Are there three words more dreaded by working parents of small children?

I have no photos from this week's snow day. No shots of happy, over-bundled children frolicking in blinding white snow, or sitting around the kitchen table in wet socks, sipping hot chocolate.

This year, when the winter's only real snowfall worth mentioning happened, two out of three of my children were down with colds. And I was stuck in my bedroom, glued to my laptop, working from home.

"Working from home." Are there three words more dreaded by working parents of small children?

OK, maybe a 3 a.m., "Mommy, come quick!" is worse. Or (gasp!) "Positive pregnancy test." [Shudders at the thought.] But other than those, "working from home" has to be up there.

On its face, it sounds delightful. Returning email in your pajamas! Conference calls from the couch! Throw a load of laundry in on your lunch break. Take the chicken out for dinner in between deadlines. Yesssss!


Working from home with children at home is a disaster waiting to happen, stress upon stress from morning till quitting time.

The dedicated worker in you wants to focus fully on your job responsibilities; the devoted parent feels guilt for ignoring the children all day. No matter how well you're doing in one area, there's a nagging feeling that you're somehow shortchanging the other.

Even when the other parent or a trusted caregiver is with the children, the feeling persists.

This week, when we awoke to a snow-covered street, I slipped away from the kids and holed up with my laptop, knowing their dad would have them fed, dosed up with meds and entertained.

An hour later, the children still hadn't had breakfast so I slipped away from email to find my husband also holed up with his laptop, working from home!

"Hey. Are the kids going to eat?" I said, feeling sheepish, since I had no plans to feed them. (I was WORKING, ahem!)

"Don't worry," he said. "I gave them doughnuts and Pellegrino to tide them over."

Cue the guilt. Because I was working, my three children (two of whom were SICK!) ate doughnuts and Pellegrino for breakfast. And worse, because I was working *from home*, I was aware of it!

Replay some version of this over and over throughout the day and you get the picture.

Then there's the inevitable bleed of family life into work life that always happens at exactly the wrong time.

By now, everyone in the world it seems has viewed the viral video of Robert Kelly being adorably video-bombed in his home office by his two children while he was in the middle of a live television interview with the BBC.

The hilarious video resonated with every parent I know; we've all been there, grimaced and whisper-yelled and shut the office door emphatically on that (with the phone on mute, of course).

Kids have no respect for your "working from home." They laugh in the face of your "working from home." In fact, they seem to consider your pleas for privacy and quiet a challenge: What outlandish reasons can I come up with to ignore all instructions to stay out of the room? If I whisper very quietly that I'm in desperate need of a snack, that's just the same as not bothering Mommy, right? Is that a conference call I hear? Must. Interrupt. ASAP.

This snowy day, my 5-year-old barged in on a phone call to complain that Daddy gave her sam and "I DON'T LIKE SAM!" (Translation: Dad redeemed himself from the doughnuts debacle and served fresh salmon for lunch.) While I tried to concentrate on editing, my son stood next to my bed in only his underwear, admiring his "muscles" until I shooed him away. My other son — the healthy one — lay on my shoulder and cried, because he suddenly didn't feel well either, bringing the count of sick children in our house to three. We put him down for a (rare) nap and I went promptly back to returning email. Mother of the year right here.

All day the snow fell, the wind whipped, my email alerts pinged. We made no snow angels; we brandished no whipped cream mustaches.

Instead, I worked. From home. And hoped for clear streets the next day.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 5-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at Her column appears monthly.

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