When work gets your best the family gets your worst

March 24, 1996|By Susan Reimer

PEOPLE WHO ARE not my husband or children often ask me if I work at home.

My family apparently knows better. Than to ask, I mean.

Smart cracks about the menu, the laundry or the way the kitchen floor crunches underfoot have never been well received by me, and so my family no longer makes them.

Therefore, the picture of me putting my house in perfect order and then sitting down in my sunny kitchen to tap out these thoughts on an old Olivetti is not accurate. I don't do that kind of work at home, either.

I wake before first light, dress silently and slip out of the house to spend the day being an adult around adults.

The key turns in the ignition of my car just as my husband is being dragged from sleep by two children with the news that they have all overslept again, the lunches are not packed and can they please have a ride to school because it is raining and their social studies projects will get wet.

I adopted this work schedule after several weeks of failing to get myself and two children out the front door before we were all late and angry.

We would trip down the front steps on our high heels and our trailing tennis shoelaces, hissing at each other like snakes in a pillowcase, and my husband would sit at the breakfast table reading the newspaper in his bathrobe and calling out, "Have a good day, everybody."

It may be the case that he was no more successful at getting the kids off each morning than I and is, even now, home-schooling them, but the morning is now his domain.

The other end of this schedule brings me home before dinner and my husband home long after dinner, with the result that he has never seen me in any of the very nice clothes that take up most of the space in our bedroom.

If I am still awake when he arrives -- and that is not often -- I look like the wrath of God. I am wearing jeans and a sweat shirt, my mascara has left dark puddles under my eyes and my hair is wild from raking my fingers through it while trying to explain long division.

4 And it has occurred to me that this is not fair.

The mixing of home and work requires constant adaptation and adjustment for women, I think, and the result is that we often end up being two different people instead of one person who works and also raises a family.

In our attempt to be a good worker and a good enough mother, we are often not very good spouses. The flip side is also true, of course. It takes the annual company football tailgate party to remind me through the comments of his co-workers of what a great guy I married.

Even simple office courtesies are washed away in the complexity of marriage, and that isn't fair, either. How often do any of us offer to get our spouse a cup of coffee while we are up, or suggest that we grab a bite of lunch together?

What would it be like if we asked about each other's day the way co-workers ask about your weekend instead of just exchanging logistical information are you picking up the kids, or am I?

If we asked for an opinion instead of snapping off a list of chores to be done. If we acted pleased to see each other instead of annoyed that the relief did not arrive sooner.

In short, if we were as spit-shined, considerate, tolerant and cooperative at home as we try so hard to be at work.

We are, none of us, the same people at work that we are at home. For some, that means leaving the complexities of business in the car and relishing the simple joys of the hearth.

But for others, the mask of pleasantness we wear around our co-workers is shed at home as quickly as pantyhose.

Like it or not, the demands of work in this age of downsizing and two-job parents have made the office and our co-workers a kind of de-facto home and family. Job pressures produce relationships and interdependence, and we become more emotionally invested in the workplace than we might like to admit.

But often, the very things we enjoy most about work talking to other adults while acting like one are the very things we don't take home. Like children, we save our worst behavior for the people we trust the most, the people we don't believe can fire us.

If we were the kind of people at home that we try to be at the office, our spouses might decide they like working with us.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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