I remember the good old days of work, when you went to the office and then came home. Once you were home, you were really home and present. No cell phones, emails, texts, Facebook notifications, Twitter mentions, nothing. Just homework, dinner, maybe even some television and relaxation time.
When I first started out in the publishing field, that’s how it was. I worked hard, deadlines loomed and closing magazines was chaotic but exhilarating. As a team, we worked like a well-oiled machine, and although the pace was frenzied and there were always last minute changes before press, when we were done, we were done. We celebrated, had some champagne and handed out collective high-fives. We were tired but felt proud of our efforts and then went home.
Now with the technology explosion— emails, texts, blackberries and smart phones — we are on constant call. In my last staff position, I would check email and messages at 6am, go to work, check mail on train, work, go home, check email on the ride home, have quick family dinner, only to head back to computer until my eyes crossed. Then I’d wake up and start all over again. There were some days, like Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, when the emails lessened, not stopped, just lessened.
It was an unspoken expectation that I needed to be available. With an economy in bad shape and jobs scarce, many moms are simply afraid to not be available. Part of my constant attachment to my tech gear was that by always being “on”, I could prevent a work pile-up and troubleshoot various problems so that the regular work would get done in a timely fashion.
At home availability is a choice every mom (and dad) must make. Some companies expect you to be available always, no questions asked. Back in the day, your employer could reach you on your home phone but if you weren’t home, there was no way to get in touch. Now home availability is something that should be discussed during the interview process but rarely is. There are those employees who do turn their phone off but that can be frowned upon in some companies, especially when the rest of the staff keeps the communication lines open.
It’s nearly impossible to be present in family life when you’re constantly being pulled back into work and the kids (and spouses) quickly grow to resent the intrusion. Most of us can stand to do a technology detox, which may or may not be realistic depending on your job. In my situation, I had to face the truth that my work life was just not working with my home life. My kids were young, and I didn’t want to miss them growing up, so I changed jobs. It was not an easy decision and honestly, leaving a full-time, secure position in this economy could have gone either way. Thank goodness it has gone well, and I have a much more flexible and balanced life. If I didn’t take the leap, I wouldn’t have known it was possible.
Yes, I am still plugged in to my Blackberry most of the time, but I can also turn it off when I need to and be a mom too. Parents need to negotiate terms and limits not just with the work day itself, but after work hours too, because the worst thing you can do is realize that you missed out on family life after the kids are grown.