Living with a Full House

 Towards the end of 2019, I started a new position that required that I work from home.  A difficult adjustment on its own, this was also during the public school’s holiday break, and all three of my small children were also home.  I created an office space in our spare bedroom in the basement, and within weeks, a usual occurrence began happening. 

I would wake and head downstairs in the mornings before the rest of the family stirred.  Within an hour, before I could even make it through all of the emails in my full inbox, my three year old daughter would appear in the doorway trailing her blanket behind her.

“Daddy?” she would say.  “Will you make me breakfast?”

“Ask Mommy.”  I would reply, looking at the unopened emails and the meeting reminder at the bottom of my screen. 

My daughter’s eyes would fill with tears as her lower lip jutted forward.  “Mommy is still ASWEEEEP!” she would wail.

(My wife would probably appreciate me telling you here that she also works from home, teaching online college courses.  Since she finds it virtually impossible to get work done with the kids awake, she regularly spends long hours burning the midnight oil particularly around the end of semester when final grades are due.)

I would head into the kitchen and fix my daughter cereal, usually also unloading the dishwasher that my wife had loaded and run before going to bed the night before.  While I was at it, I switched the laundry over to the dryer, and filled the dog’s empty water bowl.  At some point, my sons would come down into the kitchen, one needing my help to find his iPad while the other made a beeline for the Xbox, insisting he wasn’t hungry.  I served pancakes to one boy before attempting to head back down to the office, passing the other boy, who would look up and casually announce that now he was hungry and did I mind making him something? Before I knew it, I had lost over an hour of my workday to managing the household, which frustrated me given that I had a stay-at-home spouse who somehow was able to do these things when I hadn’t been working from home. 

Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Due to the pandemic, many people are telecommunicating for the first time in their careers. This could be one working parent now working from home, or both.  As schools resume using only virtual and hybrid options, children are home now as well.  Suddenly, our households are expected to fit our professional needs, academic needs, and personal needs, all without clear boundaries of when one job ends and the next begins.  We’re all in a state of transitioning into and figuring out this new situation.

I saw, and still see, my role as a Christian man to work to provide for my family.  As Paul notes in 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”  And yet, my role as husband also included serving my wife (Peter 3:7).

Resentments began to build.  After one too many arguments over the same situation, my wife and I sat down one evening to hash it out.  Here is what we figured out: 

Communication is Key

There is a reason God calls us to “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).  Resolution nearly always begins with good communication.

In my mind, my wife needed to stop being lazy and meet her responsibilities managing the home so I didn’t have to pull double duty.  But as she explained, when I was working outside of the home, the children would wake her up in the morning.  Now with Daddy being home, they often came down to my office without her having any idea that they were even awake. 

Value Your Spouse’s Experience

“And just because the kids ask you do something,” my wife said, “does not mean you have to drop everything and do it.  If I did that, I would never get a thing done aside from meeting their constant requests.”

She had a point.  I was able to appreciate that during the week, she was the parent more experienced with meeting the children’s day to day needs.  My wife was the expert at how to best manage our household and I trusted she had figured out tips and tricks that I hadn’t yet. (1 Timothy 5:14).

Keep Realistic Expectations

My wife also explained that prior to my working from home, she used my evening arrival time as a deadline to have tasks around the house performed.  She knew I would not want to walk into a messy home, and to that end, she made a point to pick up before I got home each day.  But it was impossible to have all household chores completed at every moment of the day.

“If I’m rushing to get the kids out of the door, crumbs are left on the counter and dishes are left in the sink,” she explained, “because I know I’ll get to these things when I can.”

Don’t Volunteer for Jobs You Resent Taking

“Plus,” my wife added.  “I appreciate it when you do things around the house during the workday, but I never expect or ask for it.”

She made a good point here as well.  When I was working, I prioritized my day in much the same way.  Emails were left unanswered if I was rushing into a meeting.  Rudimentary regular tasks like filling out a weekly time sheet nearly never happened until right before they were due.  Just as with any job, my wife managed our home in parts reactively and parts proactively.  It was unfair to be upset with the extra work I was doing around the house without giving her the opportunity to even take these things off of my plate.

Find the Solution that Best Fits

We considered my wife getting up extra early to ensure she was on hand for the kids, but I knew how my wife could get without enough sleep, and truthfully, I loved starting my days with seeing the kids.

We decided instead on a closed-door rule on my office during the day, and my wife would see to making sure the children respected it.  I would ignore household tasks needing completed during the workday, but after 5pm, I would be available and willing to help if she asked.  

While working from home had once felt like a situation of frustration and imbalance, it was now a situation that was allowing us to learn from one another’s perspective and provide a growth opportunity in our marriage.

If you are struggling with the work-from-home transition, especially with the stressful holiday season impending upon us, remember to talk to your spouse.  Be quick to hear and slow to anger (James 1:19). Transitions, while difficult, are usually temporary, “and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).